Schooled: Remember That Gay Teacher You Had?

By: Chandra, KJ and Laura

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Ever wonder what that teacher was thinking? How they handled being out at work? Or did you wish they were more out and outspoken? Here are three real-life queer teachers who have agreed to give you a peek inside their teacher-brains!

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Meet the Teachers

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Chandra: I help adults learn fundamental literacy skills at a community college in B.C., Canada. I also used to teach French Immersion at a high school in Ontario, but that was before I was out to myself, never mind anyone else.

Laura: I teach the wonders of reading, writing, and exploring the world and our own identities to seventh graders at a public charter school in New Orleans, Louisiana.

KJ: I’m in my 7th year teaching at a public, “urban” high school in Pennsylvania. I teach both 9th and 11th grade English; I also teach the poetry course, which is composed of lots of Feelings with a capital F.

via Icanhascheezburger.com

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How to be Out to Students

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Chandra: In general, I don’t broadcast my personal life, and nobody in my classes has asked me about it yet. I’m sure it will happen eventually, and it will probably involve a lot of blushing and awkwardness. So my best advice here is: don’t be like me! That’s helpful, I know.

Laura: My seventh graders are pretty sharp, and a number of them have figured it out. However, the opportunity and the desire to announce my sexuality to all of my students has never arisen. If it did happen, I would never lie to my students, and I’m pretty positive my principal would back me up if necessary. That being said, the language I use about gender and sexuality in my classroom is very different from what my students have heard their entire lives. For example, when a male character in The Giver hits puberty and develops a crush on a girl, we discuss what happens during puberty and that some people are attracted to someone of the same gender as him or her, and that’s okay too. There’s always some pushback from kids who have always heard that homosexuality is a sin for which you’ll definitely be roasting in hell. I tell them they’re entitled to their opinions, but that doesn’t make it okay to do or say hurtful things to someone just because they’re different from you. I also draw the controversial analogy that they don’t like it when someone treats them different because they’re African-American, so why would they treat someone different who is gay.

KJ: Still, seven years in, I struggle with this. I have been “obviously gay” from my first day on the job (I walked in on day one with my piercings, tattoos, and faux-hawk — clearly bucking the Teacher Stereotype). I’ve never intentionally hid my gay, but there were moments of lying in my first year of teaching where I manufactured a studly pseudo-husband; awkward, and I’m sure no one believed me. At this point, however, I would be genuinely surprised if a student presumed me to be heterosexual. I’ve stopping hiding; I don’t exactly enter a classroom with a rainbow stuck to my forehead or anything, but when the inevitable questions come up, I don’t avoid them. Oddly, I have a bizarre habit of being more comfortable being out with my lower-level kids and my elective kids than I do with my Honors level kids — even the juniors. There is a HUGE difference in student personality when examining those three classes, and I’m much more comfortable being myself with the low-level (largely minority) students, and my elective students because they hear my poetry/are observant. Not being vocally out to my Honors kids is probably some deep-rooted fear of narrow-minded, book-smart people. But then I remember I was an Honors student in high school, and I’ve just insulted myself. So…

My general rule of thumb for being out in the classroom is this: do what you’re comfortable with. Don’t announce, but try to not hide, either, because it’s a near guarantee that there’s a gay student in your classroom who is trying to look to you for recognition that it is possible to be gay and be okay. Even successful! And smart! And all the good things.

The calm before the storm: the empty chairs don’t care that I’m a homogay! Photo by KJ Addison

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How to be Out to Colleagues

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Chandra: I’m fortunate enough to work at a fairly liberal institution in a country where my job isn’t at risk due to my sexual orientation. My approach, as someone who doesn’t like to draw attention to herself, is to casually mention my girlfriend when the conversation naturally turns in that direction. But even then, it depends on who’s involved and how many of them there are. If it’s likely that I’ll have a roomful of eyes turn and stare at me all at once, I’ll probably keep quiet. In B.C. it’s quite easy to be evasive, because even the straightest straight people refer to their official co-cuddler as their “partner”. Not that I’m advocating being evasive.

Something I’m always conscious of is that, even in a place like Canada where my rights are technically protected, there are ways for people to undermine their co-workers if they decide they don’t want them around. Laws are one thing, but exclusion can be subtle and insidious. Luckily, even though I do live in a part of the country that’s often referred to as “the Bible Belt of Canada”, I don’t hear about this kind of thing happening too often.

Laura: Mrs. Flint, my co-worker, tried to hook me up with her “fine young men” friends until I told her that it was my girlfriend, not my boyfriend, sending me roses. She still refers to any partner as my “friend”, but after hearing about my recent break-up she wrapped her arms around me and asked me what I needed, and she’s hugged me and checked up on me every day since. I’m very open with the staff, and my partner came to work socials. I used to get sideways glances, but after three years it’s pretty much a non-issue. They see my dedication to the students and the school, and I believe that supersedes any biases anyone might have about my sexuality.

On the subject of being out, there are a lot of places in this country that do not protect your job based on your sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

via National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Louisiana is one of those states, and the legislature just voted to REMOVE the clause that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation from the contract that charter schools sign with the state.

It’s important that you’re aware of the protections in your district and state because there are plenty of stories about being fired for being lesbian or trans. For me, I would rather be fired for being gay then work at a school where I felt like I had to hide who I am. If I am ever let go for telling my kids that it’s A-Okay to be gay, which I do tell them whenever it comes up, at least I know my rights, and in a charter school in New Orleans I really don’t have any.

KJ: Even though I spent a year faking hetero with my students, I have never played straight with my colleagues. When I started teaching, I was forthcoming about my relationship with my then-girlfriend. If I knew where that level of security and comfort came from, I could probably be rich enough to not have to teach anymore, but I don’t, so. Again, I haven’t done this announcement-style; it comes up in conversation, and I face it. I spent too many years figuring out who I was to start hiding myself now that I have a steady hold on who I am, you know?

In this Out-To-Colleagues area, I’m lucky in a few ways:

1) There are many gays that teach in my building — and even more scattered throughout my district. Power and safety in numbers!

