The Classroom Closet

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Within the past year, I attended our district’s screening of the Teaching Tolerance movie Bullied. About a hundred people were there, including high-ranking district administrators, teachers, concerned parents and students. After the screening, we broke into small groups to discuss the movie and its impact. The facilitator of my group suggested that those of us who are gay talk about our experiences in the district.

The facilitator, who knows me, looked toward me to start the sharing. However, because I didn’t know several people in the group and because there were no norms established or even a suggestion of confidentiality, I went silent. Several other people, mostly straight allies, spoke of their perceptions of what it was like, yet I remained mum.

It was a painful silence. On the drive home, I reflected on the reasons why I chose not to speak up: fear of many things, including rejection; the possible impact on the successful career I’ve spent years creating; and even an undercurrent of internalized homophobia that I still haven’t properly addressed.

I began to wonder what I would have shared at the meeting, and I began to find the words describing what it means for me to be a gay elementary school teacher.

It means I have learned how to live in and navigate two different worlds. It takes much mental energy to try to hide one world from another and to carefully keep them apart.

It means I navigate the “dance of the pronouns” when speaking, consciously watching my language all the time. It can be exhausting. Once, when talking with a parent about the house I share with my partner, I slipped and used the term we. She picked up on it immediately, causing a moment’s panic.

It means my co-workers think I am the most boring person in the world. I rarely talk about what I did over the weekend, or in the evening, or even over the summer, preferring to leave out large pieces of my life in fear that some detail would reveal my true nature. I have a mental list of safe subjects to discuss.

It means when I am celebrating a new relationship or mourning the end of one, I cannot show any feelings. I may be torn up inside, but I always have to be even-keeled, ignorantly happy, unconnected.

It means that in the staff room and at staff meetings, I listen to my co-workers share stories about their spouses, often to much laughter, but that privilege does not extend to me.

It means I listen to homophobic talk from staff members and internally grimace at the pain it causes.

It means I have to excel at the craft of teaching because I live in fear that I will be fired if my principal finds out about me. Although not currently, I have taught in states where teachers can be fired just for being gay. Some of the staff members who have said homophobic things in my presence were my administrators.

It means I must navigate uncomfortable conversations when a well-intentioned teacher tries to set me up with her single daughter or, even more uncomfortably, when a female teacher asks me out herself.

It means I feel a sting every time our staff celebrates a wedding or baby shower because I know that, should I get married or have a child, the staff would not celebrate these events.

It means I show up to staff social functions alone, if I attend at all. I’ve learned that people disclose much about their personal lives at these types of functions, so it’s best to skip them entirely to avoid any probing questions.

I do not ever fool myself in thinking that I am totally successful with this hiding. I know some of my colleagues have started to connect the dots. I have to decide if or when I will tell a colleague. If I feel comfortable enough to invite a co-worker into my house, then he or she needs to know, because I refuse to live a closeted life at home.

I know that my decision means that I am not setting an example for my students, particularly students who are gay (and may not know it yet). Were I to come out now, maybe when it’s time for them to recognize themselves, they will feel empowered because one adult who cared about them for a year in elementary school had the nerve to show them how. 

On the drive home from the screening, that painful silence enveloped me, and it echoes within me today. Maybe someday I’ll have the nerve to speak up. Until then, these words, written anonymously, must suffice. And perhaps the truth of my words will echo within the thousands of teachers across this country who can relate to them.

Comments

I've been so overwhelmed with

Submitted by Ms. Anonymous on 5 March 2014 - 5:50pm.

I've been so overwhelmed with the decision that I must make at the end of this year to return to my (private, Christian school) classroom and remain closeted OR quit for fear of being "found out." Naively, I thought I was the only one who struggled with decisions like this. Thank you for posting this article.

Dear Anonymous Colleague, I

Submitted by Monique Vogelsang on 6 January 2014 - 11:05am.

