We have turned the tide. We have made progress in this country.
Well, at least on one front.
Gay marriage has been legalized, yet this victory should not allow us to forget that there is still work to be done. Just as we know black and brown folks continue to die needless deaths because of who they are, LGBT youth are dying because they dare to be themselves. Those of us who survive still lack equality.
June is LGBT Pride month but there are some ugly truths I need to call out. In my 18 years in education, I have witnessed many of our LGBT teachers hide deep in the closet. I have several LGBT friends who are administrators. A few who are gay wear fake wedding bands so others assume they are in heterosexual marriages. I could keep telling stories like these. We can marry, but it is still not safe to be an out educator.
Alarmingly, anti-LGBT bullying is most permissive in classrooms where the teacher self-identifies as an LGBT teacher. Ninety-two percent of LGBT students are exposed to negative messages about their sexual identity. “Don’t ask don’t tell” is almost an unspoken agreement in our educational system. You would think we were stuck in a time capsule the way many of our educators hide in the closet.
On the last day of LGBT month, I am calling this out, in the same way I say black lives matter—because we must not forget all the ancestors who died to see that these sweeping changes happen everywhere on a variety of fronts. Unfortunately, we are still working on the “multiplicity of movements” part in this country and marriage equality comes before black and brown deaths.
With the frightening statistics on LGBT students who commit suicide, we need to not hide in the closet as LGBT educators. Do we remember the Silence=Death project? This campaign was started in 1987 by six gay activists in New York who plastered posters around the city featuring a pink triangle on a black background stating simply “SILENCE = DEATH.” This project drew parallels between the Nazi period and the AIDS crisis, declaring that “silence about the oppression and annihilation of gay people, then and now, must be broken as a matter of our survival.”
The same manifesto must be articulated now as we are in a state of crisis. Queer youth are dying because there aren’t enough role models. Black and brown youth are dying because we are complacent, despite appalling incidents happening far too often. These are national tragedies.
Despite being out to students in my classroom and colleagues, I had a principal who once asked me if I talked about my sexuality in my teaching. The subtext there was, “How dare you talk about your sexuality to students?”
It is my hope that the recent Supreme Court decision can change classroom conversations and enable more educators to bring their full selves to the work they do.
It is my hope that we can engage in realness with students, families and administrators. Realness that rips open the assumptions of who we are and embraces the multitude of stories and beauty of our love. Realness that exposes the ugly head of racism in this country and can save lives.