2) Working in an urban school has its benefits. My colleagues and administrators are forced to gain a level of comfort with people from all walks of life. My gayness is very low on the shock factor.

3) I have been in a longterm relationship with a female administrator in my district, so if I wasn’t out before that, I had zero homosexual invisibility once that news emerged. This could have been a Situation, but it never was, really. Okay, maybe in the beginning, but once people got over it, we lost our star power, and were just two women who happened to love each other.

4) Within the past year, my school district began offering benefits to same-sex married couples. !!!! That’s big, especially considering my state, Pennsylvania, doesn’t acknowledge same-sex marriages. An employee in my district could go same-sex marry his/her partner in a legalized state, come back, and get benefits here. It’s backwards, but it’s something. And it makes me feel supported.

5) Somehow, I’ve managed to change some perspectives on the gays. One of my fellow English teachers has remarked several times that I’ve helped her see that not all lesbians are A) crazy, and B) trying to get in every woman’s pants.

I also have the requisite gay decorations in my classroom to ensure outness at some level — an HRC sticker, a Maddow READ poster, a Girlyman poster, and a random page from a calendar that has six pieces of fruit, rainbow color-order, standing and smiling in a circle.

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How to Deal With Homophobia in the Classroom

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Chandra: I use a learner-centred approach in my classes, which means my students have a say in how things are done. The first thing we do on the first day is decide as a group what the guidelines for conduct are going to be. One of the points I include — if the students don’t bring it up first, which they usually do — is  showing respect for differences. Then we decide together, in detail, what that means. When it’s my turn, I express that it’s important to me not to hear judgmental or offensive communication (ex. “That’s so gay,” “That’s retarded”), and that this also includes things like tone of voice, subtle digs, or mocking laughter. Finally, we discuss and agree upon what the consequences will be if these expectations aren’t met. Including the students in this decision-making gives them ownership of their conduct, and shows them that I respect their ability to be autonomous and responsible. I really believe I have fewer issues in class because of this approach.

So what happens when somebody does make an inappropriate crack, and it happens in the middle of a lesson? Do I derail the lesson and single out the person for censure in front of the class? Do I let it slide and thereby give it tacit approval? The population I work with tends to be older than average for college, and many (most, in fact) of my students have suffered through a lot of shaming, criticism and ridicule in their previous educational experiences, so that makes this an even more delicate question. I certainly can’t respond in the same way I would with a class of unruly high school students. All I can say is that I try to deal with each incident in the way that seems most fitting at the time. If it’s higher on the offensiveness scale, I’d probably stop the lesson briefly and remind the students about the guidelines they agreed on, then take the person aside later to discuss it. If it’s lower on the scale, I might let it go in the moment, but then start the next class with a refresher about how we collectively chose to define respect, and why it’s important not to let that slip, even for something that might seem like a harmless joke.

Laura: I use literature to promote tolerance in my classroom, which is one of the awesomest things about being an English teacher. When we read The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, we talk about the “tradition” that the village follows to select one person via a lottery that is stoned to death each year. We discuss the traditions of reciprocal violence in New Orleans, slavery, racial and gender discrimination, and marriage as being between one man and one woman. It’s an amazing feeling as an educator to be able to introduce a new perspective and to see their brains whirling with these connections that they’ve never been exposed to before. I openly address any homophobic comments, most of which they are parroting from their parents, the media, performers they love, etc., by explaining to them why what they’ve said is inappropriate or flat-out wrong. There are also tons of teaching tolerance web sites and helpful resources: Teaching Tolerance; International Day Against Homophobia; (Canadian-specific) Safe and Caring Schools for Lesbian and Gay Youth; Rainbow Educator’s Network.

KJ: Last year was the first time I faced homophobia in my classroom, and fortunately, it wasn’t directed at me. It wasn’t directed anywhere, really — it just happened. Keep in mind that the bulk of my day is spent with freshmen, and perhaps you remember what it was like to be a freshman. If you don’t, you have an open invitation to visit my classroom! Freshmen are challenging. Many of them are unsure of themselves, and will act and speak intending to boost their self esteem, yet in the process hurt not only other people, but their own little tender selves, too. To get them to see that is hard, but in the English/literature classroom, you get TONS of opportunities to guide kids to open and expand their minds with both reading and writing.

Much like the previous answers, the use of literature in my classroom is a springboard into conversation and self-reflection. I have had very open, real conversations with my students about homosexuality, HIV/AIDS, racism/prejudice, basic perception, and more. Yeah, there are always going to be kids who are resistant and homophobic and closed-minded and, just, difficult. You may not reach them, but you might reach that one kid in the corner who’s trying to figure out if it’s okay to have two dads. And you might reach that other kid across the room who thinks she’s falling for her best female friend and has no idea what that means. If the conversation is happening, and is peppered with positive, supportive comments from the teacher, then someone is reaping a benefit from it.

On a less heartwarming note — last year, the following comments were thrown around my classroom: “Lez be honest,” “You’re so gay,” “Is that a he-she?” and seemingly harmless comments like “You’re a fruitcake.” I know, FRESHMEN. Because 90% of these issues were in one class, I had a circle with that class in which we discussed things like appropriate language, respect, bullying, and perspective. I tried to get every kid in that class to understand how important it is for them to be respectful not only to others, but also to themselves. Did I succeed? I don’t know; often, in this teaching profession, it takes years for you to see whether or not you were successful in guiding your students to be good people. But the gay-related comments after that discussion were, while not entirely absent, few and far between.

Maybe through a teacher: someone with facts with numbers / with poetry / who wrote on the board: “IN EVERY GENERATION ACTION FREES / OUR DREAMS.” -Adrienne Rich. Photo by KJ Addison

Question for all you great commenters: as a gay student, what do you wish your teachers did or did not do when you were in school?

Avatar of Chandra

Chandra has written 2 articles for us.

