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Alex Blaze

Teacher has advice on coming out

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 11, 2011 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: California, coming out of the closet, education policy, lesbian, LGBT, Oakland, teaching

An article from a lesbian middle school teacher in California discusses coming out in school. This teacher decided to let her students have some Q&A time with her about her sexuality, only to be told in advance not "to tell your class about your sex life and show pictures."

That day I spent about a half hour in each class telling my brief story, passing around the pictures, and answering questions. Several kids told me that their church says homosexuality is wrong; I simply acknowledged that I know many churches have that perspective. One of the kids asked a question about lesbian sex--not a disrespectful question, but a question. I said it was a good question for a sex education class, but that it wasn't something I could discuss. Everyone else had relevant and engaged questions or comments: "How does your daughter feel about having lesbian moms?" "How does your mother feel now? Are you still angry at her?" "How did you know you were a lesbian?" "My cousin is gay." "My aunt is a lesbian." "My dad says I'm lucky to have a teacher who will talk with us about so many important things." The next day, I received a letter from the principal, telling me that she was putting a formal complaint in my file. I also received emails from several teachers offering support and encouragement (including two from teachers who told me they were gay but asking me to keep their secret). There were no complaints from parents. I contacted my union representative, who sent a letter to the principal and to my file supporting me.

The school later tried to fire her, but they didn't succeed.

And, of course, it's important to remember that this teacher is working in the Bay Area, so her experiences are probably a lot more positive than those of someone working in, say, the Noblesville, Indiana, public school system.

But what she does offer is important advice, especially when it comes to planning one's outness. It reads like she's writing coming out advice in the 1980's, but in many ways America's educational sector of the economy is stuck a few decades in the past and while nonchalantly answering "Yeah, my boyfriend's a music major" when someone asks if you have a girlfriend works fine in college, not taking any sort of precaution while a teacher might not have the same results.

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She was lucky a) that the other two teachers stood up for her and made a stink about her not being rehired and; b) that she taught in Oakland which has a very high rate of teacher turnover, especially in middle school. They were desperate to actually keep a new teacher. Had she done anything resembling that in San Francisco (yes, supposedly progressive SF, where teaching jobs are more scarce) she'd be gone. She'd get a pink slip like hundreds of other teachers do each year but would not be among the pink-slipped teachers rehired. (a lot of districts play that game and it gives them the power to fire literally anyone who doesn't have seniority or tenure without batting an eyelash).

As I've said before, schools will never be accepting of GLBT students until both students, staff and teachers are safe from School board, administrator and parent pressure group bullying. Schools, especially younger grades, are some of the last bastions where employees have to fit a heteronormative/cissexual mold or they will be punished. And the school districts are experts at forwarding this imperative while flying under the leaky anti-descrimination legislation in even the most progressive locales.

I have to admit, I cringed when I read "Noblesville, Indiana, public school system". There's a reason I switched out of Noblesville High School. :(

I think she handled it really well. What a stupid school to try and fire her for that - especially with no parent complaints! It sounds like it was all the principal's issues...