Dear Anonymous Colleague,

I too used to suffer in silence. I taught children for years, thinking I had to live within shadows--even in New York City. But after much consideration and a tossing pebbles into the pond, I finally dived in. Here is the coming out story I wrote:
http://moniquevogelsang.com/?p=251

I hope you find peace soon!
Monique

This story and the ensuing

Submitted by MDPW on 27 December 2013 - 10:03am.

This story and the ensuing comments show how important straight allies are. As a straight ally myself, I feel that the most important thing I can do is speak up for any injustice I see. Because I have a reputation for speaking out against mistreatment of everyone, my LGBTQ colleagues know that they have a friend and supporter in me. It is easier, sometimes, for me to speak up in a difficult situation than them. I hope that LGBTQ educators everywhere can find one or more straight allies who can support them.

There are many differing

Submitted by TG on 26 December 2013 - 11:59pm.

There are many differing experiences out there. I work in a district with not only out teachers, but MANY out administrators. We are not in a particularly liberal area either, though we are in a state that allows same sex marriage. The bottom line is that sometimes we have to find our niche and it may mean a move, etc. (not always easy to do).

I was once in a highly discriminatory district. A very high up official told me that my career was not going to progress as it was too risky due to my sexuality..... questionably legal, but the reality.

I moved to an accepting district. They have been great, I have been challenged to learn and grow - and the bottom line is that no one even cares. In this district people are acknowledged, rewarded and promoted based on job performance, not partner preference.

Thankfully, more and more places are making these shifts towards acceptance.

I hope for you that one day these issues will no longer be relevant and that you can go to work and be yourself and only worry about job performance.

Anti-Gay Code Thank you for

Submitted by Colleen Sheely on 24 December 2013 - 10:54am.

Anti-Gay Code

Thank you for shedding light on this issue of teaching in the closet. When I read this to my daughter last night, (she too is a lesbian) I could see her finally understand the Horrors I have endured as a teacher in a mid-west high school for the past 4 years of my 8 year tenure.
The first four years, I had been teaching in a small community when my beloved principal, a supporter of teachers and staff retired. During my fourth year and his last year I had just begun to come out of the closet and the few colleagues I told were very supportive.
The next year we got a new principal of the more conservative and claiming "Christian" values type. Shortly after her arrival the school board hired a new Superintendent with similar views. Over the past four years I spent exhaustive hours defending myself as a teacher and my tenure and union were the only things holding my position. Even though my state has anti-discrimination laws on the books that protect teachers like me, the "code" still exists. People who say you can not be fired because you are gay do not know about the "code". This fall I was threatened with termination if I did not resign because "I had lost the faith of the community." (code for Lesbian teacher). My colleagues, friends and students were outraged by the administration and deeply saddened by my resignation. I could have fought the district only to be reappointed to the school and maybe could have won a substantial settlement but my partner and I chose not to go through the turmoil. I ended up resigning after the first quarter with a fully paid contract and benefits. My settlement cost the district more than dollars. They have lost an exceptional teacher.
I have been fired before from a University Hospital because I was not a "team player", "code" for being gay. I had been there for 6 days when my new boss who happened to be at the same Catholic School Carnival as we were, saw me holding my partner's hand. I was fired that next day.
So even if you are a fantastic TOY that "code" exists and people will use it to serve their own exclusive agenda. Dear Anonymous only you and your partner can decide what is right and when to come out. Your article touched so many and made me thankful for my decision to resign, I just do not want to teach for a place that can not accept me for me.

Did this story ever hit home

Submitted by Deena on 19 December 2013 - 8:08am.

Did this story ever hit home for me! I would a T on the LGBT spectrum. I am proudly transgender and only now, in my middle age years, discovering who I am. For years I have operated under fear of being discovered. In the small mid-western district where I teach, people are not so tolerant.

I have slowly come out to a few of my co-workers and I have been blessed beyond my imagination at their love and support. I am learning to be more real with my friends and family. Because of this, the peace I am feeling at being able to express my true self is indescribable.

There have been many transgender people in the news of late and some very controversial transgender issues explored. I admire the courage that I read about. I am beginning to find my voice and courage I didn't know that I had.