94 Comments

  1. Thumb up 5

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    YAY gay teachers. At my school the entire music and drama department are gay it’s pretty good however people are homophobic/transphobic quite often as a student it’s hard to address the blatant homophobia not directed towards me or anything but it does hurt to hear people say stuff like that especially from people who I view as close friends and who know I have two mothers it hurts to be asked if you are a “heshe” in front of your mother and it hurts to hear people laugh at a joke about an (autistic) boy in my class being told by another girl that she “bets he will grow up to become gay” in an ethics class no less.

    tl;dr I really wish teachers at my school were more vocal about not being homophobic because I don’t want to have to keep explaining to a guy I have the displeasure of knowing that I would prefer it if he didn’t call stuff “gay” and if he can’t accomplish that then can he at least not say it in front of me

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    What about the parents though? Parents are the ones whose reactions worry me the most. I teach music lessons in schools but also from my home, so I have quite a lot of contact with pupils’ parents. At the moment I live on my own, but in the future I’m hoping to move in with my girlfriend. I don’t want to have to hide my girlfriend in the closet every time I’m teaching – I have always been aware of and got on well with my own music teachers’ partners. But I am worried of what parents will think if they find out I’m gay, especially considering I teach a lot of young children one-to-one in my home. Any thoughts?

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        I’m in the UK, so things are relatively good here. But I’m not in a city, and I don’t really know any other gay people in this area, so I’m not sure how parents would take the news! But absolutely, I don’t want to hide my girlfriend. I’m just not quite sure how to approach the subject when it becomes an issue. So far if anyone (mainly adult pupils) asks about my life, I tend to be very vague or just not mention my girlfriend at all, which I hate doing, but it feels safer.

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      We talked about including a section on parents! But we ran out of space. I work with adults, so it isn’t really an issue for me – hopefully Laura or KJ can chime in.

      Your situation sounds even trickier than teaching in a school, since people are coming into your house. I don’t know what I’d do if I were in your shoes. On the one hand, I wouldn’t want to hide my partner either, and I might think of it as a way to filter out the homophobes that I don’t want to work for/with anyway – but on the other hand, you do need to make a living.

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      The parent situation is something I still struggle with, though it comes directly from my own fears and paranoia, not any actual event. Like I said above, I know that I have a strong support system behind me, so my fears have lessened over time, but I’d be lying if I said they didn’t creep up from time to time.

      I do believe, though, that you have to do what you’re comfortable with. I think for you, the one-on-one part is what makes it nerve-wracking. It would for me, too. But I also think it’s really, really important for you to be true to yourself. For me, I’ve found that there’s a difference between hiding/lying, and making a huge deal out of something. I don’t want to hide, because hiding is lying. But I also don’t make announcements about who I am. I acknowledge it when it comes up, when it’s relevant.

      I feel like this probably did not help you at all… sorry! The only advice I feel capable of giving re: parents is just to be yourself at your comfort level. They’ll accept it or they won’t; that part is out of your control. Your sexuality is irrelevant to your job performance.

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    Wow, I wish one of these three ladies had been my teacher. I went to a tiny Christian middle and high school in TN, where it’s still very legal to get fired for your orientation/gender identity. I actually didn’t know queer women existed until I got to college- I knew the dictionary definition of “lesbian”, in that it meant the female version of that choir director who was fired when I was 12, but it never clicked in my head and I somehow thought they were somewhat mythological. I was an sheltered child and I tried oh so hard to crush on Orlando Bloom (but only as Legolas, where he looks really pretty and has really flowy hair)because I thought the only other option was being a broken emotionless (straight) robot.

    So anyways, queer teachers, please be open about it if you can afford to! Create safe spaces and hand that one quiet girl in the corner gazing wistfully at the volleyball team captain a copy of the Miseducation of Cameron Post or Annie on My Mind or something.

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    Thank you so much for this. I started working as a substitute this year, and while I want to be open, I’ve definitely been somewhat afraid of what the repercussions would be. It hadn’t come up at all until last week (I’m pretty femme so everyone generally assumes I’m straight) when a class of high schoolers I was with said something along the lines of “You like guys, right?”. I was caught so off guard, I just said it wasn’t any of their business, and then the bell rang. I’m pretty sure it was a queer girl who wanted to know though, so I wish I could have felt sure enough to say no, and that’s ok. I’m living in a tiny town, and from what I’ve seen (or haven’t seen, rather) so far, there aren’t exactly a lot of gay people around.

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      It’s so telling that gay educators all have a level of fear about these daunting repercussions. I wish I knew how to fix that. It’s disheartening that we live like this, even when we feel confident about who we are and the job we’re doing.

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    I’m not from the Bible Belt or anything, but having an openly gay teacher in middle/high school would have been amazing. I’ve never been the type of kid to go to office hours or anything, but knowing that someone was there if I needed to talk to someone Like Me – damn.

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    I am going to be a high school teacher when I graduate. I think that the hardest thing for me is that I’m pansexual, not “entirely gay” some may say. That means that often in the eyes of others my sexuality is defined by who I am with. Chances are I’ll still be with my girl friend, but it’s so much more complicated than being strictly gay. It’s the same with my family too. They’ve seen me with men and women. I haven’t ever directly come out to them, I think they probably think I was always a lesbian but I was covering up in high school or something. That’s the thing: I can’t just be subtle and let people assume I’m a lesbian, it’s not right, I’m not! So, if I want people to know the truth I have to be more direct, and I have a lot of explaining to do. I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m scared.

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      Your kids don’t really need to know who you’re dating. That’s the long and the short of it.

      I’m a first-year teacher, so I, too, am trying to figure out what I should disclose and what I shouldn’t.

      But the fact is, you’re not actually that important to most of your kids. You need to be their teacher. You need to be the person who gives them a safe space during the day and who encourages intellectual and emotional growth. You’re not their friend and they don’t need to know about your dating life.

