Allied Forces

October 11, 2010 at 7:05 am 4 comments

Along with Mrs. Chili and Kwizgiver and many many other people, I am supporting National Coming Out Day. I’m not doing much, admittedly – more about that in a moment – but I did donate my Facebook status and I went out of my way to point out that same-sex couples were represented in contemporary teen romance books when my creative writing class tried to define that genre. And I’m wearing a purple shirt, which probably doesn’t mean a blessed thing anymore – does purple still mean anything? – but I didn’t have the wherewithall this morning (after a four-day weekend) to come up with a rainbow outfit.

I teach in a very conservative town. Today is my new boss’s first official day, and word has it that he’s quite conservative, also. My students and colleagues are disproportionately LDS and Nazarene, with a fair number of Catholics thrown in (links go to respective faith’s stance on homosexuality – and you know something’s weird when the Mormons – sans Mr. Packer – have the most liberal position!). The community is so politically conservative that my students don’t even realize that they’re supposed to keep inflammatory political comments to themselves unless in a civics conversation; it has simply never crossed their mind that someone in the room might not agree that the country would be better off if Obama died, or that all Democrats are atheists, nor has it occurred to them that neither statement is appropriate when presented context-free in an English class. They’ve likely never knowingly met a liberal before.

And thrown into this mix, I have more LGBQ students (no T that I know of) than at either of my previous two positions. There they are, trying their best to thrive in an inherently toxic environment. It isn’t so much that they’re despised or bullied – they’re invisible, separate. Their classmates pretend not to notice them as they struggle to come to grips with their fragile identities. If they act straight, then they can be part of the community. If they don’t, they become non-people, acknowledged only by their niche sub-communities. (Thank God for band and drama and other groups that don’t set a premium on heterosexuality or machismo.)

Part of me worries that students here ought not to come out, for their own well-being. Part of me feels that’s a terrible thing to think. I just want them to be safe and happy and respected for who they are, not who they love. And the scared part of me fears that they’ll never have that here.

I’ve sent out little conversational tendrils amongst the faculty, suggesting the need for a GSA in our school, but even the sympathetic teachers react with concern. I don’t yet have tenure, and I can’t afford to get fired – and this year at least, I lack the emotional fortitude to withstand an attack from pitchfork-waving parents.

I’ve stocked my bookshelves with LGBTQ characters – My Heartbeat, Luna, Rainbow Boys, Empress of the World, Hero, Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List, Bermudez Triangle, Dramarama, Keeping You a Secret, Recycler, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, books by David Sedaris and Walt Whitman… you get the point. Except maybe I ought to amend that, because Luna, Hero, and Heartbeat have all mysteriously vanished off my shelves this year – not checked out. If it’s a kid who feels embarrassed to ask to borrow them, fine, but I suspect that someone’s taken it upon himself or herself to purge my library. Disheartening, since those books are difficult to find used, and we don’t have a supply budget this year.

I’ve made public declarations in my classes to the effect that hate speech and disrespect will not be tolerated in my classroom or within my hearing. If I can figure out where to find them, or get around to making them, I’m going to post some appropriate posters in my room. I have to walk the line between standing up as an ally for all my students, and not drawing too much fire from this community in which I earn my keep.

This past summer I researched LGBTQ literature and, relatedly, some of the issues educators ought to be aware of about their students and schools. I want to share it with my school…

Lots to think about.

I’m a straight ally because I’m a teacher and I care about all of my students. It does get better, and I hope that I can help make that a reality for any of my students who are struggling.


Entry filed under: CULTURE, POLITICS.

Defining “Dumb” From the Mouths of Babes

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mrs. Chili  |  October 11, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    I have it easy. I work in an arts charter school where there really is no issue with being different (in fact, the kid I worry for the most is the dorky kid who self-identifies as a “conservative Republican, evangelical Christian.” The way I think and behave – and the things I stand up for – are already part of our culture.

    You, on the other hand, have a difficult line to walk. Finding the balance between being open and accepting and not drawing the ire and unwelcomed attention of those who are not is a difficult thing. It would be so easy to just keep your head down and not say anything at all, but the fact that you’re finding ways to get the word out that you’re accepting and safe is 20 different shades of admirable.

    I was just telling my daughters today that it doesn’t matter if they interact with a GLBTQ person directly; what matters is that people SEE them walking the walk and talking the talk of an ally. Standing up, out loud and in public, offers the chance that someone who feels alone and unlovable might be watching, and even if they never actually talk to YOU, they know you’re out there. That little ripple might be all it takes to literally save a life.

    Thank you for being my ally in being an ally.

    love you!


  • 2. Lusty Reader  |  October 17, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    great post, i hope National Coming Out Day went well at your school!

  • 3. Jessica  |  October 18, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    Authors on those books that have gone AWOL? We’ve got a HUGE stack of books in the restore at the moment, and I’m willing to check it out to see if any of them is there.

    • 4. Jessica  |  October 18, 2010 at 10:26 pm

      whoops, NM, missed that they were links >.<


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The Bee’s Knees

This is the teaching journal of a student first-year second-year THIRD-YEAR (!!!) English teacher. I am writing this blog as a reflection for myself, a way to keep friends and family updated, and a sharing-ground between other educators online. I love comments!

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