I don't know where my path will lead but I know that I do not have to go it alone. I have been supported by several dear friends during some difficult times. They have welcomed me for the woman I am and I am proud to call them my sisters.

Thank you for raising this issue. It is real, it does exist, and we all need to be aware of little things that can be interpreted from a different perspective that turn out not to be little things at all.

Peace!

Thank you for writing this!

Submitted by j5a8m on 18 December 2013 - 12:56pm.

Thank you for writing this! I really try to avoid doing the "pronoun dance" -- and the result is that I share less and less about myself and my life and my interests as time goes on. I do think there are many who know "who I am" but I am not comfortable, in light of my current adminstration, being open. Although I long for the day that I can talk about my life without fear, I also hope that at that point it won't even matter -- because the people who matter will already know and it won't make a difference to them.

Did I mention that I am a relentless optimist? :)

Wow...I read this and my

Submitted by Shannon McCarty on 18 December 2013 - 12:25pm.

Wow...I read this and my heart broke for you. I am also a lesbian elementary teacher and completely out with my staff and many parents. Our children proudly brag about their 2 mommies. It makes me sad for you that you feel you have to be so silent.

Thank you for sharing!

Submitted by Maggie on 18 December 2013 - 10:31am.

Thank you for sharing! Homophobia is such a vicious cycle that can only be arrested when we ALL, gay or straight stand up to social stereotypes. As a bisexual, I can relate to your disclosure, as it is incredibly hard to close off a part of who you are, and the life experiences that shape who you are. I applaud the fact that you took the time to share your experience here, and your decision to pursue excellence in your career and think of your students' needs- present and future. Your message here undoubtedly moves more of us- educators and administrators- to think about homophobia in the workplace.

I'm going to knowingly twist

Submitted by freelancewriter on 18 December 2013 - 8:58am.

I'm going to knowingly twist this a little bit, so be forewarned.

I think back to my school days. I was, and still am, a quiet person. Intelligent, great grades. Sometimes docked for lack of class participation. I'd answer when called upon, but I didn't voluntarily raise my hand. I dreaded the thought of it.

School was a painful dance. Teachers thought I should talk more. They also thought a few of my fellow quiet classmates should talk more. Work can also be a painful dance. I don't care to share my personal life much, and some coworkers try to insist on it.

In a later job working in a school system, I heard principals and administrators flat out say that their goal was to make every student outgoing. "If a student isn't talkative, they won't make it as far in life." The words of a principal. So as a teacher, as administrators, as a principal, they need to require more class presentations, more small group work, etc. That was their thought.

Here's the reality. I'm an introvert. Many people are introverts. And we have a huge impact on the world, thinking through problems (instead of quick, uninformed action), contributing ideas in forums and on paper (and not in group settings), and effectively executing ideas thought up by us or others without a desire to gain the look-at-me accolades, just do the job and do it well. Yet we can be pushed hard into a world where we are expected to be talkative, outgoing, etc.

For many introverts our pain and discomfort with who we are started early, and quite often that feeling of being the other and flawed was due to the action of well-intentioned, or sometimes thoughtless, teachers. Yes, that could be you if you are a teacher reading this.

Why am I posting this here? Because the original post used a bullying workshop as a device to illustrate unintentional bullying of gay teachers. And I want to caution teachers who are interested enough to read this article, and who view themselves as tolerant, that they may be unintentional bullies themselves toward their introverted students.

There's nothing wrong with being gay or straight, and there's nothing wrong with being an introvert or an extrovert. We need to celebrate the many forms of diversity and the strength it brings to our world. Just make sure you aren't the one excluding the "other" in whatever way that is defined.

It is a bit challenging to

Submitted by Hunter on 18 December 2013 - 1:39pm.

It is a bit challenging to live in a world that celebrates the extrovert. As a performing musician as well as an educator I have had to learn a lot of survival skills in their world.

I work at a middle school

Submitted by LisaFloridaTeacher on 18 December 2013 - 7:50am.