      That doesn’t mean you should be a robot (though I’ve found myself veering into robot territory) and that doesn’t mean you should never talk about being queer. BUT it’s better to talk about LGBTQ issues in a general way and let the astute students figure it out. I’ve come out to students on an individual level and it’s never been a big deal.

      tl;dr — There are ways to signal to students that you are LGBTQ. But it’s very, very important to create boundaries between yourselves and your students, and your romantic life is something that students just don’t need to know. After all, you’re not their friend. You’re an adult mentor.

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      I get where you’re coming from, because I don’t identify as gay either (although I know many people assume so and I’m not personally bothered by that – it would actually bother me a lot more if I were dating a man and everyone assumed I was straight). Having a girlfriend, in a sense, has been a handy way of coming out without having to get into the intricacies of am-I-gay-or-not-gay-or-what-am-I-exactly.

      I agree with Rachel that your students don’t need to know who you’re dating, but it’s a guarantee that some of them will ask, so it’s a good idea to think about how you’re going to respond to that.

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      I agree with Rachel & Chandra: your life outside of school, particularly your dating life, is no one’s business but your own. And to further echo Chandra — kids are naturally curious, and they will ask. High schoolers are especially interested, and many of them lack the appropriate boundaries that help them avoid inappropriate questions. Enter that classroom armed with your answers!

      Honestly, having something as simple as an HRC sticker on your door lets kids know that your classroom is a safe space. That’s a good way to balance out your level of openness.

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    Well this is awesome. I work in a school in the south as not a teacher but in another position and it’s my first (and intern) year. I’m not really out cause it hasn’t come up… but I work with almost all females and at our meetings and lunches – when no kids or parents – there’s so much discussion of penises and fifty shades of shit and all that crap and it’s really annoying and uncomfortable – especially since everyone is quite a bit older than me so i associate them with my mother. There’s been a couple situations where gayness came up and people just sort of don’t say the word. I don’t live in a don’t say gay state, but i felt like i did. The staff do seem pretty accepting of differences though, and I haven’t come across anyone openly anti-gay. I also mainly work with students just one on one, not in a class, so it’s a bit different. although one person i work with asked if i was in a relationship/dating someone instead of asking me if i had a boyfriend, so that was nice. i want to be out, but i have a feeling i won’t end up doing that this year. eek long comment.

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    Thank you so much for this! My long term girlfriend is currently in school to become a teacher and we live in central Kentucky where it’s perfectly legal to lose your job for being gay. We haven’t known precisely how to handle her outness but this feels a lot like hope. :)

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    I was a gay teacher too. One thing I found was that the students are always watching you very carefully. They will read the note you wrote to yourself on your hand, they will pick up your mannerisms, and they certainly will notice how you handle yourself around sexual orientation, so just setting a good example is meaningful. I saw the confused young queers watching me extra closely.
    I only had to officially come out once: “Ms. B, are you straight?” “Nope.” After that everyone knew.

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    One of my music teachers in high school was gay. All the students knew and our student body was pretty pro-gay (there were a ton of out gay students and couples) so that was no big deal to us, but I always wondered how him being so open about having a male partner went over with the parents, since we lived in a fairly socially-conservative county.

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    This is 100% relevant to my life. I’m in my first year of teaching and am out to my colleagues but not my students. They know I’m married and have made their own assumptions that I haven’t bothered correcting. I will never lie to a kid (they can spot bullshit from miles away) so if they ask me directly I will tell them but the idea of it stresses me out. I teach science though so feelings don’t come up very often. Mostly we look at things in microscopes. Tomorrow for Halloween we’re going to look at scientific evidence to decide if a zombie apocalypse could really happen.

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    It’s really exciting to hear that your experiences as teachers has been for the most part positive. When I was in high school, things were definitely not like that. In fact, I was the closeted/confused kid who made fun of and speculated about teachers my friends and I thought might be gay…Sometimes I wonder if there had been explicitly out faculty, if being gay wouldn’t have seemed so taboo and weird.

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    I’ve had crushes on teachers throughout middle school and high school. Were any of them gay? No, I don’t think so. Were any of my teachers out? No, not in Missouri. But I found (like some of these teachers mention) my English classes were the most inspiring and helpful in coming to terms with my sexuality. And my English teachers were all great. One that stands out was my AP Lit. English teacher. She was unabashedly liberal (a novelty in St. Louis school district) and she made us really consider different perspectives and biases and really have serious conversations and arguments. We read “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” and my teacher brought up female masturbation (as seen subtly within the text) and it shocked all of us. I didn’t even know what she was talking about…*light bulb moment* Another day, we walked into class and all of the desks were in a circle. We sat down and my teacher passed around a Barbie doll and a G.I. Joe doll and asked “what do these say about the way we perceive gender?” Ground breaking stuff, for me. I could go on, but it’s safe to say this teacher had the biggest affect on my coming-out to myself, just through her teaching and honesty and openness. She changed my life and I am so so thankful.

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      I never considered my school liberal, and it really wasn’t, but I went to a public school in an area that was between suburban and rural outside of St. Louis and actually had three out lesbian principals and multiple lesbian teachers. The current president of our school board is even openly gay. It’s really a non-issue for people here. It’s a pretty religious area, but surprisingly there were never any issues for gay students or teachers at my school. I guess I never realized how lucky I was, and I also wanted to give a shout out and say that not all of Missouri is closed minded! :)

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      Also, that sounds awesome to have a teacher that was so open like you had. I can’t imagine how different my high school experience would have been in terms of my gender identity if I’d had someone like that. We need more teachers like this!

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      English teachers are a different shade of awesome, this is true. Gay English teachers are just that much more awesome!

      And this: “Ground breaking stuff, for me. I could go on, but it’s safe to say this teacher had the biggest affect on my coming-out to myself, just through her teaching and honesty and openness. She changed my life and I am so so thankful.”

      Amazing.

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    I had a Cell-Molecular Biology teacher who was the only out queer woman in the entire high school. She was very butch, with cropped hair and stretched ears, and she was the cutest person ever.

    I remember one day asking who the woman in the picture frame on her desk was and she said “Oh, that’s my wife!” I was thrilled, and I was totally crushing on her before I even knew I was queer.

