A few years ago, I worked with a teacher that changed my view of not only teaching, but the world. Andy and I co-taught literacy at a school in the city. Every morning Andy would join us with a smile on his face and we would greet the students. He had an eternally cheerful disposition and genuine care for children. Andy and his partner, Mark, cared for foster children. One Monday morning, before the students arrived, Andy and I were chatting about what we we did over the weekend. Andy told me about how he had spent the weekend on his organic farm with Mark and dog, picking pumpkins and preparing the garden for winter.
"You're so lucky," Andy said, "you can tell the students what you did with your family over the weekend." It took me a moment to understand that Andy was talking about having to stay in the closet at work, and then I felt terrible. I felt for Andy, and I felt even worse for all the students who would miss out on the opportunity to learn about organic farming experiences and the rest of Andy's charmed life. He also wasn't able to teach the students to build an understanding and care for equity and rights of LGBTQ people.
As someone who has always spoken openly with my students and encouraged them to speak openly with me, I felt very empathetic for Andy for having to withhold from the students. From then on, I felt bad every time I freely spoke to the students about my husband and daughters and the fun we had on our weekends, as Andy shared minimally. I didn't have to think about how I'd describe a party, an outing, a dinner. I didn't have to censor my stories.
Why couldn't Andy come out to the students? Andy and I worked with teachers who were intolerant and homophobic. In one grade level meeting when Andy was not present, thank goodness, they spoke about how students were impressionable and Andy's flamboyant behavior was sure to rub off on students, and they would want to become gay. I tried to come to Andy's rescue and defend him as a professional and a human being.
"Would you let him babysit your daughters?" one demanded. I found this comment so off the wall and funny, because my children loved Andy.
"Of course!" I laughed.
"My best friend is gay, but I have never left him alone with my children!" huffed a much more senior teacher with adult children.
Having the privilege to work with someone as wonderful as Andy made me even more passionate about teaching students the truth about LGBTQ people. I now talk freely with students about my gay friends who I care about and love.
Andy is still a teacher, but he has still never did come out to his students. My hope is that by opening the door to conversation with my students and colleagues, one day Andy can feel comfortable, safe, and supported being himself at work.
For more info about how you can support learning about LGBTQ students and teachers head here.