I work at a middle school with a number of openly gay and lesbian teachers. I'm sure they have experienced moments of ignorance and intolerance, but I hope they know the majority of the staff love them and appreciate them as they are. I hope you find a place where the respect and admiration you deserve are based on who you are, all of who you are.

I am an openly gay elementary

Submitted by Simone Ryals on 18 December 2013 - 5:00am.

I am an openly gay elementary school teacher. An understanding (straight) Assistant Principal once gently suggested that I be careful because discussing sexuality is taboo with young children. Yet, straight teachers innocently discuss their sexuality all the time with nary an eyebrow raised. They announce impending nuptials, pregnancies, mention their spouses and children casually in conversation, wear rings, display family photos... No one charges that teachers shouldn't use the honorific of "Mrs." because it's akin to a public declaration that the most important thing they want known about themselves--even before revealing their names--is that they have men with whom they have intimate relations. That would be absurd. That's not seen as "discussing sexuality," but a gay person merely mentioning being gay or having a partner is seen as completely different. Frankly, it's because we allow it to be seen as different by not insisting in matter-of-fact tones, with logic on our side, that it isn't.

I understand that we all have different circumstances, but the only real reticence to asserting that children should be taught that being gay is a good thing that I have encountered in ten years of teaching has come exclusively from other gay teachers. Ignorant straight people can be educated, but as the author points out, we already know the truth, but too many of us live in fear. If your circumstances would result in being fired, fewer qualified gay teachers in our classrooms serves no purpose; but I have to say bluntly that I am enraged by closeted gay teachers.

We know the grossly disproportionate statistics on homelessness for children whose own families disown them, drop-out rates, bullying, suicide, and drug-abuse. We know personally what it feels like to be the gay kid in the classroom never seeing our families or ourselves depicted in the cutesy children books or bulletin board displays. We know firsthand that sensation of thinking we're the only one, that there's something wrong with us, that we're the last acceptable group to be mocked by children and adults alike. To not only allow that to continue but perpetuate it for the children in our care is, in my opinion, a dereliction of duties.

On a personal note, terrifying though it usually is, it's rare that I hear someone regret coming out. It's freeing. In short time, it's yesterday's news. I'm not terribly brave. I do still have fears. Every new student or colleague means coming out all over again in one way or another. There are crazy and violent people out there who could seek to destroy my career or hurt me or my family. I only know that the number one reason that determines whether or not people support civil rights legislation for gays is whether or not they think they know gay people. If Dick Cheney can be swayed in his thinking by virtue of having a gay daughter, anyone can recognize the truth that we're just people and it's not a big deal.

I just finished my year long

Submitted by New teacher on 17 December 2013 - 11:01pm.

I just finished my year long student teaching experience and was lucky enough to be with an incredible host teacher.
Being an out teacher is quite possibly one of the scariest thoughts especially as I start to establish my career but in the moments I've been honest with kids about myself, the response fundamentally changes the entire classroom dynamic. I've seen kids react because they know I'm not authentic, and they don't trust me. But once I was honest, it radically shifted kids to trust me and willingness to do the work because they knew I truly meant everything I said.

My kids started changing the way the speak.

Does anybody have advice on whether or not to come out immediately and avoid the hurdle of having to face a potentially hostile admin later on?

I'm sorry that you are so

Submitted by Jill on 17 December 2013 - 8:43pm.