    Also, she did me a big favor by introducing me to really terrible SciFi when we watched Soylent Green in class. She was so excellent.

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    I really like Laura’s approach of including social justice theory and intersectionality of oppression as a way of teaching. I firmly believe students who are well taught and creatively exposed to these powerful tools will be much less likely to feel oppressed and or to end up homophobic or transphobic.

    Just please be aware that teaching is one of the easiest professions to get laid off for whatever reason they feel like no matter where you live, no matter what laws the state or municipality have as laws. I was laid off and effectively blackballed from teaching elementary school (despite being a student fav) in very possibly the city that’s perhaps most perceived as being ‘queer friendly’ in the US. It means if even a few parents of the kids want to get rid of you and the administration isn’t 100% behind you you can be given the boot, and it will be done with a lot of behind-the-back machinations while they have a big smile on their faces and pretend to say “we support you.”

    Where I lived gave out a lot of teacher ‘pink slips’ (yes, the irony of that term has often been commented on) to many teachers each year due to budget cuts but a certain number of those included were people the conservative parents complained about and done in a such a way that the teachers local couldn’t even protest it.

    My other bit of painfully learned advice is don’t assume that other queer teachers will have your back. I (as a trans woman) was effectively thrown under the bus by gay male teacher (who had previously been hassled for displaying his husband’s photo behind his desk) and a closeted lesbian principal. Sad to say that still, all too often, some people will use you to get the heat off of themselves. So, be careful what you say or permit to be said about you in the teacher’s lunchroom, because that’s where a lot of the worst rumors start.

    I also believe that the younger the students are you teach, the more paranoid parents become about who you are. I taught second and third graders and I have little doubt that if I’d taught high school students (not something I was interested in doing, but… ) the complaining parents wouldn’t have cared as much. Which, in retrospect, reminds me of my own time in school when I’m pretty sure my elementary school teachers were all straight, but a high portion of my middle school teachers weren’t. At that age group the parents are just so happy that someone/anyone other than them is dealing with their kid.

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    My history teacher is a huge mentor/ inspiration in everything, and all she said when I came out to her was “So I am Team Edward and apparently you are Team Bella, and that is okay in my book.” She’s a Twilight fan. I don’t know.

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    I’m an 11th year teacher in NYC. I’m out to a few colleagues, not to my students. My personal experience as a queer activist has driven my creation of a classroom that is grounded in social justice ideals. But my school is so unaware of social justice/marginalized identity as a whole, that I don’t feel safe coming out and waiting to find out what lack of administrative support may take place if a parent objects to my sexuality. My current partner is genderqueer, so I can’t come out to colleagues via reference to a girlfriend. I’m wondering what queer educators out there have experiences they can share about trans/GNC awareness they’ve brought into their classrooms, or how they’e addressed coming out as trans/GNC or as the partner of someone trans/GNC. I work hard to bridge the gap, but my life often feels compartmentalized between my queer activism and my work as a radical educator.

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      The good news is, if you have 11 years of seniority, your teacher’s union is likely to take your rights very seriously. I might suggest thinking about several issues… what grade level are you teaching? As I mentioned in my comment on this thread, parents tend to be a lot more hyper-vigilant (AKA paranoid) about younger children being exposed to such issues, less so about, say, high school students. What is the cultural/political/social makeup of the parents of the kids you’re teaching? Even in progressive cities like NYC, parents can make a lot of ruckus and depending on how communities are linked to religion and conservative organizations, they can make a lot of noise and put pressure on administrators. I doubt they could do much with you as a partner of a trans person, but they could make a stink about what you’re teaching. Sadly, the gap between classroom and private is something a lot of teachers deal with on a daily basis. I DON’T recommend assuming administrators or district functionaries will support you. They might talk the talk about diversity, but a lot of them are bureaucrats who are more concerned about their own position in the district.

      Do you have an LGBTQ liaison in your school district to directly discuss your situation? A lot of larger urban districts do. I might also try to connect with your teachers local and see if they have a legal representative/advisor to just discuss the issue in a preliminary way. Best of luck!

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    I had a huge crush on my substitute chemistry teacher and even invited her to a GSA meeting. She had a chemistry themed tattoo on her upper arm and was obviously the coolest and bestest person ever. Ms. Boyd, if you’re out there, I took Orgo because of you!

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      Well, yeah, cute and awesome and funny here, because it’s not (implicitly) being said with malice. There’s a difference between a minority using their own identifiers and a privileged majority using those identifiers as inherently humorous. (Because being a lesbian is hilarious instead of being totally normal, y’know what I mean?)

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    Both of the IB English teachers at my high school were queer. I had the curmudgeony old gay man, and the only class had the very artsy lesbian. It was never really addressed in class; we just knew from older students spreading the rumours, and once when we had a memorial service for another teacher who had passed away, my English teacher brought his partner. My high school was luckily very supportive of LGBTQ* students so having multiple (since those two weren’t the only ones) queer teachers was a major non-issue.

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    My Catholic high school was run by lesbian feminist administrators, which, as Riese has pointed out, is not as unusual as it might seem. It was there, but it was never fully acknowledged. Everyone also knew that the Dean of Students had been the former lover of the English teacher who was tight with the lesbian music teacher and there were even questions about a another young masculine presenting English teacher who idolized Katherine Hepburn but had a husband. (In retrospect it was probably her presentation that was queer, not her sexual preference.) But while people spoke of many of these individuals as having been in relationships with each other the ramifications of the relationships, that this was indeed homosexuality, were never acknowledged. I’m not sure if that was the Catholic influence or not.

    We had a contingent, mostly the athletes, who were “out” or as much as one could be at that age, but again their level of being out was pre-determined by the environment. Rainbows. Feminism. Womyn stickers. Melissa Ethridge, The Indigo Girls. But they too would never have said the word. Not one of them.

    I became briefly acquainted with them when I was head of a school political party and campaigned for one of them to get elected student body president. In fact, she scented that most of my motivation was a crush. But I pulled away pretty quickly because by the ironically conservative ethos of the school they were considered conspicuous, strident.

