THE BLOG
10/14/2010 07:43 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

LGBT Teachers Still Fear Being Fired for Coming Out

I posted recently about Beaverton, Oregon, when a student asked a teacher why he wasn't married. I wrote:

Stambaugh is just the tip of this iceberg, one of the few teachers willing to do what he did and volunteer himself as a positive role model for gay youth and an administrator stamped that out. I'm sure the other LGBT teachers in his district got that message loud and clear.

And the local paper has article on just that, how local LGBT teachers are getting worried about their jobs after they saw that the administration is willing to pull the trigger on teachers who come out of the closet:

[Beaverton Education Association president David] Wilkinson says that many gay teachers choose not to be open in the workplace in Beaverton, and recent events have given these teachers more reason to feel uncomfortable.

"I have been contacted by many teachers who are deeply concerned about their vulnerability in light of this incident," Wilkinson says. "This incident and the district's response to it has brought a bright light to the lack of clarity around what is allegedly age-appropriate or reasonable to discuss with students.

The paper tried to get some clarity, and the responses they got were terrible. They asked two education professors from the Portland area, although if these quotations weren't sourced one would think they're from an Alabama Baptist preacher. Once again, education proves itself to be on of the most homophobic industries in the US:

When the teacher does not identify as heterosexual, "it gets complicated," says Randy Hitz, dean of the Graduate School of Education at Portland State University. "Unfortunately, it is still the case that some people view the homosexual lifestyle as being inappropriate somehow."

This means that teachers need to be careful.

"You don't go out of your way to talk about it," Hitz says. "You don't flaunt it."

Mark Girod, chairman of Western Oregon University's Division of Teacher Education, likens the open statement of a teacher's sexual orientation with other forms of free speech.

"You have the right to live your life," Girod says, mentioning such behaviors as having a tattoo or a nose ring. "But when you're acting as a teacher in a school, sometimes it's not appropriate to wear the nose ring."

They're both university professors from the Portland, Oregon, area. And they're saying that it's not appropriate for a teacher to share a basic part of their identity with their students, parts of their identity that even they admit straight teachers are allowed to share.

And I'm sure they don't consider themselves homophobes, that they may even have gay friends and be pro same-sex marriage and vote for gay politicians, but there's just something about gay people and kids being in the same room that just breaks something in their brains. Meanwhile, they're educating the next generation of LGBT teachers, telling them not to come out, because, heaven forbid, maybe they can set a decent example for LGBT students and help make a dent in teen suicide. They're also educating the next generation of school administrators and letting them know that it's completely appropriate to have two sets of rules about discussing one's personal life at school, one set of rules for straight teachers and another for not-straight teachers.

The Beaverton administrators are grappling with that right now:

[Beaverton superintendent Jerry] Colonna says the district is planning to use the controversy as a learning experience.

"We want to look at the incident as greater than one person in one classroom having one discussion," he says.

The district will consult with gay and lesbian staff members, as well as Basic Rights Oregon. "I really believe we have policies in place, but policies are paper and words. These things are in the gray, not black and white," Colonna says.

As long as they don't explicitly describe what's appropriate and what's not while they're willing to fire people over "one discussion" in "one classroom," LGBT teachers are going to be worried about losing their jobs. Without explicit guidelines, a straight teacher saying he's not married because his girlfriend is still in college will be considered appropriate, while a gay teacher saying he's not married because he can't in the state of Oregon will be considered inappropriate. A straight teacher talking about her trip to England with her husband will be considered perfectly wholesome, while a lesbian teacher talking about her trip to England with her partner will be treated as if she were explaining the ins and outs of cunnilingus to kindergardeners.

All the while, an important resource to fight isolation and social ostracism and homophobia in schools will go to waste, while good LGBT teachers will continue to say "fuck it" and leave the profession for greener pastures. And who could blame them?


In related news, it's important to mention that in all the hubbub surrounding New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino's comments about homosexuality, he was specifically referring to LGBT teachers:

1.jpgI didn't march in a gay pride parade this year, the gay pride parade this year, my opponent did. And that's not the example we should be showing our children, and certainly not in our schools.

And don't misquote about wanting to hurt homosexual people in any way. That would be a dastardly lie. My approach is live and let live. I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don't want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option -- it isn't.

No word on whether he's willing to stand up against brainwashing children into thinking gay people are unacceptable and appropriate targets of violence, both self-inflicted and otherwise.

He later explained that he opposes all anti-gay job discrimination, except when it comes to those who work in schools:

In the "Today" show interview, Paladino said he is not anti-gay and that he would "absolutely" recruit gays to work in his administration. "You name it. Wherever their expertise may be, we'll put them in our government."

Asked about the "brainwashed" remark, he said that comment had "to do with schooling children. My feelings on homosexuality are unequivocal. I have absolutely no problem with it whatsoever. My only reservation is marriage."

He said that "children should not be exposed to that at a young age. They don't understand this. It's a very difficult thing. And exposing them to homosexuality, especially at a Gay Pride parade, and I don't know if you've ever been to one, but they wear these little Speedos and they grind against each other. It's just a terrible thing."

"Wherever their expertise may be, we'll put them in our government," unless their expertise is education. In which case, you don't want people showing up in "little Speedos" and grinding "against each other" while they teach addition to third-graders, do you? Just think about that, hold that image of gay people having butt sex in front of your children... and then go vote.

But don't say that he's homophobic, because that would obviously be ridiculous.