I'm sorry that you are so distressed. I'd like to offer a perspective you may not have considered. I work in Utah, so it may come as a surprise to hear that in my district we have had in the past, a director of curriculum who was lesbian and whose partner was a principal in the same district. It didn't cause so much as a ripple. We currently have several gay and lesbian teachers who are to varying degrees comfortable about being open with colleagues about their lives and families, But let me just tell you about one of them. She was a first year teacher when she was hired at our school. She is by nature quite reserved, but out of fear became more so. She was terrified of being outed and losing her job. She spent most of that year doing as you do, guarding her language, sharing nothing, and spending a lot of energy protecting herself. She never realized, as I suspect you may not, that she was putting all of us who were on her teaching team in an equally uncomfortable position. We all figured out that she was lesbian within a month of meeting her. And we spent most of that year trying not to have conversations that would make her uncomfortable. And of course that made us uncomfortable. And she thought we didn't know she was lesbian so we all spent a lot of energy trying to pretend we didn't. I mean as hard as it is to come out to your colleagues, it's damned hard to be that colleague and not tell somebody who is closeted that the closet has no door! OMG it was such an AWKWARD situation! Finally, in the spring, she asked us to meet with her and with much hesitation told us that she was tired of hiding from us that she was lesbian. There was a long silence and then a third colleague said, "Honey, were you really thinking we didn't know that?" The look of astonishment on her face was hilarious! We burst into laughter, and finally had a non-awkward conversation. So my message to you is that many of your colleagues are just waiting for the day when THEY no longer have to maintain a charade in order to help a friend they care about very much to maintain his.

It makes me feel very sad

Submitted by Kathy the Ally on 17 December 2013 - 7:01pm.

It makes me feel very sad that you can't be yourself and be the man you are. No one should be hated for being born LGBT. One writer mentioned welcoming church communities, and I found a wonderful Episcopal parish community after my much beloved (and also overwhelmingly accepting, although we had a few toads in that parish they were outnumbered) Catholic parish of my childhood closed. I love my parish community because of the diversity of people there, from older folks all the way down to families with babies. I think that writer's advice was excellent. I hope that you can find a community of support regardless of where or how, of not only fellow LGBT folks but out Allies like me who have your back. I hope that one day you can be yourself and find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Dear Teacher, I am employed

Submitted by Gail Foreman on 17 December 2013 - 6:57pm.

Dear Teacher,
I am employed in a district that protects me. I have a group of administrators that love and support me. Our school has a GLBT Alliance, my peers know my wife and celebrate birthdays,holidays and special events with us. My wife and I have been together for 23 years. Several of students know that I am a lesbian and I support all people. I do not allow any comments in my class room that can offend or demean. I have been named Teacher of the Year two times in the years I have been employed with the district. I am part of Sarasota Pride and my administrator supports Pride by volunteering. Pride is a huge part of our school culture as we celebrate our students of all colors, sexes, abilities and lives. My closet doors are open and I am proud to be part of such a great school and district. Maybe someday we can all be who we are in our classrooms as well as everywhere.Happy Holidays.

I cried reading this. I

Submitted by Christie on 17 December 2013 - 5:42pm.

I cried reading this. I realize how much my life has changed since I came out 15 years ago following nearly 20 years sharing that same classroom closet. I left a principal position to work at a school where I can be out. I let my superintendent know that the reason I left was because I was not safe in his school district. The good news is that the district adopted a non-discrimination policy just months after that conversation. This letter was also a reminder to me that I live in a state that may not be typical in this country, my partner and I are getting married this spring and it is common knowledge in my school.

My message is not to quit your job, we should not have to choose between being safe and doing the work we are called to do, but rather to look for allies. My colleague, when I finally came out to him, told me that he wished he had been allowed to be my advocate sooner. He reminded me that the majority must speak to the majority and they need to be given the tools to share the message.

Dear Closet Dweller, I

Submitted by Kristin Pohl on 17 December 2013 - 4:57pm.

Dear Closet Dweller,

I completely understand the fear you are facing. I too faced that same fear, but no longer. My first step was to realize that to not be myself was to eliminate part of what makes me a good teacher and I am no longer willing to do that. I will say that I have the safety of being a high school teacher, but I think people will surprise you. The school where I teach is heavily mormon in neighborhood influence (we have a mormon church directly across the street) but I decided to come out anyway. What a scary day that was. I remember my heart pounding, my palms sweaty as I walked into my principal's office and told him "I've decided to come out, both to my collegues AND my students." My principal's response: "It's about time." After a couple of awkward moments in the first year as I tried to figure out the best way to come out, I have become comfortable with presenting myself as gay.