    In fact, when my friend dropped the L bomb (pretty much to save herself) about me, nobody talked to me, no student in my class would be seen with me, for a full six months. And my teachers weren’t a resource.

    From that experience I drew what I thought was a clear instruction about how to carry myself and conduct my same sex attractions in the early years – by never publicly acknowledging them.

    On the other hand, a disproportionately high number of students went on in later years to have same-sex relationships, even if they eventually found partners who were male. And many of the young rebels around and including that student body president? They ended up married to men, including the president herself. I’m still not sure what that means.

    But the influence of teachers can be pretty major, guys. No need to put yourself in jeopardy, but if you can help, do.

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    I am certain that there are a TON of adorable wee little gays and lesbians in your classes that are seriously thankful that you are willing to be out-ish to your students. Going to middle and high school in Iowa, I was pretty sure that gays didn’t actually exist until I came to college, and would have totally appreciated having an “alternative lifestyle” model when I was a a teenager! You all rock!

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    These teachers are fabulous! I’m amazed at how readily they incorporate sexuality issues into their lesson plans…go queers!

    One of my favorite teachers at my school (I’m a junior in high school) is gay and incredibly open about it. He’s been out since he started at the school in the early ’90s and started the GSA (which then was called something else because having the word “gay” in the name was “too militant”).
    Having him as a teacher, a club advisor, and a presence at the school–despite his relatively low-key attitude and zero% gay appearance, his office is plastered with rainbows–has made high school leaps and bounds easier for me. Also, his and other teacher’s being out has paved the way for other students, like myself, to come out.

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    I remember my gym teacher was torn apart by my classmates behind her back. It was awful.

    I’m going to school to be a teacher right now and really hope I don’t have to deal with the treatment she got but I’m prepared.

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    “Don’t announce, but try to not hide, either, because it’s a near guarantee that there’s a gay student in your classroom who is trying to look to you for recognition that it is possible to be gay and be okay. Even successful! And smart! And all the good things.”

    Totally.

    I’m a secondary school maths teacher. My girlfriend not only teaches at the same school, but in the same department, in the classroom across the hall from mine. All the kids know we’re good friends, but maybe because neither one of us looks like your stereotypical butch lesbian, they haven’t caught on to the fact that we might be more-than-friends. I’m not sure how I’ll deal with it when/if any of them ask, but I do think it’s important not to deny or lie about it, on the off chance that there’s a kid sitting at the back of the room who is question his/her own sexuality. A lot of the kids I teach have, unfortunately, not been exposed to much diversity in their lives so far, and so they can be a bit close-minded. If nothing else, I hope that I can help them realize that “gays” aren’t as scary or different as they might think. (Interestingly, there are three other couples at our school that the kids all know about, but since they’re all heterosexual couples, none of the students think it’s all that noteworthy.)

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      Ooh, you tapped into a whole ‘nother realm of gay teacher-ness: the same-building relationship! That’s one of my favorite topics.

      I hear you on the close-minded kids, too. Always a challenge, but I figure if I can open just two minds in a class of 30, I’m doing something right.

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    so…does anyone have experience being a teacher and coming out/being out as trans*? I teach elementary-school kids as an after-school program provider in a fairly liberal area. And I’m not out yet as trans on the job, but am edging my way into transitioning. Most adults read me as a butch lesbian, and the kids mostly call me “miss”, but the youngest ones frequently ask me “Are you a boy or a girl?”. to be honest, I’m more concerned about how the other teachers, staff, and parents would handle my coming out than the kids…

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      Bookbound, read my post earlier in the thread. But to put it in perspective, from the trans teachers I’ve known, FAAB transitioners tend to get a lot less animosity and more acceptance than MAAD transitioners. I think this has to do with the projected sexualization onto trans women which I don’t think trans men get from ‘mainstream society.’

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        FAAB is “female assigned at birth” and I think…MAAD might be a typo? It would be “male assigned at birth” if it was meant to be MAAB. (I could be wrong).

        I think the reason people are moving towards these abbreviations instead of the ones that used to be used a little more (MTF and FTM) is because people want to clarify that it’s NOT gender that’s being changed, but that trans* people were assigned a certain gender at birth that doesn’t match up with their actual gender.

        I probably explained that badly and if so I apologized.

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          Marika… you’re right, it was MAAB (male assigned at birth). This is what comes of multi-tasking! And yes, a lot of people in the trans community aren’t loving ‘mtf’ or ‘ftm’ these days.. but that’s someone’s choice to use them or not, I just don’t find them appropriate to my experience.

          And i didn’t know Jake from Chicago (the blogger MB mentioned) is also a teacher, but I bet he’s a great one. He’s certainly a terrific writer I’ve followed for years.

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    I recently read a really great book on this topic. It is called “One Teacher in Ten” by Kevin Jennings. There are two editions and I read the second one. It is all personal stories written by LGBT teachers. It is so wonderful and many parts of it made me cry. I would certainly recommend it, particularly if you are interested in teaching.
    I currently work in a school, but I am not out. I am not a classroom teacher, so there really is not any opportunity for those sorts of discussions with my students. I have been asked many times if I have a boyfriend/husband and I just always tell them no and move on.

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    Thanks so much for this article! I don’t post much/ever? but wanted to comment as someone who works with young children ages birth to five. I am an in home child care provider in a small town in the midwest. When I first started I was happily single. Over the last year I’ve started dating a woman who has moved in with me. At first I was worried about the parents’ reactions. Many of them have been implicitly supportive and noone has pulled their child out of my program.

    Being self-employed gives me a lot of control over the environment. I work hard on teaching and modeling love and kindness (with a bit of social justice, concern for the enviroment, feminism, etc. thrown in for good measure, and lessons that boys can wear dresses and girls can/do have muscles). The parents appreciate the high quality of care that their children receive and the social skills that they are taught.

