My speech at my school's Gay-Straight Alliance assembly.

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    Jan 16, 2012 4:56 PM GMT
    By "my school" I mean the high school at which I teach.

    Right after winter break ended, the first assembly of the year was the GSA assembly organized by a handful of students. I volunteered to speak at the assembly this year, and talk about stereotypes of gays in sports. A large part of why I got into teaching in the first place was to be a role model for students who are coming out, but I also am not one to wear my sexuality on my sleeve. It's easy to voice my support as an ally, during events like GLSEN's Day of Silence, but especially as a math teacher, I feel like I have even fewer opportunities to really talk about my own personal life. So getting up on stage in front of the whole school was effectively a "coming out" speech for those who didn't know, but only because they had made assumptions and I wanted to set things straight.

    Anyway, here's a public link to the speech on my facebook page. I'm curious to hear your reactions / comments / questions. If you had a math teacher in your high school years get up on stage and give that speech, would it have made a difference in your high school experience?

    https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150453708681493

    Facebook note copied below:

    This morning my school held it's annual Gay-Straight Alliance assembly - the theme was "What does it mean to be gay in a straight world?" There were about twelve speakers total - some students, some faculty, mostly female. Even at my ultra-progressive NYC private school, I was the only gay male faculty member on stage, while one of the organizers mentioned in his speech that he was the only out gay male student at the entire school. I'm not sure what that says about the current climate, except that perhaps we still have a long ways to go. Overall the reaction was very positive, and a lot of students and faculty alike approached me afterwards with words of praise and gratitude. They also really liked my pink tie.

    - - - - -

    Hello, I’m Carl Anhalt. I’ve tried to teach math to some of you…

    When I was in high school, I wanted to be on the swim team. I had grown up around the water, and don’t remember ever not knowing how to swim. I had even briefly done a season of team swimming when I was six, but still, I was hesitant to join the high school team. By that age, I knew that I was gay, and I had already internalized this notion that - if I’m gay, then I won’t be any good at sports. Out of fear and ignorance, I missed out on a great opportunity, because I unconsciously bought into this bias that our society still perpetuates today – you can be gay, or you can be an athlete, but you can’t be both.

    Think for a moment about the high profile male athletes who you “know” are straight. The media loves to share personal stories, like when a basketball player marries a Kardashian… or when a golfer is caught cheating on his wife. You never hear similar stories of gay athletes though, and that lack of media coverage sends a silent, yet powerful message that maybe gay athletes just don’t exist – or more likely, that their personal lives are best kept secret.

    In the three highest profile US sports – football, baseball, and basketball – there has never been even one male professional athlete that has come out publically during his career. A handful have come out after retiring though. Dave Kopay, who played in the NFL for eight years eventually came out as gay in 1975… John Amaechi came out in 2007, after playing in the NBA for five years, ending with the Knicks in 2004. So gay elite athletes do exist, but they’ve had to keep their personal lives private.

    Times are slowly changing though. In the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Matthew Mitcham from Australia won a gold medal for diving while his boyfriend and family cheered him on from the stands. Out of more than 11,000 Olympic competitors that year, he was one of only 11 openly gay athletes there. In 2009, Gareth Thomas came out while at the top of his career as a star on the world rugby scene, two years before his eventual retirement just a few months ago. There are also outspoken allies like the Rangers’ Sean Avery who took a lot of criticism from others in the hockey community after recording a video for last year’s campaign in support of marriage equality here in New York.

    As for my own limited athletic career, I eventually got over my fears and got back in the pool in college, where I swam and played water polo on the varsity teams. I fell in love with those sports and one of my few regrets in life is that I didn’t start sooner. When I eventually came out to my teammates, it was remarkably unremarkable for them, but it meant the world to me to not have to continue to hide that side of myself. I also learned that not only could I be openly gay and an athlete, but that an entire community exists that actually embraces both. After college I kept playing water polo with a predominantly gay team in Los Angeles, and I continue to train and compete with a similar team here. When I moved to Boston, I joined the gay rugby team there to make new friends. Through these community based teams, I’ve not only traveled the world to places like Sydney, Johannesburg, Paris, and Dublin, but I’ve also made lifelong friendships through the camaraderie and brotherhood that comes from sport.

    For many people, being gay in a straight world means overcoming the stereotypes our culture has us buy into and bridging facets of life that sometimes seem exclusive. I learned that I can be gay and be an athlete, and I can’t imagine my life now without either. Once I finally unlearned my own deep-rooted misconceptions and overcame my fears, I also discovered an amazing community of friends, teammates, and family.
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    Jan 16, 2012 5:33 PM GMT
    A great speech! I think you gave a very good perspective on something that way too many never assume is possible...to be gay and an athlete. Also many never seem able to get the importance of teamwork and sports teams as a teaching and learning situation for socialization and networking as important as subjects that are part of an ACT/SAT....GREAT JOB!. I wish I had even one out gay teacher when I was in school.....but that was in the 60's and 70's and not yet accepted.....so the battle continues. Thanks for having the balls and background to give this speech!icon_biggrin.gif
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    Jan 16, 2012 7:07 PM GMT
    Great speech and if I had heard this at my high school, I can tell you without a doubt that it would have made me more comfortable with myself in my high school environment. Teachers are huge role models and what you did is admirable!
  • Cuchullain

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    Jan 16, 2012 7:22 PM GMT
    That was great!

    "If you had a math teacher in your high school years get up on stage and give that speech, would it have made a difference in your high school experience? "

    Hell yes. Really well done - you deserve great respect for that.
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    Jan 16, 2012 7:27 PM GMT
    you have no idea of the impact that wouldve had on me. it wouldve changed my life, and it probably already has for several of the people who heard that speech. is there a video of this?
  • Trepeat

    Posts: 546

    Jan 16, 2012 7:30 PM GMT
    Phenomenal, man. Major respect to you for being a powerful agent of change and positive influence. I bet you`ve helped some of these kids more than you`ll ever know.
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    Jan 16, 2012 7:31 PM GMT
    They did take video of the whole assembly (I was only one of maybe 12 speakers), but I haven't seen it yet. If I find a copy of it, I'll see if I can post it - at least my segment (not sure if I can post video of students).

    And thanks for the praise guys. I know at least one of my 11th graders who had come out to his family recently, finally started telling some friends, shortly after I gave my speech. I don't know if the two events are related, but I'm hoping I at least changed some opinions at the school.
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    Jan 16, 2012 7:47 PM GMT
    Yes, you definitely would have made a big difference in my high school career. All my teachers are the ones that encouraged me to go farther and got me to experience new things that I would not have done if it weren't for them.

    I respect you a lot for making a difference at your school and in your community. Though your pay is not enough, what you did pays off big time in the long run. Great job!
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    Jan 16, 2012 8:29 PM GMT
    Great job on the speech and a very good role model for the many young kids that hear it. Changing perceptions one person at a time. More role models like you are needed to do that.

    I think that Billy Bean (not the A's manager) did come out during his baseball career and it quickly ended his career, which goes to the heart of what you're saying, being gay does not preclude you from being an athlete but others perceptions of being gay might!

    Thanks for sharing.
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    Jan 16, 2012 8:46 PM GMT
    Cuchullain said That was great!

    "If you had a math teacher in your high school years get up on stage and give that speech, would it have made a difference in your high school experience? "

    Hell yes. Really well done - you deserve great respect for that.


    This!
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    Jan 16, 2012 9:05 PM GMT
    What I liked most about it is that you give a perspective of a conquerer versus a victim. All too often, stories, movies and speeches about the black experience and the gay experience have this victim undertone where we're pleading to the audience to pity us and where whites or straight people are bad guys. I don't want people to feel sorry for me, nor do I want to demonize a group of people. I just want a little respect and for people to think about others around them. I think your speech was concise and balanced. Congrats.
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    Jan 16, 2012 9:20 PM GMT
    jdawg89 saidGreat speech and if I had heard this at my high school, I can tell you without a doubt that it would have made me more comfortable with myself in my high school environment. Teachers are huge role models and what you did is admirable!
    this!
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    Jan 17, 2012 1:45 AM GMT
    Brownale saidWhat I liked most about it is that you give a perspective of a conquerer versus a victim. All to often, stories, movies and speeches about the black experience and the gay experience have this victim undertone where we're pleading to the audience to pitty us and where whites or straight people are bad guys. I don't want people to feel sorry for me, nor do I want to demonize a group of people. I just want a little respect and for people to think about others around them. I think your speech was concise and balanced. Congrats.


    Thanks. I was definitely aiming for concise. The original suggested time was 2-3 minutes... but I think I ended up closer to 5. So if it feels like I left things out, that's largely why. I could ramble on tangents on any number of things in that speech.

    I also agree that I did not want to make some sort of sob story, or have anyone feel sorry for me. I think there's a fine line between letting yourself be vulnerable and appearing the victim. I also knew I was in a very "safe" space and could trust that I wouldn't have any repercussions for my job or from students. My own advisory (12 kids I meet with every day through graduation... kind of a homeroom) had a lot of great things to say the next day, and apparently I'm one of the "cool teachers" now - ha.
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    Jan 17, 2012 1:45 AM GMT
    This would have totally made high school easier. We need more teachers like you around.
  • wldct1998

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    Jan 17, 2012 1:50 AM GMT
    If an adult I knew and trusted when I was in high school had given this speech, it would have helped me understand what I was feeling and that I wasn't alone.
  • wldct1998

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    Jan 17, 2012 1:51 AM GMT
    ...but it still wouldn't have made me an athlete!
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    Jan 17, 2012 3:27 AM GMT
    Stop harassing children, please.
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    Jan 17, 2012 3:47 AM GMT
    Such an excellent opportunity, well fulfilled and executed. I like especially how you concentrated on just one aspect of being gay so as maintain the focus of your children on what is important.
  • nomadfornow

    Posts: 1069

    Jan 17, 2012 3:49 AM GMT
    Well done, Carl... thanks so much! You've every reason to be proud.

    In answer to your question: an absolute yes. I was never athletically inclined, though I did try my hand at both basketball and track. But to hear someone stand up a shatter the myth that to be gay means only adhering to a very narrow stereotype would have been a godsend.

    Regarding Billy Bean: he did not come out while he was still playing... he made the announcement four years after he retired from the game. He wrote a memoir entitled "Going the Other Way," which is a very interesting and eye-opening read. I met him at a book signing a few years back, and he was a very friendly, well-spoken, and handsome guy.
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    Jan 17, 2012 3:58 AM GMT
    Great job. What a great example of a teacher and a leader.

    Expect letters and E-mails for many years from the most unlikely of students thanking you for this. I am sure that you sparked a change in more lives than you will ever know - from permitting a questioning student to imagine a life in which he/she is gay and safe to informing the straight student to reject stereotypes.

    As far as your question - I delayed my coming out way too late. Had I heard this speech, I would have come out much sooner.
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    Jan 17, 2012 4:10 AM GMT



    try that speech! icon_eek.gif
  • FRE0

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    Jan 17, 2012 4:58 AM GMT
    Very good, but that speech could not have been made when I was in high school; I was graduated in 1956. At that time, few people were aware of the existence of gay men and women; I certainly wasn't. I knew that I was attracted to other males, but assumed that it was just a phase that I was going through. The shock came a few years later when I realized that it wasn't just a phase. Another shock came when I was outed to my parents and disowned.

    No doubt it would be helpful for gay high school students to know that some teachers are gay and supportive.
  • sevencloud

    Posts: 96

    Jan 17, 2012 6:38 AM GMT
    Wow my math teacher in school was hot, had he come out it would have made me even more gay!

    Just kidding!

    That speech would have been awesome for me to hear back in school.. I came out when I was a freshman, being 1 of only 3 only gay male students in school. It was harder being the only ninja-y student in school (a lot of macho jock assholes loved to try to pick fights with me). It would have made it a lot more comfortable for me to know that there was a gay male teacher. (I had to tell a straight male teacher about a crush I had and that was awkward, but ended well, thankfully) If anything I probably would have participated in gym more!

    Fortunately though I had a great group of friends who stuck by me and let me be who I was. Not everyone is that lucky, I know. But at least your kids have someone they could look to if they need it.

    Thanks for sharing that and making the world a better place for gay math students and future gay athletes everywhere.
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    Jan 17, 2012 7:45 AM GMT
    That's a really great speech you have there. Its honest and straight forward and gives hope to potential pro sports players.
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    Jan 17, 2012 9:40 AM GMT
    jrunner25 said
    [creepy kid video]


    try that speech! icon_eek.gif


    I think I would be fired before I set foot off the stage if I said that to my audience icon_smile.gif The way he's rocking the camera I thought he was talking to an actual baby.