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Update: Despite Progress, Many LGBT Educators Still Feel "Stuck In A Time Capsule"

As you may recall, Screenshot 2015-07-08 13.54.29I got a lot of resistance last week when I posted about how behind the times schools and K-12 education organizations seemed to be to me on the LGBT front (On Equality, Education Has A Long Way To Go).

No, not Rick Hess-level pushback, but a lot of silent, awkward, and WTF vibes.

It's not hard to understand why. Many educators and education activists consider themselves progressive, and were elated about the Supreme Court gay marriage decision.

Talking about the plight of LGBT kids in schools was one thing - but why was I asking where all the LGBT education leaders/role models were to be found? 

In particular, my asking around about education leaders who were already serving as LGBT role models was responded to as if I was threatening to out people (which I would never do) or as if I was bringing up something that was a non-issue (like race?).

One PR professional responded to my question whether there were any senior staffers serving as LGBT role models with a straight-out "Why?" EdWeek's Evie Blad noted that listing LGBT edleaders seemed to her "a little problematic... Better way might be acknowledging that data dsn't exist." 

Fair enough. I get the concern.  But since then, I've gotten a lot of support for raising the issue -- and learned a ton about educators who are also LGBT. 

First off, it seems clear that LGBT educators are still struggling with how to come out to their colleagues and students without endangering themselves professionally. Look at some recent headlines: Oregon's Teacher of the Year spoke openly about being gay — and then he was firedJamestown NY appoints WNY’s first gay school superintendentThe Plight of Being a Gay TeacherI’m a Gay, African-American [Male] Teacher, and Proud of ItHow this LGBTQ teacher turned his deepest shame into his strongest assetAn LGBT Educator Who’s Not Too Proud to Keep Fighting. If there are more/better accounts of what it's like to be an LGBT educator, please let me know.

The Broad Center's Becca Bracy Knight tweeted that "almost all LGBT district superintendents who I've met feel they cannot be open about who they are - it's a real problem."

According to that first article, a big part of the problem is that we all apparently think that LGBT people are protected at work but -- surprise! -- they're not. That's why there are so few LGBT teachers, principals, administrators, and leaders who are out to their students and colleagues.

Or, as one recent writer put it, "in my 18 years in education, I have witnessed many of our LGBT teachers hide deep in the closet.... You would think we were stuck in a time capsule."

And not everyone is as out as you may think they are. Though it's hard to believe, a week ago Friday marked the first time Diane Ravitch publicly announced she was gay, according to Jewish Week. A handful of education folks whose LGBT status might seem to be public knowledge (widely assumed within the education community) declined to be identified as such when I reached out to them or their organizations.
 
That doesn't mean everyone's still closeted. My growing but small list of openly LGBT educator/education role models includes AFT's Randi Weingarten, former Chicago head Ron Huberman, NYU's Diane Ravitch, Portland's Carole Smith, US Rep. Mark Takano, NEA head Lily Eskelsen García's son. Please let me know more/others who would like to be listed. Do any readers of this blog identify as LGBT?

The USDE might be leading the way on the LGBT front, not only putting up its lovely #LoveWins avatar (first brought to my attention via PoliticsK-12 in Arne Duncan Celebrates Supreme Court Ruling) but also with its host of senior officials who are proudly serving as LGBT role models: Assistant Secretary Michael Yudin, who is married and has children with his husband (and grandchildren),  Senior Adviser Steven Hicks is married. Senior Adviser Ruthanne Buck is in a long-term relationship and has two children with her partner. Other out senior officials at ED include Deputy Under Secretary Jeff Appel and Assistant Secretary for Management Andrew Jackson, who are both in long-term relationships.

I, too, yearn for a world in which someone's orientation/self-identification isn't an issue that requires talking about. But until we get there the more folks who are out and public about it -- and the more we talk about it -- the better. Silence = the status quo. There's obviously a long way to go. I'm excited about getting there. 

Education folks to tweet with about LGBT education issues: @EvieBlad @GLSENResearch @jesslif @GLSEN @JennBinis @DrDebTemkin @KJennings @twrightmu.

Comments

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Although my sexual orientation has never been an issue that drew attention one way or another, I have been "out" as a lesbian in education for the last 11 years. My roles to date have not been at the level you describe, but I previously served as the Managing Director of ASCD's Whole Child Initiative (as a major education organization, ASCD has a long history of progressive actions and policies on civil rights issues), and I am currently the CEO and President of Operation Respect, an education non-profit founded by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary to ensure all children learn in a safe, respectful, compassionate environment. My wife and I are legally married in the state of Maryland and have been together over 14 years.

thanks for the comment, molly - i'm glad to hear and know about this and will tweet it out to folks who might otherwise miss it.

You may certainly put me on the list of out educators who is standing up for LGBT students and educators. Of course it led to my firing but the other option was being silenced and forced back into the closet. Being open was a necessity to combat the suicide rates of our LGBT youth. I'm out not to tell everyone I am gay but to show LGBT students that they are not alone.
Brett Bigham
2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year

thanks for weighing in brett-- i'm going to share this out via twitter

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