In the latest guest blog post, a young teacher discusses the struggles of being gay and closeted in a rural school district. Have comments? Questions? Share them in the comments section below. Do you,too, want to guest blog? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This class is so gay.”
“We have homework this weekend? Gay!”
“Get away from me, fag!”
I’d venture to guess that on any given day, I hear at least one statement like this from one of my students. And every time something like that comes out of their mouths, I can’t help but take it just a little personally. Sure, they aren’t really directing them at me, but as a young gay man teaching at a small rural school district, they all feel like arrows trying to pierce the closet door I am still behind.
I have always wanted to teach, ever since I was really little. I can recall placing stuffed animals around me like they were students in my class, and teaching them whatever I learned at school that day. All of my part-time jobs and volunteer work have in some way related to education. And finally, this past fall, I earned my teaching certificate. What an accomplishment it was to me! Finally, the chance to pursue my passion and spread the joy of knowledge and the wonder of the world to a new generation of students. I could be the one to inspire the next great inventor, politician or everyday hero. I applied for a couple of teaching gigs, but the one I really wanted was a job at my middle school alma mater. And I was incredibly pleased to accept the job when it was offered to me.
I knew this was a risky choice. I first discovered my sexuality while I was in middle school. Until I graduated, the only person who I had the courage to tell was my best friend, who also had a thing for guys. We kept it a secret all through high school. We were headed off to college together, a place many times larger than the small high school we had gone to. It took us both a while to become comfortable in our own skins, but we quickly realized we had to take advantage of the openness and liberal attitude we were in general surrounded with. We slowly explored relationships, activism and expanding our social circles to include many out friends. By the time I graduated college, I was out to pretty much everyone on campus. I had written papers for classes admitting as much, and I even attended the LGBTQ Center’s graduation ceremony with my boyfriend.
But back home was a different story. A few lucky people that I felt I could trust were privileged with the secret. My brother (who is also gay) knows, but our parents do not know about either of us. And certainly, I wasn’t about to tell anyone at school. I substitute taught through college, and the state where I live does not have workplace protections against LGBTQ discrimination. And since I didn’t have any institutional support, I wasn’t about to fight the battle against homophobia myself. Despite the often painful barbs I had to endure, my experiences in those classrooms were positive enough that I decided to dedicate my career to education.
I still don’t have very much outspoken support from my colleagues. I am only out to two teachers in the whole K-12 district. I know that it is largely because of the community that we live in, but I have yet to hear a teacher publicly declare their support for LGBTQ rights. I so desperately want to be the first. Every story I read, on this blog and so many others, about the gut-wrenching terror that some LGBTQ students experience makes me want to stand up and literally shout from the rooftops my love for every human being regardless of their own love. I want to hang my “Safe Space” sign on my classroom door. I want to be able to openly say, “I’m gay and it’s amazing if you are, too.”
But I’m trapped in a cycle of selfishness and simple economics. I love my job, and I love working with those kids, and I love supporting that school that gave me so many opportunities. Not wanting to martyr myself and lose my job has led to a heavily barricaded closet door. I do as much as I can to stop the outward, blatant attacks of homophobia that show up in my classroom without drawing suspicion to myself. I even dared to start the year off with a lesson from GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week toolkit. But I’m afraid to go any further. Every time a student asks me if I have a girlfriend, I can honestly say no. But my heart nearly stops as I anticipate the inevitable next question: “Why?”
I have a New Year’s resolution this year. I want to come out to another colleague, who I know to be supportive, and I want to run two more anti-bullying lessons from GLSEN in my classroom. It’s a small gesture, but it’s all I can bring myself to do right now. That, and continue to support organizations and people who are fighting our battle. It is my sincere hope that my story, my voice, will inspire others who are in similar situations to continue to take steps forward. It is hard, it is painful, and it is scary, but together, we can do this.
A Gay Teacher.