In fact, the first day of regular classes every year I say to my students "Two things you may have heard about me; one that I have a bad temper and two that I am gay. Both are true." I allow them to ask me questions if they want and then I begin class. I do not shy away from referring to my partner in examples or stories (I teach Psychology and Sociology)and I often mention that we've been together for more than 25 years (more than most of their parents). I try to present my life as it is, because outside of the fact that my partner is a woman, I lead a very typical middle class life.

I think it is important that you never behave as though you think something is wrong with you because they will follow your lead no matter which way they go. I understand the hesitation in elementary school and so maybe you start with your administrators and then staff and then parents. The less panic you show, the less likely they are to look for something wrong with it. My heart goes out to you and I hope some day you find the courage because it is the most liberating experience you will ever have. Imagine one day being completely comfortable in your own skin and celebrating the whole of you. What an amazing day.

I am lucky to be employed in

Submitted by Whitney Weddell on 17 December 2013 - 4:22pm.

I am lucky to be employed in a California District, although, because we are in the Central Valley, this part of the state often looks upon California's blue nature with great disdain. Coming out here is hard, especially for teachers, even though the law protects us.

I was accidentally outed at work more than 20 years ago, and I decided that I could either deny, deny, deny and live in fear, or embrace it and see what happened. I embraced it; I told the truth. To my shock and pleasure, nothing happened. Life went on. No parents called demanding their kids' removal; no mean jokes played at my expense. I discovered that if I projected a confident and serious image as a good teacher that included the real me, everyone, truly EVERYONE, would just live and let live. That is exactly what has happened.

I spend my off hours working for an LGBTQ non-profit, and I am frequently featured on local TV and radio to speak on topics like ENDA, marriage, or trans rights. My students often ask about these things, and they have spurred some fabulous discussions about current events. In a similar vein, the kids will ask about my wife, when we got married, do we have kids, etc, and while I am not going to share too much of personal life, I am delighted that who I am is just part of their normal day, just something we talk about like it "ain't no thang." I am hopeful that these kids will grow up and take the place of those who live in fear of us.

It is not generally in my nature to boast, but being an out lesbian has not impacted my career at all. In fact, one four occasionas at two different schools, I have been named teacher of the year, and once I was even the county TOY. Every knows, and because I try to just be a good teacher, nobody cares. (That being said, I have no interest in being admin, so I do not know if I would reach a lavender ceiling if I tried.)

I do wonder if my story might be very different if I were male. Gay men do seem to get a lot more grief as teachers than lesbians. And I am aware that I am very lucky, having never served under a religious zealot administrator. The kids' reaction, though, suggests that it is safer to come out than many think.

I also have seen the truth

Submitted by HMP on 18 December 2013 - 12:11am.

I also have seen the truth that it is often easier for kids to "deal with" change and be accepting of peers or teachers who may be "different" than it is for the so called adults in the system. I taught for many years in the Washington state schools near Seattle and it is a very liberal and accepting climate for the most part but some of the suburban schools are still dominated by conservative staff and parents. They also have many more issues with racial diversity than the actual students in our classes as well.

I am fortunate to work in a

Submitted by Straight on 17 December 2013 - 3:53pm.

I am fortunate to work in a community where sexual orientation is accepted and no one is seen as "dangerous" or unaccepted if they are in a loving, committed relationship without or without children. I would like to offer that the fear of expectation of talking about one's private life goes well beyond our GLBTQ community. It is more unaccepted to be single of any gender or orientation and to not have a family than it is to be a member of the GLBTQ community. I often do not attend functions or discuss my activities strictly because I am single and not in a committed relationship. In general, the respecting of one's personal life, whatever it may be, is a lesson that needs taught.

My partner and I are both in

Submitted by Question on 17 December 2013 - 3:29pm.

My partner and I are both in the education field. Neither one of us are out, however, would like to be. We live in the Bible belt which she loves to remind me given she is Muslim and I am Christian. We live in a state that either one of us can be fired for just being gay. We are also dealing with the father of our daughter who to say homophobic would but it nicely. I have been out and shared my life openly in a previous setting, I wonder and ask this great group of educators for any advice you may have to help this process out. I will hopefully be a school counselor one day and hope to be a light for some of the kids in my school, however I know I need to be that light for me first. Thanks!!!!

