“I’m a teacher and a closeted (at work only) queer. Do you have any ideas about what can I do to support my students on the rainbow spectrum without overstepping my bounds, outing myself, or just generally being creepy?”
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Sara Schmidt-Kost as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
This is a topic I struggled with while doing my undergrad, and I have only just begun to figure out how to navigate through it. I realized while in college that I couldn’t be the most authentic teacher I wanted to be without being out to my students. I’m so lucky now to be out at school and to work in a school district that is incredibly supportive of LGBT staff and students. More and more schools and school districts are becoming supportive, though in K-12 Education it is still hard to address LGBT topics.
First thing you should consider is how supportive your school environment is of LGBT students and staff. Does your school have an inclusive bullying policy in place? Is there a Gay-Straight Alliance? Are there other out LGBT staff? Is the rest of the staff generally supportive of LGBT people? There are ways you can be sneakily supportive of LGBT students, but it helps to have the administration and other staff behind you.
I recommend you start with simple things like making sure you are providing a safe, welcoming, and inclusive classroom environment for all students. That includes making sure you are intervening when students use homophobic words and phrases like “that’s so gay” or “no homo”, as well as any other offensive racist, sexist, classist, or ableist slurs.
Also, you could put a rainbow sticker on your door. You could put up supportive posters in your classroom. You could start an anti-bullying club. Depending on what subject you teach, you can incorporate LGBT people and themes into your lessons. You can be an example of what it means to be an ally to the LGBT community, even though you’re *whispers* actually queer. And then, once you’re comfortable being a more supportive teacher, you can assess whether or not you want to stay closeted at work.
As far as specifically supporting your LGBT students, I think it really depends on the age group you work with and what your students need from you. It’s important to remember that your work with your students is about them, not about you. Once they know you are supportive of LGBT people, they might feel more comfortable coming to you. Start small, and know that your students will begin to recognize that you are supportive of them. Kids pick up on stuff. They know the teachers they can turn to when they need help.
Lastly, continue to educate yourself on best practices of anti-oppressive education, social justice teaching, and multicultural curriculum. The more comfortable you are with the concepts of social justice and multicultural education within K-12 schooling, the better a teacher you’ll be for your students. Also, check out the book “One teacher in 10”. It’s a wonderful collection of essays from LGBT teachers. It might help you better navigate through this process.
Best of luck to you!