I lost my first teaching job in 1994 during the last week of school after being out to my administration. Feeling lost, angry, and unemployed, I moved to New York City and attended my first gay pride there—which was the 25th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
Now it’s June again, and every year, I am reminded of this moment in my life. There are rainbows everywhere. Corporate America takes this opportunity to sell as many rainbow-themed products as possible to capitalize on this time of year. While I am thrilled at the expansion of pride-wear and flags (more and more each year), this kind of public queer visibility isnt possible for everyone. Particularly LGBTQ educators.
Recently, the Kentucky teacher of the year—an out gay man—told EdWeek, “I feel unsafe to return to the classroom,” and shared several stories about anti-LGBTQ harassment and hostile leadership decisions during his career as a teacher. I experienced this same conflict between who I was allowed to be as a teacher and who I needed to be as a complete person. It was a hard lesson for my 22-year-old self to handle: I learned bad things happened to good people and that discrimination was real. I share more of my own story in a recent 8-minute “Ed Talk”:
Research indicates that these are not isolated experiences. In a series of studies of LGBTQ educators, researchers reported “one third of these educators felt that their jobs were at risk if they were out to administrators and over half felt their jobs were at risk if they were out to students. Approximately one quarter also reported being harassed at the schools where they work.”
The internet is full of stories of LGBTQ educators experiencing sanctions and backlash for either being out or trying to make their schools more tolerable for LGBTQ youth. Consider the following headlines:
These negative stories are countered by stories of grit and resistance in the face of organized anti-LGBTQ attacks and conservative local politics including:
What you can to do support LGBTQ eductors
LGBTQ educators are in every school. Some are visible and outspoken, many are not. The self-censorship and constant evasion of discussions about family, relationships, and identities with colleagues and students are exhausting and prevent real trust and connection from being established. Trust and belonging are essential elements to a positive school climate and positive relationships with teachers are central to that equation.
In order to ensure our LGBTQ colleagues are able to do their jobs well, stay in the profession, and continue to be whole people, we need to do more to support them. There are many ways community members, families, and other educators can advocate and provide supports for LGBTQ educators. Most teachers’ realities are deeply shaped by local politics and the vision of their building administrators, so working at the local level is a great way to start.
- As parents and community members, you can be vocal and consistent in your communication with your local school principal, superintendent, and school board members. Write emails and speak at school board meetings about the importance of:
Visible LGBTQ support through student clubs (Gay-straight Alliances/Gender-Sexuality Alliances)
Safe space stickers and pride flags
LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum for students in grades K-12
Professional development for educators on gender and sexual diversity alongside other diversity and equity initiatives.
Anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ employees
- Donate to organizations that work with and for LGBTQ educators including: GLSEN, ACLU, Lambda Legal, Transgender Educators’ Network, and A Queer Endeavor.
- Call your legislators and ask them to support the Equality Act. More info about resources and actions you can take are available here.
What teachers can do
- Know your rights. Great info available from GLSEN here.
- Demand more support from your teachers’ unions. National unions such as the NEA and AFT have affirming caucuses. We need local unions to be more informed and visibly supportive of their LGBTQ members. The California Teachers’ Association is one great model. Last June, the AFT president Randi Weingarten stated: “This is about making sure that whoever we are, whoever we love and however we think about our sex and sexuality, we have a right to live freely and with the rights that every other person should have. That is part of justice work, and justice work is union work.” (See also the AFT 2020 Pride month resolution.)
- Find community. Find or create a local educator/action group that is affirming of LGBTQ identities. There are national and state-wide LGBTQ advocacy groups that can use your ideas and energy. By connecting with others in the LGBTQ community you will have a network of affirming, knowledgeable, and supportive folx in your corner.
I have written extensively in this blog and elsewhere about the harms that youth experience in schools due to homophobia and transphobia. Making it more possible for LGBTQ educators to stay in schools is an essential step to helping more kids survive and thrive.
I hope these ideas will help you make this Pride month not just one of celebration but of continued action. As I am constantly reminded, “the first Pride was a riot,” so we need to honor our strong LGBTQ ancestors and keep pushing for the fair treatment and equality all humans deserve—especially at work and at school. Happy Pride.