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    Never lie. And never lie by omission. I’m a teacher and these are the promises I made to myself, knowing it was going to come up with my students at some point (I’m in my 10th year of teaching). I was a bit worried when I began to plan my move to Salt Lake City, but it hasn’t been an issue. I know not everyone is as lucky, but my personal philosophy is that I can’t work at a school where I’d have to hide who I am. I just don’t know how people do it. As a social studies teacher, LGBT issues come up all the time. Granted, I’m in an urban area, but it fills me with such hope that the vast majority of my students (even the Mormon ones!) support LGBT folks.

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    I’m in my first year teaching middle school math at a private school in Tennessee. I’m handling being out by all but shouting it from the rooftops — I sponsor GSA and came out to those kids during the first meeting, I have a rainbow flag sticker on my door, I even came out during my interview for the job to make sure I’d be supported by the administration. Since I’m femme and bisexual, I worry a lot about being invisible. I’ve always lived in super liberal/gay-friendly places, so I never developed a sense of caution re: being out. The thing is, I want to be out to EVERYONE, not just the queer kids. I want my middle schoolers (and their parents and my coworkers) to question their assumptions about what a gay person looks like. I want to contribute to making the world a little less heteronormative by refusing to pass.

    While I embrace the naivete behind letting my queer self dive headfirst into this new community, I worry about how it affects my teaching. I teach math — there’s not much opportunity for social justice education in Algebra. I hope that I’ll mellow out soon and be able to ignore the voice at the back of my mind telling me that someone somewhere might be assuming I’m straight and that I should probably fix that right now by awkwardly mentioning an ex or celeb crush. Boundaries and focusing on the math are important, and I could do a better job balancing that.

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    I am in a teacher training program in a very rural area, and I’ve been dealing with all sorts of stuff about this. This is so relevant to my life/research – thank you!

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    I teach Language Arts in a suburban Ohio town, and I’ve been considering leaving education after only one year of part-time work. My students come from families where they have been taught homophobia for 15 or more years, and I have no hope that I can reverse that in 40 minutes a day. There are probably a few queer kids in my classes, but I don’t blame them for staying closeted (I grew up around here, an I stayed closeted until I was 21). Their only exposure to gay people is from television. I can’t even discipline them for hateful remarks because the other teachers and administrators hardly back me up. The other adults are just as bad as the kids.

    I know it’s important for my students to see me as a regular person instead of some outlandish stereotype (Kurt from Glee, for example), but it could cost me my job. I know how much it would have helped me to have one gay teacher in high school, but I’m worried I’m not strong enough to be that for someone else.

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      It can be a difficult position — that one gay teacher that unintentionally becomes the beacon for all the little future gays in the classroom. It’s, of course, compounded by job security threats…

      You do you. Ya know? Don’t bag education just because Ohio is not exactly progressive. Explore your options — you may surprise yourself by finding the perfect teaching fit somewhere. Or, bag it and find a profession that is more accepting! Either way — do what’s going to make you happy.

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    I went to an alternative high school. We had to choose to go there and it was a lottery to get in. The Dean was an openly gay man. One of the ways that they sold my high school was by saying, “I know you all think that Community is just the gay high school, and while people of all sexual orientations/gender identities/whatever are completely welcome, we are not just a gay high school…” One of my best friends in high school was already transitioning, and we had a Queer Straight Alliance as well as a partnership with a local youth organization that had a club called Riot Youth for LGBTQ kids in and around the area. I don’t know if there were other out teachers or administrators but I can’t imagine that it would have been a problem. Of course, my town is pretty well known as being SUPER liberal.

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    I am a freshman in high school and to all you teachers- You are so awesome and even if I don’t know you, your being out at school makes kids be more aware of how they act and speak, creating a better environment, and even if I never say anything to you about it, just knowing how awesome you are and that you’re LGBT makes me really excited for the future. I’ve never had an out teacher but there are definitely some at my school now, and I smile at them like mad in the hallways. It would be so cool if there was a teacher or staff member in the GSA!

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    My school would get mad at me and my girlfriend for holding hands, while all the other girls at my school would hold hands, cuddle, sleep on each other, pin each other to walls (srsly) and kiss each other on the cheek, but OMG THE LESBIANS ARE HOLDING HANDS, CRISIS.

    I also want to be a primary school teaching, but I’m really scared that some parents might freak out if they find out I’m gay? Idk if I work in a public school at least, I don’t think I could be fired ’cause of that…

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    EEeeeeee all the queer Language arts/Lit teachers make me so happy! Soon I will be amoungst your midst, hopefully. Which brings me to a related question:
    I am actually going to give a presentation to my Intro to Education class about creating a LGBTQ+ safe space in the classroom. Does anyone have any specific things that as queer teachers/students/past students that you feel I should bring up? Any input would be wonderful!

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      Personally, the best way I maintain a safe classroom is shutting down the negative-gay language. I don’t permit my students to use any language that can be perceived as harmful. Granted, I can’t control their mouths, but there are consequences when they don’t follow the language rules. I also take the time to talk with my students about why this language is offensive, etc etc.

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    I think this is the first year I’ve ever had a teacher that I’m pretty sure is gay. I know about one or two other gay teachers in my school, but I’m pretty sure my english teacher is. I wish I could have had more gay teachers, I think they can even subtlely make things better. They are more aware of pronouns and just saying things in an ambiguous way. A lot of my teachers always say things very heteronormative, and it’s so nice to not have that for once. I’ve also had a gay student teacher but she was very closeted about it, I only knew because one of my friends got to know her pretty well and found out. Also I love the bit about the Girlyman poster, they are amazing, the drummer is an old college friend of my mom’s, but I unfortunetly haven’t met her.

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    OMF this!! I had a lesbian English teacher in college who totally changed my outlook, one time I turned up to class with my hair shaved on one side and a leather biker jacket, the other kids were howling with laughter but she just said she really liked my new look. I really want to track her down and thank her for helping me feel a little less lonely and confused.

