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TO QUEER, WITH LOVE: The Year I Wanted To Be A Teacher

I used to want to be a teacher, did I ever tell you that Beatdown?

My last semester of college, I took an extra 6 hours to qualify to teach my chosen subject area. While dealing with my autoimmune problems, writing papers, and studying for finals, I was commuting two hours both ways to attend orientation classes for a teaching certification program. I matriculated, caught my breath, and plunged headfirst into my Education curriculum. All throughout, I started to assemble My Theory of Education –  my teaching method, the way I thought children would learn best, the techniques I would use on my yet-to-be-obtained class – I already knew how I would artfully cluster the desks to foster cooperative learning. I did my student teaching, and came out of it excited and optimistic for the year ahead. They were going to make a movie about me, the highest honor a teacher can aspire to.

That was over a year ago. Despite going on several very positive job interviews, I was never offered a position anywhere. A family member who works for the district recently informed me I was being blackballed – which explains the 3 extra background checks I’ve had to do, the “missing” paperwork, and that one interview where six people seethed at me for twenty minutes while avoiding eye contact. That was a giggle-a-minute, let me tell you.

But I needed work. So I began to substitute teach. Every school I went to, I saw fellow queers walking the halls. They had a hunted look, wouldn’t make eye contact, would go out of their way to ignore me. Several times students asked me if I was gay. Every single time I lied. I didn’t evade the question, I didn’t tell them it was none of their business, I lied. Because children can smell blood in the water. And telling them the question isn’t appropriate or it isn’t any of their business spirals out of control very quickly. I was called a “faggot” to my face several times, and sending the student to the office never did anything.

I started to get very depressed, and stopped working. I felt ashamed of not working, felt ashamed of being depressed. I still feel ashamed. It felt like giving up, it felt like weakness. I had let them win.

This week, a student teacher in Oregon sued his school district, alleging he was unfairly reassigned:

Seth Stambaugh told a fourth-grader who asked if he was married, that he was not. When the student asked why, Stambaugh, who is gay, replied it was not legal for him to get married because he would choose to marry another man. The student then asked does that mean you like to hang out with other guys? and Stambaugh responded yes, said Lake Perriguey, Stambaugh’s attorney.

This is the punishment for being queer in a heteronormative culture. Being straight, talking about your opposite sex spouse, having a picture of your family on your desk, wearing a wedding ring – these are all social characteristics. But doing any of these things while queer is about SEX. In a culture steeped in as much corporeal revulsion and body hatred as ours, straight bigots are more than happy to use their children as a cudgel to beat the world with. Queers who teach are forced into the closet, treated like monsters, insulted, degraded and are frequently accused of being pedophiles.

We have ceded the nation’s schools to the bigots. We have let them argue that the smallest minds should control the curriculum, should police gender and sexuality, and deserve to raise their children in an intellectual bubble that the rest of us pay for. As we have been reminded, over and over again, they are getting away with murder. Bigots have made it their business to be the loudest voices in the room.

Take time this week to research your school district’s record on harassment and bullying. Even if you don’t have a child, you still have a vested interest in the educational system. You still pay taxes, you still fund the school; send a letter to the Superintendent, letting them know that you support measures to end bullying in schools, that you consider not doing so an act of complicity. Tell them you support the right of queer teachers to teach and queer students to learn, free from abuse. If your School District has a great policy in place, please send a note of support. It takes ten minutes, and I GUARANTEE you the people on the other side of this issue, whether or not they have school-age children, are making their voices heard. Let’s not be beaten by our own silence.

I’ll close with Ellen’s comment about the death of Tyler Clementi, who was driven to suicide after his roommate violated his privacy and humiliated him by filming him having sex and broadcasting it on the Internet. As always, she knows just what to say.


  1. Ebichu wrote:

    My first teacher (this was back in 1983) was a very imposing lady who happened to be a lesbian. We had her for the first three years of school, and sometime during the third year we was told that no, she didn’t have a husband, she had a woman friend she lived with.

    I can’t remember us pupils making a big thing out of it (she was VERY imposing), and when I asked my mother about it she said that while some of the parents didn’t like it, no official complaints were made. Unfortunately I’m sure that it’d have been different had she been a man :/

    Growing up in (my part of) Sweden in the early 80’s was a good thing, and I hope that you, and all your fellow queer teachers, one day will meet the same attitude.

    Sunday, October 3, 2010 at 7:18 am | Permalink
  2. Great post Garland. I hope you get to a place where you just feel proud for trying and not ashamed of how the system treated you.

    Sunday, October 3, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink
  3. Ray Gunn wrote:

    Amazing post. Thank you.

    Sunday, October 3, 2010 at 11:16 am | Permalink
  4. Twiliak wrote:

    Long term the only way to correct this injustice is to change our culture. It’s an extremely slow process but watching polls from year to year tells me that it’s happening.

    I’m in the process of becoming a teacher and I think the attitudes of other teachers is what scares me the most. Students can be punished for bullying and harassment; as a new teacher punishing your colleagues for their ignorance is much more problematic.

