"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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"I am a musician, and I identify as queer to my friends and family… but not publicly. I am worried that if I come out publicly, it will close doors to me as I move forward in my career. I don’t want to be a ‘lesbian singer-songwriter’… I just want to be a musician. Is that bad?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Cassidy Hill as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.
The Short Answer: No, it’s not bad. Being visible in your music career has everything to do with your specific situation, your target audience, etc. There’s no obligation for you to be a “lesbian singer-songwriter.” It’s all about doing what’s right for you.
The LONG Answer: Coming out is a process that never, ever (EVER) ends, and in This Business of Art (shout out to Tegan & Sara’s second album!), it can be especially tricky. I’ve definitely struggled with it, and I continue to do so. There are times when I think to myself, “Oooh, same sex marriage is now legal in Florida! Should I post about it on my site?” Or “I really like this new song I’m writing, but should I say ‘she’ in this verse?” I’m working on my first music video, and I ultimately made the decision to write in a female love interest (AND I’M TRYING REALLY HARD NOT TO FREAK OUT ABOUT IT ON AN HOURLY BASIS). It can even be something dumb like, “Will I look too gay if I wear this vest on stage?” I’m literally worried that what I WEAR can make people like my music less. My music doesn’t even wear clothes! How on earth is that fair?
HOWEVER, I strongly prefer being out. When I was first starting, I wasn’t really out out. Friends and family knew, but it made me angry that I HAD to come out at all. “My music doesn’t have a sexuality,” as Sara Quin often says. I just wanted to write some songs, play them for people, pack up my guitar, and then go home and do gay stuff. But then: the music stopped coming. I went through a horrible writer’s block that lasted for-frickin-EVER. The efforts of keeping sexuality a secret became overwhelming and my songwritin’ hand became paralyzed with fear. My music might not have a sexuality, but I do. I couldn’t separate the two.
But hey, that might just be my style of songwriting! Maybe you’re much better at compartmentalizing. Maybe you’re starting your music career in a less liberal location than I. Maybe you’d like to keep your music and sexuality separate while you gain a following and establish yourself. Like I said, it’s all about doing what’s right for YOU.
In my situation, I really like the musical community that surrounds me—it’s full of people at every point along the gender/sexuality/ethnicity/etc spectrums. It also helps having role models like Tegan & Sara, Mary Lambert, Jenny Owen Youngs et cetera. I thought to myself, “I want to be that for other people.” Being visible became bigger than just avoiding writers block. Suddenly, being a “lesbian singer-songwriter” just FELT right; it felt like the thing to do. It might not feel right for you, and that’s okay.
I can’t pretend that coming out publicly will have zero effect on what kind of audience you attract, though I definitely believe that the world is constantly changing and improving for the LGBTQ peeps in this country. If you eventually decide that being visible is what you want to do, I think you might be pleasantly surprised by some very welcoming arms.
Good luck in your music! I hope everything works out for the best!
P.S. Tegan and Sara’s episode of the Nerdist podcast was really awesome to listen to. They talk a lot about what being visible in the music industry is like. They’re also funny and adorable and always worth listening to regardless. I also recommend reading Chely Wright’s book, Like Me and/or watching her documentary Wish Me Away on Netflix. She had a hard time staying closeted within the extremely conservative country music industry, but I find her story so incredible.
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"What is an appropriate way to out myself in a job interview if they don’t ask the diversity question? Last time, all I could think of was ‘As a gay person, I believe in equality in the workplace and beyond’ but that seemed unprompted and awkward in hindsight."
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Sara Schmidt-Kost as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.
Great question! I think there are a few different ways a person can out themselves in an interview that won’t come off awkward or unprompted.
First, please check and make sure you live in a state that has protective laws in place for LGBT people in the workplace. Unfortunately, the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act hasn’t passed Congress yet, so there is no nation-wide law in place. However, some states, like where I live in Minnesota, have passed laws that protect workers from being discriminated against or fired for identifying as LGBT. If there is no law in your state, it could be detrimental to your potential employment.
