â€œI hate gay people.â€
â€œMr. M, would you ever be friends with a gay person? I wouldnâ€™t!â€
â€œYeahâ€¦thatâ€™s messed up.â€
The calm, young voices rang out during my homeroom period. A writing brainstorm about Barack Obama had brought up my ninth gradersâ€™ strong feelings towards the presidentâ€™s stance on marriage equality.
In the time between the first hateful statement and my response, every education-related diversity conversation Iâ€™ve had flashed before my eyes. I could recall dozens of deep discussions about cultural competency, working with low-income communities, and finding ways to contact home when family members donâ€™t speak English.
But when it came to responding to thisâ€”a direct statement of hate towards my sexual orientationâ€”the till came up empty. Authentic advice on dealing with being gay in the classroom has been, for me, few and far between.
So, in that instant, my fight-or-flight response was activated: I was presented with two fundamentally uncomfortable paths for the year.
Option one was to give my students the good old diversity-spiel try with responses like â€œWe donâ€™t talk like that,â€ and â€œHate is not a value of our school.â€ This would allow me to proceed through the year seemingly detached from the issue, yet hurt and distanced from my students.
Option two was to come out in the ultimate â€œteaching momentâ€ and risk giving my students limitless ammunition against me.
I chose option two.
â€œSo, are you guys my friends?â€ I asked.
â€œYes, of course!â€ my students cheered.
â€œWell, Iâ€™m gay.â€
There was silence, then the â€œOhhhhh!â€ synonymous with someone gettingÂ Punkâ€™d.
I find myself lingering in an awkward place: Few can tell me if this was a good choice; if Iâ€™ve harmed my relationship with students or if this will ultimately bring us closer together.
It leaves me wondering why, in an educational environment thatâ€™s more diverse than ever beforeâ€”and in a time when sexual orientation is covered daily in newspapers, on Facebook, and even in prime-time TVâ€”thereâ€™s a shroud of secrecy around what it means to be an out, gay teacher.
For now, for me, it means that some of my kids donâ€™t want to give me a handshake or a fist bump in the morning anymoreâ€”they want to avoid physical contact. It also means hearing snickers and words in Somali and Oromo as kids walk past in the hallways and having to wonder if theyâ€™re saying something about me.
For now, my decision feels like the better of two incredibly uncomfortable options. When I was a gay high-school student in an unsupportive community, I would have done anything to have a positive LGBT role model within high-fiving distance.
The goal for my coming out was not fully conceptualized during my impromptu outing to my students. Now that Iâ€™ve thought more about it, my biggest hope is for my kids to realize that the gay Mr. Mishleau is the same wildly imperfect, cookie-loving, grammar fanatic theyâ€™ve gotten to know, and that being a gay dude is one of many parts that make up who I am.