I face a slightly different

Submitted by jmob on 17 December 2013 - 3:26pm.

I face a slightly different issue. I teach in a small and very conservative school district in the "Bible Belt." I have felt free to speak out in support of EVERYONE's rights, including gay rights, when those issues come up in my social studies classes. I know my community's dominant culture, and navigate potentially "charged" issues well in that setting.

However, this year my high school son - after several years of deciding - came to the conclusion that he is gay. He is a senior, and I was actually hoping he'd wait until after graduation to let that be known. Part of that was out of concern for his well-being (reputation as well as physical safety). But much of that was that I didn't want to deal with any repercussions in my own work.

My son saw things differently, and I wasn't about to tell him to stay hidden. So he's "out" and handling it quite well. So now I'm just stuck with my own selfish concerns - wondering if I'll get any blowback from parents. (In this community, just because it's nobody's business doesn't mean they'll keep out of it.) I went to my principal just to give him a heads up, and he assured me that he's got my back. I've told three co-workers, but no one else at the school.

Oddly, one of my biggest frustrations is that I no longer feel free to speak up in support of "everyone's rights" anymore. I feel that I have lost some credibility and that my objectivity will now be called into question. But who knows. . . . I'm still in the middle of this process.

I was raised in a very conservative church, and I'm sure I still have some latent prejudices lurking inside my own perceptions.

On a more positive note, I also teach as an adjunct at a community college. Last spring semester, I had to drop the "same-sex marriage" topic from our debate project. But the reason for that might surprise you: The students who were to argue AGAINST it complained that it was unfair to them - because they couldn't find enough credible reasons to argue against gay marriage. Wow! And in the Bible Belt, no less!

The times, they are a-changin' - but can still be complicated.

As a now former teacher in

Submitted by Julia on 16 December 2013 - 3:03pm.

As a now former teacher in California, my heart breaks every time I hear about the fear with which my LGBTQ teachers still live in. My decision to be a totally out (to kids to everyone) teacher was not mine to make. That decision was made for me by an uninformed and uneducated technically supportive colleague. I embraced the outing because quite frankly, I am a lesbian and lets move on. However, I was treated more like a circus freak side show (she doesn't LOOK like a lesbian, whose the man and whose the woman in your relationship, you are being investigated for teaching gay things) by faculty and staff. I do have news that is wonderful though-the KIDS are alright! Interestingly, in California which has some of the most inclusive laws on the books, it was the adults who felt free to harass and bully students and myself. When an adult participated in the harassment of students, regardless of the reason, it is my legal, moral and ethical duty to protect them. This action in addition to my being openly gay led to the end of my employment and quite possibly my career of 16 years. Interesting enough, as a totally out teacher I was the absolute best, most authentic teacher ever. Students felt safe and free to be themselves. One girl scurried into my classroom and said "I'm a lesbian you're the only one who knows. I had to tell someone, don't tell" and scurried right out. I never saw this student again but am honored to this day that she shoes to share that with me. I ,et some of the bravest human beings I have ever know in those kids who fought for their right to go to school in a bully and harassment free environment. I would say that I am proud of them, but that would diminish the fact that the kids at this school are amazing. I prefer to say that I am grateful, not for having lost my job, but for having the opportunity to meet, teach and guide these kids!

Much is said about student rights to be out and protected. We still have a long way to go, even in states like California. what breaks my heart is the fact that teachers, even of there are employment laws protecting them, still remain in the closet-and with good reason many times. Teachers may be out to a few folks they work with, but I don't know a single totally out teacher. Those people that could be acting as role models for our kids are relegated to silence. Those people that should be able to share in the engagement parities and wedding showers or in simple conversation about those things money people take for granted are forced into uncomfortable silences. We need a movement in our LGBTQ community to bring all of the community onto the light. It is time for our teachers to truly be able to be themselves and, in turn, be the truly authentic teachers our kids deserve.

