This post was originally published on Pass the Chalk.
As a teacher, and as a gay man, I oftentimes feel a need to “choose” a camp that I’m more “devoted” to. Do I care more about my kids or the state of my community? It’s typically a choice that I have to actively make.
While I did feel a bit of guilt for leaving my kids, last week I had the opportunity to attend the National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change. I was impressed by how well the conference integrated my identities as both a gay dude and a teacher.
For the uninitiated, Creating Change is a conference where 4,000+ queer folks from across all lines in one hotel for a four days exploring identity, evaluating our progress, pushing forward and having crazy fun.
As a full-time teacher, this was definitely my most challenging Creating Change to attend. Between emailing parents, planning curriculum for the next week and texting my co-teacher for hourly updates on her status, I took in about a dozen different workshops and had as many in-depth conversations. (It was also my fifth time attending the conference, which I think qualifies me as a professional homosexual.)
One session I attended, led by the amazing national SEED project, was able to pretty seamlessly integrate LGBTQ identities, racism and education. In just 60 minutes time, we were able to discuss both the struggle for LGBT rights and the fight against racism in a nearly effortless manner. It reminded me how far Teach For America, our school partners, and the nation have yet to go.
I also had the privilege to lead a session, “Being a Queer Teacher 101” that was devoted to the topic. I was surprised that, out of my audience of about 20 people, 6 of them identified as Teach For America corps members or alums. Based on the messy and excellent conversations the session provoked, I found a new resolve to push for change within Teach For America and in public education in general.
So many of the conversation starters were various forms of “can I get in trouble if…,” “can I get fired in my region if…” and “would Teach For America stand behind me if…” It was a relief to give a few confident answers, such as how to start a Gay-Straight Alliance without labeling it as such (Diversity club, for the win!), and the strong statements of support for LGBTQ corps members I’ve gotten from the top down.
However, the majority of moments left me, and most of the room, at a complete loss. There’s clearly still a ridiculous amount of work to do to support queer educators and kiddos.
Aside from this, there were also many different session on state and federal policy to create or strengthen protections for all students. It was a great, direct way for me to remember that law and public policy work can have very district, direct effects on students that are less big-picture or convoluted than a lot of work I see going on.
This graphic offers enough evidence for this, but the true struggles and fears my fellow educators presented was the true call to action.
In terms of baby steps, educators can begin to take a stance locally today by joining with The Trevor Project, GLSEN and Teach For America in their S.A.F.E. campaign: Creating Classrooms that are Safe and Affirming for Everyone.
You don’t have to be a TFA corps member to pledge. You can opt in to receive a Safe Space kit to help make your room, if not your school, an equal-opportunity learning space.