Refusing to Reenter the Closet (How to Support LGBTQ Educators)

By | April 22, 2018

No one ever talks about the vile and unrelenting homophobia that goes on in America’s classrooms.

Teachers all over America deal with homophobia in very deliberate ways.

Because gay and lesbian teachers can’t afford to be perceived as gay/queer, we ignore homophobia or pretend it is no big deal.

So many educators who are gay/lesbian/trans live in fear of being outed.

We live with the fear of being found out, fired or worse being dragged through the mud and having our reputations sullied and or intentions questioned.

We are not left with many options.

Remain closeted or speak out and risk being cast out of our teaching communities.

For years, I avoided the wonderful world of education in favor of low paying jobs that required little skills and even less intellectual prowess.

For years, I avoided education and young people because of the vile, accusatory homophobic rants from students and big people who supported their venomous attacks with their silence or ill timed bad and improper jokes.

No one can do his or her best work when there is a constant threat of attack looming overhead.

I still struggle with whether or not to come out.

Will it endanger the great relationships I have with a sizable portion of my current student body?

One of the things gays and lesbians must consider is people’s reaction and whether or not we can survive the possible disastrous results.

No straight person ever has to concern themselves with the shock and terror they could bring on themselves when they “reveal” their heterosexuality.

Yet we are flippantly encouraged to be brave and tell motherfuckers how it is gonna go down.

We are often relegated to making horrid choices that no thinking human would ever ask of someone they deeply care for.

If you’ve never stood up or had to walk away from your family to hold onto yourself, please don’t share your advice on how to handle our personal and individual lives and coming out process.

Much like choosing personal and psychological safety by moving away from family, we are often offered the same choice when it comes to educating youth.

So what should you do in an effort to hold onto yourself and influence young people?

It is difficult to show up and show out if you are worried about surviving and living to instruct another day.

Staying in the closet is always an option and yet is it sufficient?

Will it solve the problem and allow the closeted person an opportunity to create and influence when their input is limited because they are forced into silence.

What did I do to survive, create and influence as a young teacher?

My philosophies have changed over the years.

I have practiced many philosophies and redesigned them during my career in education.

When I began teaching , I opted for silence.

When I began teaching there was no room to address the importance of gays in the classroom.

No one spoke about the fear and terror we lived with and continue to live with.

Instead, we assumed that all men in education were fags and pervs who simply wanted to be around children because they had no other talents or skills.

The more I taught and worked with children the more closeted I became.

At one point, I eliminated pronouns in favor of the gender neutral and closeted “we” and neglected to share who I really was and what I actually did on the weekends.

When this failed to satisfy eager minds, I tried to rely on coworkers.

Lately, I began considering a third option- deciding when, how and to whom I come out based on whether I deem they have earned the right to hear my story.

While this suggestion was offered by a straight well meaning colleague, it had a smidge of truth and a dollop of straight privilege.

Whenever someone who has not lived my life offers insight or advice, my dander goes up.

Many times I have heard supportive, well meaning colleagues suggest in their most privileged and caring voices that- it’s nobody’s business who I’m with or my relationship. And yet none of these folks think twice about sharing personal anecdotes that include children, spouses and day to day living.

Most of them had not unlearned their homophobic behavior and thinking.

Homophobia and bigotry continue to invade classrooms and haunt those in education.

Because our young people often look to us for social ques and behavior, we must model what it looks like to accept others and interrogate personal allegiance to thinking that undermines fellow instructors and promotes disrespect as a response to perceived “difference”.

We can normalize violence, that police brutality is here to stay, mass incarceration is normal and expected of our young black men and yet someone building a life of love and respect with a person of the same gender seems odd.

How will I move on this most dastardly event?

I will let you know and share my steps to create a live filled with respect and bravery.

One thought on “Refusing to Reenter the Closet (How to Support LGBTQ Educators)

  1. Dan Coleman

    Thanks for this piece! Last year, I was told to stay in the closet to participate in a youth mentoring program for boys at a public middle school in Virginia. I chose to leave the program instead of closeting myself. What adds to the hurt is that the man heading the program is closeted to the kids he mentors, but he is out to adults. I listened to him espouse the usual laundry list of heterosexist reasons why I should closet myself when interacting with children. I hate the fact that my relationship with children is partly defined by the homophobia of parents.


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