I am sorry, Anonymous, that

Submitted by Linda Geissler on 17 December 2013 - 2:15pm.

I am sorry, Anonymous, that you must live this way. I am the counselor at two elementary schools. I think the elementary culture makes it a little more problematic because the parents can be so protective about things they don't understand. I do work with an openly gay IA but I don't know if any other of my colleagues are gay. If I worked with you and you decided to come out to staff, this straight woman would be by your side and helping you bridge this feeling of not belonging--but only in the way you'd want my help. I know of many openly gay middle and high school teachers and I just don't think the culture in secondary school is as difficult these days as it used to be. Now we need to help elementary parents know that there isn't going to be a gay agenda--there is barely time to do the regular common core stuff even if there were an agenda.

I hope you take the time to do self care, embrace who you are in other parts of your life, and maybe find a fellowship like Unitarian Universalism, Congregational United Church of Christ or some Methodist and Episcopal churches that are openly welcoming to gay, lesbian, bi and transgendered men and women.

A friend.

As a school teacher, and then

Submitted by shawn g on 16 December 2013 - 3:02pm.

As a school teacher, and then administrator, I have known many teachers that are gay. I've keep their secret because I knew the social and professional consequences they faced if their "real" lives became public knowledge. I was one of the few people that these co-workers that they could be their true selves with. I have had only one gay male colleague who has been able to live an open life with out fear of losing his job during my 15 years in the field of education.

I always had a policy of open communication in my classroom or office. Many students shared their concerns of questioning their own sexuality or their known status of bisexuality or being gay. I had the honor of being an advocate for these amazing young people and been able to guide them and their families to local organizations for further assistance and to teach teachers that worked for me how harmful homophobic statements are to ALL students.

It is my hope that educators will stop being the tormentors of students and colleagues. I have worked for an administrator that was extremely homophobic. I took the brunt of his derision because I was a straight advocate for the LGBTQ students, parents, and colleagues in our building. I can't imagine half of the pain that these people suffer at the hands of the people that are supposed to provide guidance and safety to all.

Dear Mr. Anonymous

Submitted by Angela V in NC on 16 December 2013 - 1:50pm.

Dear Mr. Anonymous Teacher,

Thank you for sharing your experiences here. It is my hope that it will help us all think before making assumptions or making someone's private life public without his or her permission.

After I returned from the state Pride parade with a huge rainbow flag that I put in my classroom, a conversation happened that was telling and heartwarming. This was in a class of repeating ninth-graders, most of whom are quite low-functioning, academically. All the speakers are young men, and it is often young men who have the most unkind things to say about LGBT folks.

One student pointed at the flag and began to ask if I was ... and was interrupted by another student who asked, "What kind of a question is that to ask a teacher?" and that young man was interrupted by yet another one asking "What difference does it make?" The rest of the students seemed to adopt the last speaker's attitude, and that was pretty much IT.

In another class, I was asked if I was gay, and, sadly, no one laughed when I told them that I also have a flag in the classroom with an image of planet Earth on it, but no one asked me if I'm a planet.

Sadly, there's very little conversation about why some people fear gay male teachers, and the silence makes the fear become more entrenched. I have a lengthy theory that I won't go into here, but the thumbnail version is that people have been led to believe that male sexuality is, by definition, predatory in nature. The idea of men having a mutually loving relationship with anyone is, for some, unthinkable. A Facebook meme making the rounds recently had someone saying that straight men who were afraid of gay men were really afraid of being treated the way that many straight men treat women.

Although the atmosphere at my school isn't ideal, I think that there would be widespread celebration were a gay or lesbian teacher to announce an impending marriage or baby, and I'm in North Carolina, which (to be diplomatic) doesn't have as progressive a record as one might hope for. Mr. Anonymous Teacher, I hope you find many allies, in and out of school, who value your experience AND your privacy. May you always have people with whom you can grieve and celebrate, and may there always be many more reasons to celebrate.