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In Midwestern schools, LGBTQ teachers face discrimination, hate and their own fears

By Ferial Pearson

The national debate over LGBTQ issues in schools has arrived in the Midwest. Following the passage of Florida’s ‘don’t say gay’ law, more than a dozen other states – including Missouri, Iowa, Tennessee and Ohio – proposed similar legislation. aimed at limiting the way teachers discuss topics related to gender identity. or sexual orientation.

In my own experience, that of my collaborator Steven Gill, and our initial research, teachers in the Midwest have experiences similar to those elsewhere in the country.

We have both encountered crippling, even frightening obstacles in our journeys as queer educators, and we have seen our queer and trans students suffer equally.

Our stories

For me, being a faculty sponsor for the school’s gay-straight alliance student group was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. I started my career at an urban school serving a very poor population in Nebraska in 2001 and discovered that the school’s GSA members were just a handful of students.

During my first year as a volunteer sponsor of the group, another teacher was invited by the official sponsor to one of our meetings and showed a video of people claiming to be “ex-gay”. He then pulled out a Bible and had a discussion with the students that who they were was a sin. The official sponsor, a school counselor, smiled throughout and let him continue talking.

I fought back tears of anger when I heard students say, “I know I’m going to hell, but I can’t control how I feel and I’ve tried not to be gay, but it’s is impossible. I was furious that this was allowed to happen in what was supposed to be a safe and affirmative space in a public school where this type of proselytizing shouldn’t be allowed. I saw all the confidence and self-esteem drained away in the students.

When I became the official sponsor, I made sure that the teacher would not be allowed to come back and talk to the group. Later, he told a lesbian teacher that he was praying for her soul. Twenty-one years later, he is still at that school – in a leadership role.

When I left in 2011, the students were proud to be allies and part of the LGBTQ community. Although I won two national awards for my work there, none was recognized by my school.

I have seen students being disowned when they came out while also being rejected by religious shelters. There were numerous suicide attempts and countless mental health crises, and grades would plummet due to bullying and harassment from teenagers and adults.

I have always been a queer woman, and many students have thanked me for that. But I was told that two other teachers called me a “dyke” in the staff room because I participated in the Day of Silence in support of LGBTQ rights. Some students told me that they were praying for my soul around the mast. A parent accused me of making his child gay because he came home with a rainbow ribbon and he threatened to follow me home and show me ‘what a real man”. The school received two visits from the infamously homophobic Westboro Baptist Church. Its members held signs across the street saying “God hates fags” and tried to hand out literature to our students as they left school.

My collaborator Steve Gill reports, “I am currently a middle and high school social studies teacher and I am considered non-binary and queer by my students and my school system. When I was in elementary, middle, high school, and college, I didn’t have queer or non-binary or transgender teachers or any type of representation.

“It left me feeling isolated and lonely, as I had no close queer icons or representations to look up to.

“As an adult, as a teacher, I firmly and confidently say to students, ‘I’m Coach Gill, my name is ‘Coach’ because I’m not binary. I’m also Black and Queer.’ I chose to come out despite the discrimination I faced, I continue to face and will face in the future. I choose to be outside because representation matters.

“I want people in my community to know that LGBTQ people exist in everyday jobs, not just as celebrities. I have students who come to see me because I am a safe space. I know students who have been kicked out of their homes, abused, and laughed at and made fun of for being home.

Our investigation and what the preliminary results found

Our research shows that we are not alone. Many schools in the Midwest are places where queer and trans educators cannot thrive and do their jobs without fear or hesitation.

We posted a preliminary survey on social media, looking for teachers in the Midwestern states of Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota. Of the 45 educators who responded, 12 place their identity within the broad spectrum of the LGBTQ community. But only four of them are in their schools.

Although our initial survey data is limited to these 45 respondents, the results are not surprising given our lived experiences and other research on the treatment of LGBTQ people in schools.

But our experiences and those of our survey participants are getting lost as legislators limit what teachers can and cannot say in the classroom, how students can and cannot participate in school programs, and what symbols teachers can and cannot. not have in their classrooms. We plan to conduct more research to better understand how schools can help make the future fairer and more equitable for all.

About this column

The author: Ferial Pearson is an assistant professor of teacher education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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