Serving in Silence – PSU and WOU Deans say LGBT teachers’ lives are inappropriate

I haven’t blogged about the gay student teacher who was kicked out of a school for telling a fourth grader that it isn’t legal for him to get married in Oregon because he would marry a man.  He was removed when that statement was deemed inappropriate given the tender age of the listener.

No, I mentally registered this mess, sent out a few missives myself, and moved along with the task at hand.  I have a dissertation to defend in two weeks.

And so I’ve been too busy thinking and writing my dissertation on the destruction of the lives of gay, lesbian, and gender non-conforming youth in a middle school study to point to the obvious terror this sort of silencing does to all teachers.   

And, to his credit, one of my best friends and a leader in the UO Education Studies program wrote an outstanding editorial response to this teachers removal that addressed my thoughts quite well.   As he explained it:

This presence (of visible LGBT teachers) would bring benefits to LGBTQ students and families. Fully supporting “out” teachers sends a clear message that there is no shame associated with being LGBTQ.Second, it provides adult role models to LGBTQ students.

…This presence would also bring benefits to all children. If you have visited a school recently, you may have noticed the way young people are regularly subjected to brutally narrow ideas about what it means to be a boy or girl.

He kinda let me off the hook jumping in there so I could go on with my own writing this week.  But of course, the situation, the firing of a gay teacher for his public acknowledgement of his identity still lingered in the back of my mind.  His momentary visibility and swift removal sent a message to the children of that school, district, and community.  His silencing also sent a message to his fellow LGBT educators working in that community and others.  If you are silent and invisible you may stay.  If you are seen you must go.

I thought about his disappearance and I thought about the children I met during my studies.  The students who told me they couldn’t name a single teacher they could tell about the homophobic bullying and harassment they were enduring.  And I thought about the children who told me they couldn’t tell their parents about all the violence they faced at school because they “really were gay” and their parents wouldn’t understand or would kick them out of the house.  

I thought of these kids I had come to love as I thought more about the removal of that student teacher.   In removing him from the classroom the school administration in that district assured that students and staff there would never seeing a happy, successful, welcome and included gay teacher.  I thought about how the community felt it was only appropriate to have silent closeted LGBT teachers who kids, parents, and co-workers spread rumors about.  Hmm.  The intentional removal of a role model and the isolation of the students I worked with just kept niggling at me.

I wondered what kind of difference this young man might have made to the kids in my study.  Yea, I guess they are always with me right now because my energy has been focused so deeply on figuring out how to help them and the many many other kids just like them.  These youngsters who at 11, 12, and 12 are brilliant, confident, beautiful, and  ‘different.’  

The kids I came to know at the age of 11, 12, and 13 were beginning to express doubts that they could make it through the school system.  These children were beginning to skip school day after day, hiding in bathrooms and empty corridors, and stating with conviction that there was no one at the school that they could tell about their feelings, and no one who would address or care about the harassment or violence they were facing because they were different.  No one.  This statement of isolation was repeated to me again and again in interview after interview.  I wondered what this student teacher’s small statement might have done for any one of them.

And in these last days as I have continued to think and write about those children one ‘different’ child, after another, after another across the United States has died in silence.  Because he has given up altogether on hope and on the future. Every day another story breaks of another gay child who has determined that this world is not for them.

And as always my thoughts return to the children I interviewed, the isolation they expressed, the certainty with which they told me there was no adult they could tell about their life. The certainty with which they told me they believed that the adults of the school knew they were bullied but could not or would not do anything about it. Harassment and hate were simply given conditions of their existance.

I yet take some comfort in the hope that my presence in the school offered these kids some hope and some validation – even as I daily fretted being ‘appropriate’ with my every utterance.   I was most often silent or ever cautious about my identity, never revealing too much about my partner and my children. Daily I navigated what part of discussing my life and my family might cross the line and set off an alarm. 

And so with all of that in my mind and heart, today when I read that Randy Hitz, Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Portland State suggested that LGBT teachers “don’t flaunt it” something kinda cracked in me.  

The very idea that education leaders like  Western Oregon’s Education Dean Mark Girod think being gay is like a tatoo or a nose ring, you know something you should cover up when you’re at school, is antithetical to any claim he could make that he is concerned about addressing the epidemic of homophobic violence in our schools.

Yesterday Alex Blaze summed up the seeming futility of having an honest discussion with administrators and community members about addressing the homophobia in our schools and the despair of LGBT youth when tacit discrimination against LGBT faculty is standard practice:

As long as they don’t explicitly describe what’s appropriate and what’s not while they’re willing to fire people over “one discussion” in “one classroom,” LGBT teachers are going to be worried about losing their jobs. Without explicitly guidelines, a straight teacher saying he’s not married because his girlfriend is still in college will be appropriate, while a gay teacher saying he’s not married because he can’t in the state of Oregon will be inappropriate. A straight teacher talking about her trip to England with her husband will be perfectly wholesome, while a lesbian teacher talking about her trip to England with her partner will be treated as if she were explaining the ins and outs of cunnilingus to kindergartener.

All the while, an important resource to fight isolation and social ostracism and homophobia in schools will go to waste, while good LGBT teachers will continue to say “fuck it” and leave the profession for greener pastures. And who could blame them?

And while I am not ready to say f—it, I am at this moment left in this most uncomfortable place of wondering.

How much hope I can conjure up for myself to continue a conversation in which my life is seen as an unfortunate tatoo?

Enough for today I suppose.  And tonight I’ll sit down to dinner with my family and that will give me enough for tomorrow.

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5 responses to “Serving in Silence – PSU and WOU Deans say LGBT teachers’ lives are inappropriate

  1. The administrative responses make me crazy because in both instances they infer that being a queer teacher is “less than normal.”

    Sounds like a homophobe to me.

    What’s could be interesting is if such statements violate the university EEOC statements. If sexual orientation is protected by said administrator’s university, they can and should be disciplined.

    No kiddin…..

  2. Julia

    Wow, I am so used to this sort of ‘friendly advice’ your response is the first time it occured to me that these types of public statements of bias do violate EEOC policies.
    Kinda jarring to realize 20+ years of being regularly reminded by friends not to upset the horses with any references to my wild lifestyle of second class marriage and parenting has really normalized this sort of biased talk for me.

  3. Not a problem on the “socialization” part. All of us carry around these crazy, internalized “be a good queer” messages in our brains. I can be a PITA, since:

    1. I have the Ph.D.
    2. I have tenure.
    3. Unless I make students sacrifice goats to Baal on a weekly basis, my job is pretty secure.

    That lack of “job fear” is completely liberating–perhaps dis-inhibiting–for me.

    BTW: The EEOC policies can be very helpful in chastening homophobes. For example, before the lawsuit was filed against Rene Portland (evil, homophobic women’s basketball coach at Penn State), the queer student groups put pressure on her AND the administration since sexual orientation was and is protected status at the university. Portland was on record as “being aware” of the policy, but she never said she “followed” the policy. So, her public statement of “being aware” became one more piece of evidence for the “Pearl Harbor” file–which eventually did sink her boat at Penn State once the lawsuit was filed.

    Those policies aren’t supposed to be mere window dressing. And administrators, as you know, have fewer degrees of freedom than “mere” tenured faculty (*GRIN!*).

    So, I would ask the HR departments and Provosts at these respective universities about the deans in question and their public statements, since they are clearly discriminatory.

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