When you are applying for jobs, there are ways to hint at your sexual orientation in your resume and/or cover letter. Include on your resume time you’ve spent volunteering with LGBT organizations, leadership roles or internships with LGBT organizations while in college, and clearly spe it out in a Special Skills section if you have one. For instance, using terms like “Cultural Diversity,” “Multicultural Sensitivity,” “LGBT Issues,” or other similar terms can signal to those interviewing you of your orientation, or at least your social justice mind-set. You can also include those terms or out yourself in your summary on your LinkedIn profile if you have one.
In the actual interview, you can answer questions in ways that out yourself, such as you stated above. As long as you practice answering questions this way and are confident in your answer, it won’t come off as awkward. Use examples. Mention any work you’ve done with LGBT organizations, anything you learned in college, or any other life experiences that would be relevant. You can always research common interview questions on the internet, or even ask the company for a copy of the questions they ask so that you can prepare.
Speaking of preparing, that’s another great thing to do before your interview. Research the company you’re applying for a job with and check to see if they have a policy about sexual orientation/gender identity. Come prepared with that information and any other information about the company. You can also ask your interviewer during the “do you have any questions for us” section at the end of the interview what their company’s policy is on sexual orientation/gender identity, or about same-sex marriage benefits, anything like that.
You can always out yourself during the “tell us a little about yourself” section, too. You may want to practice that a few times if you choose to out yourself in that way. Rehearse what you’re going to say, and make sure it sounds good to you. The more prep you can do for an interview, the better!
Plan for it. Rehearse what you want to say. Go into the interview confident that you are prepared, that you are qualified for the position, and gosh darn it, that you deserve a job! Now go rock that interview!
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“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!
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"I’m thinking of taking a job (or at least, applying for one) that would have me very closeted, and living with my parents. If I got the position, I would probably take it—it is a lot more money than I am making right now, and it would be a good thing for my career in the long run. But how to maintain self-identity in the meantime?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous
I, honestly, don’t completely understand the need to be out at work. Regardless of who I was dating or what their gender was, I was never the kind of person who constantly talked about my relationship with my co-workers. It’s always made me feel a little weird. I’m a pretty private person when it comes to my relationships, so NOT coming out never bothered me or made me feel like I was lying. PLUS, being gay isn’t the only part of my identity, you know?
HOWEVER, I understand that some people are not like me and they can’t just NOT talk about a part of them.
You and I are basically the same human bc I would take the job, too. Keeping work / personal life separate isn’t that difficult. I mean, after a while you start to make really good work friends and maybe you go out a few times, you get to know each other and they’re your one person who ACTUALLY knows you as a human. Make sure the people you’re hanging out with / dating know your stance on the situation, because if you’re out and you just introduce your girlfriend by name without saying she’s your girlfriend, you stand to really hurt her feelings. Just be open with the people you care about and you’ll be totally fine. PROMISE.
Dannielle and I are very different when it comes to keeping our feelings in. I have a really, really hard time being closeted in any capacity at the workplace, because I like to make a million friends and have long conversations and I always feel weird and like I am lying if I have to skirt around certain topics.
I certainly agree that it is no one’s obligation to be out ANYWHERE, and if you are like Dannielle, then perfect — the above will work wonderfully. If, however, you are more like me, then this could be a little more challenging for you. Putting myself in your shoes *slips on converse* I would say that the first step would be to look at this as a temporary, and ever-changing situation. You aren’t going to be living at home with your parents forever, and you aren’t going to have to closeted at work forever.
Second, I would talk to my close friends and my girlfriend, and explain that I was feeling really conflicted, but that it seemed like the right choice was to do this for now and see what came of it. Let them know you will need them even more as a support system, so that in those moments when you tell your coworker that you just “aren’t interested in dating right now,” you can go outside and call them up to tell them how weird it feels and how nothing is fair and you are angry, etcetera.
Third, I would urge you to take this day by day with yourself. I am sure that the job is a good one, and important to your future… but that NEVER, EVER means you should be hurting yourself deeply on a daily basis. If this is something that, after you begin it, finds a rhythm and you have moments of frustration but are feeling content overall, then okay. If you find that it is weighing on you and causing you a lot of stress, you have to re-evaluate the importance of things. You being depressed and angry all the time and feeling trapped will affect your relationships and your life as a whole. If that is how this begins to affect your life, you should consider making choices that will allow you to be you. Period.