"Hey K&D, I’m a semi grown up, 28 year queer teacher, out to friends and (recently) my parents (yay!). I work in a small, conservative, regional town where being ‘queer’ is perceived as abnormal. I’m deeply conflicted as to my responsibility (?) to come out at work - I feel my sexuality is private, but our students deserve/need positive queer role models and honesty. Whilst I can’t lose my job (due to the law), I can lose my colleagues’ respect. What do you think is the best way to navigate this?"
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Hey okay. This is a tough one, and I completely understand that you are in a sticky situation. I have a few thoughts, but I want you to know that this decision is your own and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ There is only what you want and what you decide to do.
(1) On being a positive queer role model: Don’t put this on yourself. You can be a positive and affirming, open-minded, celebratory of self-expression teacher human WITHOUT being out. If you genuinely feel your sexuality is yours and it is a private matter, do not feel FORCED to come out to be a “role model.” You can do about 1 million other things to make students feel welcome and celebrated. You can ask everyone what their pronouns are (added bonus: you can explain what that means), use same-sex couples as examples, suggest books that highlight different types of families, talk about current events, show “it gets better” videos and let your class know that your door is always open. This is all stuff you do to be inclusive of EVERYONE, it’s not stuff you do to prove you’re queer.
(2) On losing the respect of your colleagues: I can’t imagine you will create close friendships with these people if they are the type of people who would stop respecting you because of who you are… I just can’t. I would not want to stay in-the-closet for someone else, the same way I would not want to come-out-of-the-closet for someone else. Try to check in with you and do what is best for your own brain.
(3) On Safety: I don’t know where you live or what your school environment is like, only you can know how safe you’ll truly feel. If that is your main concern, if you feel like your life, job, well-being, etc are all in jeopardy, do not feel pressured to come out. It is totally 100% okay to keep your private life private, in order to keep yourself safe. As I said before, you can be inclusive, warm, and totally open without compromising your privacy and identity.
Dannielle has hit and expanded upon the key point in this situation: you can (we all can) bring change to this world in ways that also align with what makes us feel comfortable.
Would it be great for your students to have a positive queer role model in the form of you, their teacher? Well, duh. Yes, of course.
However, if you come out for this purpose and your work environment becomes uncomfortable or unsafe or just generally unpleasant… how is this going to affect your teaching? My guess is that you want to maintain decent working relationships within the walls of your school so that you can bring positivity and open-mindedness and encouragement and creativity to the students who need those things desperately.
So, this becomes a balancing act that you negotiate from day to day, month to month, and year to year — and like Dannielle said, it is different for each and every person placed in your position. Dannielle has given you fantastic ways to bring conversations around sexuality, gender identity, and human equality into your everyday lessons, and there are many places that can help you do so in the ways that most fit your class and curriculum. Look to GLSEN, and smaller communities like the NY Collective of Radical Educators for materials and guidance.
I want to take a sidebar here to say that I am angry. I know you, Anonymous, must be angry. And, dear reader, you are probably angry along with us. The fact that hundreds of thousands of incredible people are placed in this unfair, ridiculous situation each and every day is a fucking intolerable injustice, and it is okay and right for us to also feel fucking furious about it. Okay? Okay.
To those of you who can be out, let’s keep hollering and yelling and banging our queer pots and pans to the fucking high heavens. To those of you who cannot be out, let’s work together to make your voices heard as well. To those of you who are not queer or trans but believe in human equality: BRING THESE LESSONS INTO YOUR CLASSROOMS. BRING THESE WORDS INTO YOUR OFFICES. We need your voices alongside ours so that teachers like this amazing person know that they have support in their places of work and elsewhere.
*raises fist to the sky*
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