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    I have, as far as I know, only ever had one gay teacher, and the whole story is awful. When I was twelve, I was in a loud, unruly class, and while I myself was inscure and “the smart kid”, I still had a sharp toungue, which I never quite knew when (not) to use. Anyway, one of our teachers was young, nervous, awkwardly tall and a crappy dresser, and he was really easy to provoce. All in all, he screamed “target/victim”. And my awful, awful class obviously took advantage of this, and we downright bullied him. Around this time, I also fell in love with a girl in my class, and subsequently spent most of the year being sad, terrified and ashamed because I was a “half-dyke” (which is the terminology I used in my mind, because it sounded harsher and lees clinical than “bisexual”). Anyway, since she was one of the people that were the nastiest to him, I joined in the bullying, trying to impress her. I did manage to get her to laugh a few times, and right then, I really couldn’t care less what my teacher was feeling. About six months later, someone decided to google our poor teacher, and found out that he had created a profile on a gay dating site. This was a pretty fatal blow for me – I was already so fucking ashamed, and now, the most pitiful, laughable person I could think of, was the only gay person I knew. The blow proved pretty fatal for him, too. He just resigned immediately, and moved across the country.

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    From a small town. Pretty sure there is a ship that brings in a batch of Teachers to spread amongst the rural County school system. The rule is that they must arrive single and then marry one another within a year to stay and shift the housing margin. Gay Teacher? Never had one. I did have Teachers I wished were gay. Grade 4 Miss Kim beat all the boys in a foot race. Totally my first crush. Here I was thinking I had to marry the boy who ran the fastest and along comes Miss Kim in some Reeboks blowing my little queer mind.

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    We had a PE teacher who was out to Yr 11 and 12 but not the younger kids. We used to giggle a bit when the younger kids used to ask her about her ‘boyfriend.’

    Then these girls in 9th grade started whispering loudly to each other in the hallway that she was gay (as if it was some big secret) and I don’t know if that had anything to do with it but she left quite abruptly a short time later :/

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    I understand when queer teachers don’t want to be out, but I can’t really fathom why they don’t stand up to discrimination in their classrooms when doing so would not put them in danger. I’m in my final year at a grammar school in England with kids who are neither threatening nor violent and are also terribly nerdy. In a Biology class a few years ago (a class with only 11 kids in it), one of my classmates was constantly talking about how gays are disgusting. My teacher, who had taken his boyfriend on school trips and was pretty much openly gay, said absolutely nothing and just let it continue, despite how closed-minded and bigoted this kid’s statements were. At this point I was still struggling to accept myself, and hearing that kid say those things with the people around him agreeing that gays were disgusting and with no evidence to the contrary, I felt pretty shitty every time that topic came up, which was rather a lot in the 3 years that we had this teacher.
    A few years later I found out that there were 3 of us in that class who were queer, and all of them have said the same thing about it making them feel worse and that they felt a little powerless to speak out because they felt that they wouldn’t be supported by the teacher should an argument break out.
    You don’t even have to be queer to defend queers in your classroom, but when you are queer and you know about how hard it is in high school to accept yourself when you’re surrounded by knobheads who think that you’re wrong, it would help to tell a kid to stop being a douchebag when you know that it’s probably going to adversely affect somebody in that classroom, either by making them think that they’re wrong or that bigoted views are okay.

    Self-indulgent personal rant over.

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    “Don’t announce, but try to not hide, either, because it’s a near guarantee that there’s a gay student in your classroom who is trying to look to you for recognition that it is possible to be gay and be okay. Even successful! And smart! And all the good things.”

    This. This. This. The rainbow flag sticker my chemistry teacher had on her supply closet door offered me a strange sense of comfort that I was okay, and I can still be smart and successful and that even though I was uncomfortable with myself at the time, I wasn’t alone.

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    I had a lesbian teacher in high school. She’d been with her partner for fifteen years, she taught my math class and coached basketball, and was just generally cool and kind and matter-of-fact about her sexuality and her love life in a way that I deeply envied.

    I had another teacher who was straight and the victim of my obsessive closeted tenth grade crush. She was beautiful but also the kind of person who knew all too well that she was, if that makes any sense. She made a homophobic joke on a day that was already one of those shitty sixteen year old days and it hurt me in a way I wasn’t aware teachers could hurt me.

    My math teacher found me crying in the hallway and I was too embarrassed and afraid to explain what had happened. She somehow pieced it together, I guess, because the next class the hot teacher gave the class a stilted and insincere apology and within a week my math teacher was running a GSA at our school, providing a safe space that allowed me to be, for the first time, openly bi.

    That’s the story I tell whenever people claim that teachers aren’t that powerful.

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    I’m currently student-teaching in the South. No anti-discrimination laws here, and any “mistake” this semester can be taken grounds not to give me my teaching certification in May. I’m definitely aware of that fact.

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    When i came out to one of my teachers asking for advice, she made out that she was straight, and I later found out she was gay. After all the times we spoke about it I was quite hurt she never shared her sexuality or experiences of coming out with me, and hid it from me. I wish she could’ve been open with me, and been a role model to me by being out and proud. It’s a shame she felt she had to keep her sexuality hidden from students to avoid discrimination.

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    I can’t remember if I have had any gay teachers when I was in high school. Actually a lot of students suspected two literature teachers to be lesbians, but that was more a rumour who made all straight students laugh than a true fact.

    Now I’m in the university, studying arts (and I can say people are more open to homosexuality in this department than in the economic department for example), it’s a bit different. I mean, no teacher never came in front of us and said “Hey guys, know what ? I’m gay !”, but one of them is really outspoken about it.

    And even straight teachers seem to be cool with homosexuality. Our cinema teacher told us she wasn’t against gay marriage (it’s an actual hot topic at the moment in France), and so on.

    And that’s really cool like that. Of course, university is not like high school, I mean if you say you’re gay to someone in university, everyone won’t talk about it for years or maybe insult you, because most of time they just don’t care. But anyways, it’s always nice to know there’re people like you who totally accept they’re gay and make you feel you’re okay… And that means a lot to me because at the moment, in France, there’s a lot of homophobic bullshit.

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