    Sunday, October 3, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  5. TRISTAIN wrote:

    I don’t know that legal rulings would change the attitudes of teachers and students. In fact, as a queer teacher currently in the classroom, equal parts honesty and openness have always served as a model for how they are to treat me, and how I treat them. The beginnings of ones teaching career always involve a lot of different stressors, but to assume that an end to bullying and discrimination will come from legal rulings alone is not the whole truth – instead of looking hunted, we need more teachers and staff modeling for our children that the commonalities and relationships we have as teachers and students, adults and children, go deeper than sexuality.

    Sunday, October 3, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Permalink
  6. CourtneyBarret wrote:

    I wanted to be a teacher really badly. After taking a year of education classes, I realized I would either be in the closet forever or never hired. I changed my major, but it still sucks.

    Monday, October 4, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink
  7. VA parent wrote:

    Great post. My son’s third grade teacher happens to be gay and is the best teacher at our school – parents and kids all go crazy over him because he’s just a great teacher (obv not because he’s gay, he’s just a great guy). If he lost his job, our school would lose out. I also went to school in this same school system years ago, and I think I had at least a few gay teachers. It wasn’t an issue at all for the kids in my classes, and it certainly wasn’t an issue for my own parents. But I remember hearing when I was in college that my 5th grade teacher had been attacked in a parking lot one weekend, and I realized it was probably a hate crime.

    Monday, October 4, 2010 at 9:32 am | Permalink
  8. raddad wrote:

    *not useful to cry at work* – liked the Ellen clip.
    We homeschool (not for this reason). We watched and talking about Buffy when my son was nine; it was great to relaxedly watch an non-heteronormative show with my son. Now I have to worry that he thinks everytime two people are happy with one another, some kind of disaster is soon to follow…

    Monday, October 4, 2010 at 11:00 am | Permalink
  9. You’d think we’d be past this in Canada, what with our vaunted progressiveness and all. All I can say is that my partner – a heterosexual man, but people assume he’s gay because he’s well-groomed, feminist, and not an asshole – has had a much easier time getting work as a teacher since I (female) came on the scene and he started being able to drop words like “fiancee” and “she” into conversations. Straight privilege: it exists, yo.

    Monday, October 4, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink
  10. AliasMitch wrote:

    Great post Garland! I read the beatdown often but this the first time I’ve felt compelled to try my hand at commenting because this post really resonated with me. For the longest time I wanted to teach in public schools, but as I really thought about perceptions of queers in our culture (and lovely Senator DeMint) I became really afraid that everything that you have experienced would happen to me. So I gave that up. You are a stronger person than I.

    Monday, October 4, 2010 at 9:30 pm | Permalink
  11. I can’t remember any openly gay teachers before college, but I do remember that (aside from that two-year interlude in Fundie-Christian-land) every teacher I had who mentioned queerness in any way treated it as a perfectly natural thing, and many expressed support.

    The thing I remember most, though, is that my 9th grade history teacher (who was also my 12th grade Econ and Gov’t teacher) had a sticker like this, on her desk with a pink triangle and the message: “Straight But Not Narrow.” It was always there, right in front of the class, and it was just awesome to see. I didn’t think much about it then, since it seemed like a natural expression of who she was and just a little thing on her desk, but in retrospect, it was a really strong and brave statement.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 8:13 pm | Permalink
  12. Jessica Rock wrote:

    I’m so sorry that you are having so much trouble with this. I’m 18 now and went to catholic school for the better part of my elementary years.

    However there were two years, grade 4 and 5 where I went to a very small private school and I was taught by this amazing woman. By far she was the best teacher I ever had. She was gay and taught me that a persons sexuality does not affect their ability to share knowledge, inspire learning or to shape the growth of a young person.

    This teacher made the biggest difference to me and she may not even know it. Not because she was gay, but because she was a wonderful teacher and an true example of a good person.

    I’m posting this because I believe that straight teachers can be good or bad influence as much as any gay teacher can be.

    I hope that something works out for you because based on your passion and ideas about “artfully cluster the desks to foster cooperative learning” it sound like you have the drive to try and make a difference to youth. Good Luck. And NEVER keep kids in for recess. Its the worst sort of punishment!

    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 12:24 am | Permalink
  13. Robert wrote:

    This was painful to read. I can only tell you that the situation here in Oakland, CA seems to be rather better than what you describe. My husband and I have had both our sons in Oakland public schools for the past eight years, so we’ve only experienced the schools as parents.

    My very best wishes to you, Mr. Grey – you sound like you could be as good a teacher as our older son’s kindergarten teacher, and that is high praise.

    Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  14. “Hey, I’ve got nothing against straight people — I just don’t want them teaching my kids.”
    Garland, I wish you luck because the kids NEED you as their teacher.
    And may I be permitted to post this link regarding Tyler and those other poor kids? It was written by one of the ministers at my church, who is gay. (So is another minister at my church; I’m not sure about the new one yet.)

    Friday, October 15, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Permalink