Friday, May 27, 2016

Salt Lake City Teacher Comes Out to Students

I'm not sure why this story has been all but scrubbed from the internet, but you can read about one magic-underpants-wearing teacher's unlikely coming-out story HERE.

My First Season of Teaching 

My first year as a young, out, gay, former Mormon junior high teacher is almost done! I’ve been wanting to tell my story since I started student teaching because I’m either conceited, or there’s a thought that my story might have some actual value…probably both. However, I kept waiting for a happy ending, though those come as often as shooting stars. The school year’s not over, and I don’t know in what ways my journey will end happily or not, but it seems right to share it now.

Coming Out

I came out to my 7th grade students in March 2016 during my first year of teaching. I know! Dumbest decision ever! But it had been a long, long day. Pencils tapping, sassy remarks, kids finding creative ways to ruin things, bullying, inattention, defiance, sly questions meant to distract the class, etc. All of which I am expected to keep from happening while, at the same, keep my cool and not say things that’ll hurt the kids’ feelings. And to top off what is already topped off, I had the looming fear that if I so much as hinted that I was gay, I would get a slew of parent complaints and be fired by the end of this year.

So, as most adults do under pressure, I told the truth! When the kids asked if I was dating someone, I answered in a complete and slightly indignant sentence, “Yes, his name is…” The name was muffled by the quick response: “His??!!!!” One of my students shouted this, cocking his head back as confused as a young Mormon boy could be at this kind of news. 

To my surprise, none arrived

Now, before anyone gets all judgmental about my tact or timing, realize that I did this after the bell had rung, so I did not use instructional time to spread the “gay agenda.” I waited for passing period to do that😉. The students left, and as the days followed, I was flooded with thoughts like, “well, there goes my job.” “Good thing you have a second job.” “They won’t care, right?” And most of all, “they’ve asked where I went to college and how I speak Spanish. They know I went to BYU and served a mission for the Church. Is there space for an uncloseted gay ex-Mormon at this school?” And even though I had heard Salt Lake was more liberal, it seemed like I had heard the ‘M’ word every day. Naturally, I began checking my email more often, thinking that the emails of complaining parents or disappointed administration would surely come.

Later, I asked my students (during passing period) if they had brought it up. The answer was ‘no’ because I had asked them not to tell. Huh? How had I forgotten that I told them not to tell? I was stunned. In one moment, my hope for our country’s future that had been dashed with my students’ seemingly incessant disrespectful behavior was restored. They had kept my ‘secret.’ I told them I was being sarcastic when I said to keep it a secret, that I didn’t care if others knew. In fact, I wanted others to know. There were several students at the school that identified as LGBT. I wanted them to believe that if this junior high could hire and keep around a gay teacher, so might the job of their dreams. 

The news spread like junior high gossip does, and I have received awkwardly worded question after awkwardly worded question about gay dating. Thankfully, they have all been respectful and in good taste. Needless to say, in a matter of hours, I went from being the new young straight male teacher to the new young gay male teacher. My long-held fears that being discovered as gay would somehow disrupt my classroom learning environment and ruin my ability to encourage good behavior and destroy everything I had worked so hard for were all just smoke and mirrors.

Looking back

Before I was able to look behind the curtain of fear, I was very much in the closet at my school and terrified to answer any question about who I was dating, even when it would have been appropriate. It’s hard not to be when you’ve been taught [your] whole life that gays won’t live with God again and when everyone around you loves saying gay jokes or doesn’t speak out against the negative message they send. I grew up with it, as most people do, and still harbored the effects of this bullying. At the beginning of the year during anti-bully week, when I was still the new straight teacher, I was supposed to discuss with my classes the effects of bullying and how to stop it. And because of my own fears, I did this all without coming out! This was extremely weird and disconcerting: I was teaching them how to stop something that I felt I couldn’t even stop myself. (Later, I would find that my school administration and colleagues are more supportive than I gave them credit for.) Yet, despite my fears, I specifically told my students that I would not put up with bullying towards any race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, etc.–groups that I had seen were specific targets of bullying at our school. We even pointed out examples of bullying speech that we had heard at our school and that we would not permit in class. I was happy to see they were so on board with eliminating bullying in its many forms, but surprised to hear from my students that I was the ONLY teacher they ever had that actually told his students not to use ‘gay’ as a pejorative.

Happy ending

Weeks after coming out, several students came to school observing the GLSEN day of silence for the LGBT community. I was so embarrassed: I had never heard of it! Many silently mouthed the words, “this is for you!” They were so brave, and at such a young age. Overall, this first year teaching has helped me see how many people, young and old, really don’t care about sexual orientation and even support the LGBT community. And by being in the closet and out, I’ve seen how great an effect both straight and LGBT people can have by simply speaking up. It’s been a great journey so far, and the school year isn’t even over. I guess you could say I’ve taken the Rent way out and measured my life in seasons of love. (Seen HERE.)

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