View My Stats

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Teacher Diary: The ABC's of being in the LGBT teacher category

This past Friday was the second social gathering of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered) teachers in independent schools in the SF Bay area. (We are still struggling to find a name that is not an an even longer acronym).

There were about 15 of us from all over the Bay Area. This was the second meeting after 50+ of us met at the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) conference in the fall.

We talked about what we wanted from these meetings. There was a distinct feeling that we all needed a social component of the meetings: a sharing of our stories and experiences as "out" faculty in our schools. But at the same time, we are interested in looking at the current state of affairs of sexual identity diversity at our schools. We want to do this not only for ourselves, but more importantly, for our LGBT students and families we serves. In other words, we want to create the best possible environment for a young person to grow up and be accepted in our society.

Given the recent set back with Proposition 8 and same-sex marriage in California, there is an increased sense of urgency to avoid the complacency that so easily resides with us in the SF Bay Area given the general atmosphere of acceptance that is found here. Even so, we all have stories of push back. 

Personally, I have been an "out" member of all the faculties I have worked with except the American International School in Genoa, Italy. I have been teaching for 23 years. My first year I was closeted only because I was unsure how to navigate issues of identity mixed in with professional ones. But in my second year of teaching I watched a very flamboyant gay teacher not only find acceptance in my school of farm working families, but also a level of affection that was gratifying. But I was working with very young children and felt no inclination to bring up sexual identity (I have since evolved from that point of view, btw).

Fast forward 7 years later and my new job in a San Francisco Spanish immersion school. I was teaching 4/5th grades in the most liberal environment I had every encountered. Even so, I was cautious. Some time in November my principal caught me talking about the "friend" I was living with and she asked me flat out whether he was my boyfriend (no judgement on her part). I said "yes" and from that point on decided that it was advantageous for everyone to know my personal orientation at this school as well.

As could be expected in SFUSD, we were required to teach several lessons a year on LGBT issues. In addition, I had 2-3 students each year from gay families. So I made a habit of explaining to my classes that I was gay and lived with a man. I wanted to normalize it and in fact, that was what happened. 

When gay marriage became a possibility in San Francisco a few years ago, my partner (now and still legal "husband") was standing in line in the rain at City Hall to get the marriage license while I was working. He called me around lunch to tell me to get downtown because we were going to make it on time. I went to tell the principal (a different person) and a co-teacher that I would be going down and could they cover my class. They were in the cafeteria with 120+ 3-5 graders, some of who over heard my conversation. Some of the kids stood up and announced it to their peers and the cafeteria burst out in applause. (this is the liberal, accepting environment I live in, eh?)

I am not an activist, although I wish I had that personality trait. I find it interesting and a little concerning that after 23 years of teaching, it is just now that I feel the need for the affirming environment of the LGBT teachers group. I feel our society is on the crux of near universal acceptance of gays and lesbians as full fledged members and I want to be sure I am a part of the positive change.

I have done little more in my career other than strive to be a correct role model as an "out" faculty and teacher. I suspect that this model has helped "normalize" gay identity at least for some people. While I wish I had done more, I am happy with "setting the example".

No comments: