"Hey Teach, are you gay?"

  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Mar 19, 2009 3:23 PM GMT
    I've never had any student during my decade + high school teaching career ask me directly- or even indirectly, BUT....
    I sometimes wonder if my silence is helping students struggling with their sexuality. I'm completely out to the staff. Not to parents.
    Yet so many colleagues tell me the kids aren't stupid; they already know. They're just discreet.

    So if they know, why is the overwhelming sense that it's still not okay to talk about it openly?

    This is not a black and white issue. Hence, I figured a good topic for a Forum. Feel free to weigh in. How out should/can a teacher be?
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    Mar 19, 2009 4:17 PM GMT
    I taught HS juniors & seniors for a short time, before my late partner suddenly became ill and died. My epileptic seizures increased a great deal, possibly stress related, and I decided to abandon my teaching career.

    But for a brief period I faced your problem. I never came out to my students, nor did any ever ask me. I felt that my sexuality, straight or gay, wasn't relevant to my job in the classroom.

    And quite frankly, in that conservative community the parents would have wanted to lynch me, encouraged by their church leaders to believe that all gays are child molesters. You can't control this issue in many cases, so that you only serve to destroy yourself by coming out. In many parts of the US the law is not on your side, but against you.

    But I understand your concern for those students struggling with their own orientation. A few years before this I had been taking some undergraduate college courses that I needed to teach HS. One day I was running late for class and didn't pay attention to the shirt I grabbed as I left my apartment.

    After class a young female student came up to me in the hallway. "Sir, can I please ask you a question?" At my age even fellow college students call you "sir."

    Very shy, she struggled to continue. "I hope I don't insult you, but... are you gay?" I was a little startled, but answered yes, wondering what prompted that question.

    "You're wearing a shirt that says 'Gay Men's Chorus of Houston.'" I looked down at my shirt and sure enough I was! She went on to tell me she was lesbian, and rather intimidated & lonely on this small campus, which had no GLBT student groups. She thanked me for being so "brave" to advertise my sexuality, which made her feel a little better.

    I put her in touch with a faculty member who headed an unofficial GLBT support group for students. And from that day forward I wore gay pride crap to classes on a fairly regular basis. Not to flaunt my orientation, but as a signal to other gay students to not be afraid, that they were not alone.

    As noted above, I doubt you could do that yourself as a teacher, without getting fired or running into severe criticism. But you might look for opportunities to promote a GLBT student group, in alliance with other liberal teachers there. Quite honestly, I'm more concerned about the welfare of the struggling gay students than I am about you, though accommodating both would be ideal.

    I presume you're a big boy, and tough, while these students are just kids starting out who are getting all the wrong signals & messages about their orientation. It wouldn't surprise me that as a teacher, you would ultimately derive greater satisfaction from helping them more than helping yourself, if one is forced to prioritize.
  • HndsmKansan

    Posts: 16311

    Mar 19, 2009 4:17 PM GMT
    I think you bring up an important point and no really easy answer.

    Lots of variables.. your comfort level, the comfort of the administration, location, etc. Sooner or later, support and acknowledgement will be very important.. and no doubt your assistance to a gay high school student could be abolutely criticial, since that help has been a void to this point in time.

    But are we there? How do we get there? My suggestion would be to discuss this subject with a close teacher or staff member in which you trust. You probably need additional input before you consider anything.
    If your principal is someone with whom you can confer on subjects such as this... ask his or her opinion. You would have to have some support there before you consider doing anything..... otherwise your job could be in jeopardy.


    I would like to hear much more about gay students in your high school, what you would like to do to assist, the administration.. so much.
    My question.... Are you ready?
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    Mar 19, 2009 4:32 PM GMT
    Wow...that is a good question. I'll take a stab at it from when I was young. I sure wish I had someone around that I could have talked to and felt comfortable with. RedVesper's story really sums it up, you're a role model in so many ways. Not only to those who are gay and at an age where confusion leads to questions that not everyone can talk about, but also to those who are not but who respect you and thus will learn tolerance and understanding based on your example. And who knows, maybe they'll take that back to their Sunday school teachers and teach them that gay guys can be normal! LOL

    HndsmKansan makes a good point with his question too. Are you ready? I think you need to be willing to be the role model and everything that goes with it in being there for those who have no where to turn, there to defend your sexuality when confronted by parents and other staff and there to do what you probably do best, teach. Teach tolerance, understanding, consideration in the classroom and in the community. It would seem to me to be a much larger picture than just a side note to the 3 R's.
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    Mar 19, 2009 4:33 PM GMT
    Thanks for your insights, both of you!

    I did raise my concerns with administration. They suggested I get a speaker in from a local gay organization. This way the issue is addressed at an assembly, and the "face" is distanced from the school. I haven't done anything about it yet (due to time) but it might be a start.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Mar 19, 2009 4:35 PM GMT
    students always know which of their teachers are gay.
    it becomes common knowledge through the grape vine.

    sometimes, im not even sure if the teachers in question do yet :p


  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Mar 19, 2009 4:49 PM GMT
    Its not relevant to your job. Straight teachers don't explain their sexuality, why should you. As for the idea of being a safe person for them to talk to, almost every community nowadays has a GLBT group for us/them to join. Teachers are there to teach concepts. So dont worry about it.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Mar 19, 2009 4:52 PM GMT
    Red Vespa - That is really a wonderful story!
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    Mar 19, 2009 5:02 PM GMT
    I agree that no teacher should explain their sexuality.
    But straight teachers get to refer to it. My colleagues will make infinite references to their wives and husbands. I find I am an expert at watching my pronouns- keeping it generalized to "I went on a vacation" as opposed to "My partner and I went on a vacation." etc.
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    Mar 19, 2009 5:10 PM GMT
    One of the debate tournaments I did in highschool, we went out to Boise, ID, and one of the teacher's classrooms had all sorts of rainbow paraphernalia and Brokeback Mountain movie posters, and things of the like all over the walls and ceiling.

    Considering this, anything you choose should be perfectly ok LOL!
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    Mar 19, 2009 5:21 PM GMT
    whosyourpaddy saidIts not relevant to your job. Straight teachers don't explain their sexuality, why should you. As for the idea of being a safe person for them to talk to, almost every community nowadays has a GLBT group for us/them to join. Teachers are there to teach concepts. So dont worry about it.
    This is true but the reality is that 1) most kids who have questions probably won't seek out these places and unfamiliar people and 2) I think in big metro areas you'll find the centers but not in the smaller communities. Sometimes the teacher is the close "adult friend" a person has at that age. I don't see it so much about explaining a teacher's sexuality as much as not hiding it, straight teachers don't hide it either.
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    Mar 19, 2009 5:23 PM GMT
    I had a similar experience when teaching secondary school for a number of years in Asia. The student's did ask, and we did talk about it. It was helpful. You might consider joining AERA (www.aera.net) or at least joining the Queer SIG (Special Interest Group) as there are great discussions about this and lots of research as well.

    If you are in a position to, young people of any gender identity need role models, especially ones that approach life differently and do it well and wisely.
  • DuggerPDX

    Posts: 386

    Mar 19, 2009 5:36 PM GMT
    This is a good topic.

    I know personally I would have benefited greatly if I had found an out teacher while I was in high school, or at the very least a teacher/mentor who was gay positive. But that didn't happen and I feel it delayed my coming out by a few years. Of course that was the late 1980's and in some respects a lot has changed since then and there may be more support for gay teens in a lot of urban areas, I feel sorry for gay youths in the more rural or conservative areas.

    As a side note, there was a teacher I had in Jr High in San Diego that everyone assumed was gay, he looked liked an 70's porn star when I look back now, and he taught gym class. I often wonder if he was gay and what became of him, just the idea at that time in my life that others might be gay planted that little seed in the back of my mind that maybe I was gay.
  • Timbales

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    Mar 19, 2009 5:39 PM GMT
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Mar 19, 2009 6:30 PM GMT
    Straight teachers talk about their husbands and wives. Why shouldn't I?

    I teach at a university, so my students are older and sexuality is protected by the university's discrimination policy, so I couldn't be in a safer environment.

    I've referred to my boyfriend in class whenever it was appropriate to do so. And of course it's appropriate to do so sometimes. Students get a better learning experience when they understand that their teacher is a person too.

    I've also had several gay students in my classes, some have become acquaintances, some have not, but all my students have seen a successful openly gay man standing up the front of their lecture theatre every week. If that's not the most positive thing we can do in our fight for equality then I'll be buggered if I know.
  • boilerup_82

    Posts: 188

    Mar 19, 2009 6:45 PM GMT
    I wonder if my students at Purdue thought or new I was gay. I can have "some" (as in very few) feminine gestures but overall, some people cannot really tell if i'm gay.

    At the end, my students thought I was of their best TA's they've ever had. yay!
  • MichVBPlayer2...

    Posts: 132

    Mar 19, 2009 6:52 PM GMT
    Cliff131 saidI agree that no teacher should explain their sexuality.
    But straight teachers get to refer to it. My colleagues will make infinite references to their wives and husbands. I find I am an expert at watching my pronouns- keeping it generalized to "I went on a vacation" as opposed to "My partner and I went on a vacation." etc.


    This is my biggest worry as well. I have one more year before I graduate and become a teacher. I'm a high school swim coach now. I am always worried about the pronouns I use as well. Because I'm not in a serious relationship right now it's less of an issue, but I know down the road it might be.

    What about putting pictures up of my partner or family. What do you do in that case? A lot of teachers have pictures of their families and I'd like to be able to do that as well. Another interesting aspect to this topic.
  • Nayro

    Posts: 1825

    Mar 19, 2009 6:59 PM GMT
    I wish my teacher was gay, hes so hot icon_razz.gif
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Mar 19, 2009 7:05 PM GMT
    I wonder if I become a TA next year if I should be out. I never really thought of it. My guess is that people are smart enough to pick up on any clues that they see.
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    Mar 19, 2009 7:07 PM GMT
    Based on my community, it would be unwise to announce my own sexuality--for fear of parent recourse. The uber religious ruin this job for everyone, grrr

    Note: I teach in the Central Valley
  • dionysus

    Posts: 420

    Mar 19, 2009 7:10 PM GMT
    when i go back for my master's, in toronto, as a TA im going to be me. as gay as i wanna be.
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    Mar 19, 2009 7:27 PM GMT
    Hmmm. That all depends. Do you have tenure yet? You are right when you say that this isn't a black and white issue. I think if youare gonna go down that road then you should be prepaired for whatever may occur.

    Nothing says you can't be gay and teach, however, when it comes to kids I doubt most parents will see it that way and whill most definitely raise an eyebrow or two. I say let them wonder. Do they need to know what goes on in your personal life? It's not just the kids youhave to worry about but also you co-workers too. Oddly enough if they haven't figured out you are gay it might be somewhat of a shock to them and theymight not be as understanding as you would think.

    Keep in mind the consequences of your actions and once you weigh out the options ask yourself is it something you are willing to deal? I'm not saying you shouldn't be quiet about yourself since thier are benefits to kids knowing and understanding. I'm just saying you might be careful since you are a teacher.
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    Mar 19, 2009 10:32 PM GMT
    i was out at an inner city, at-risk high school with a racist homophobic principal who didn't like the arts. me being an openly gay, white teacher of dance meant we had alot of head butting issues. but i'm not going to deny my identity so other people's identities aren't threatened.

    i'm not going to lie: if you aren't a supportive environment as it is, this will only make it worse.

    also, if you are open about your sexuality it is going to be a field day of questions from students that are absolutely inappropriate. questions they would never ask out loud to straight teachers, they will ask you in the middle of class (and if your situation is like mine was, you'll get blamed for it for making your sexuality known in the first place).

    tread lightly.
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    Mar 19, 2009 10:34 PM GMT
    dancerjack saidi was out at an inner city, at-risk high school with a racist homophobic principal who didn't like the arts. me being an openly gay, white teacher of dance meant we had alot of head butting issues. but i'm not going to deny my identity so other people's identities aren't threatened.

    i'm not going to lie: if you aren't a supportive environment as it is, this will only make it worse.

    also, if you are open about your sexuality it is going to be a field day of questions from students that are absolutely inappropriate. questions they would never ask out loud to straight teachers, they will ask you in the middle of class (and if your situation is like mine was, you'll get blamed for it for making your sexuality known in the first place).

    tread lightly.


    i can haz detenshunz?
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Mar 19, 2009 11:32 PM GMT
    I'm a college professor in, what I can guess is, a more liberal environment; however, it's not relevant to your job. Yes, students "get it" and many of them will sense you're gay, but openly stating it can invite problems from trouble-makers that don't care for you being gay.

    Granted I know where you're coming from with this. You fell like just a simple act of identification and acting as an outlet for the student to confide in will do a world of good for one person. It's true. But you can still make it known to students that you're there to listen without putting yourself in a vulnerable position. For example, I teach public speaking and last year a male student came to me saying he was scared to give his first speech (typical). I asked "why?" so he could just realize that whatever he was afraid of isn't a big deal at all. Then he told me that he was gay and he was afraid others could hear it in his voice. I could have easily told him it'll be ok as I am gay....but I didn't/couldn't go that route, but I still was a listening ear and encouraged him to do his best.

    In the end, talking about your sexuality in class or out of class can only lead to trouble unless it's topical in the area of a LGBT student support group.

    ....my $.02