We need more out LGBTQ teachers

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With President-elect Biden’s decision to name Pete Buttigieg as the Secretary of Transportation, we will finally (pending Senate approval) see an LGBTQ person lead a department in a Presidential administration. This is a wonderful achievement for Mayor Pete and a testament to the Biden transition team’s promise to create a cabinet as diverse as America is. I have no doubt that Mayor Pete will set a wonderful example for LGBTQ people to follow, and the visibilty he will bring the LGBTQ community will be important as we continue to combat the homophobia that thrived during the Trump years and will continue to thrive long after.

Mayor Pete is an inspiration to many and an important figure in the national LGBTQ community. As an adult, I admire his intelligence, his courage, and his perseverance. He is someone I would have looked up to in my middle school and high school years, a role model from afar. But when I think back to those years as a student, there’s one person I wish I had in my life that Pete never could have been for me: I wish I’d had an openly LGBTQ teacher.

There have been plenty of studies that show that LGBTQ children benefit greatly from having even just one LGBTQ adults in their life. More than seeing somebody on a television or reading about them in a newspaper, having a in-person role model who you can observe, ask questions of, or just say hello to, is an irreplaceable experience. It’s a much more down-to-earth and practical experience seeing someone every day in the same space as you, living in the same town and dealing with the same environment.

If I’d had an LGBTQ teacher, I might not have immediately gone to New York after high school because I might have realized that LGBTQ people exist everywhere. If I’d had an LGBTQ teacher, I might have come out earlier than I had, or it might have been less painful when I did. If I’d had an LGBTQ teacher, I could have asked them how to deal with bullying and homophobia. But even if I’d done none of those things, having an LGBTQ teacher would have meant the world, because at the very least, that person would have proved to me that it’s possible to grow up, have a career, and live a stable life even though you feel different than everyone else.

Aside from our immediate family, we spend more time with our teachers than with any other adult as we grow up. Their influence helps shape the way we look at the world, the jobs we seek, the relationships we build, and the places we live. But in many counties in the U.S., just like for LGBTQ students, it’s still not safe for LGBTQ teachers to come out. Even though the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County grants LGBTQ teachers protection from being fired, they still run the risk of harassment and discrimination. They are not only doing a difficult and important job in teaching, but a difficult and important job in being an out LGBTQ person. 

That’s why we should always be appreciative of our openly LGBTQ teachers. They are not only living truthfully for themselves, but for all of their students and for the entire community they serve. They do so much more than just teach their assigned subject. Like all good teachers, they teach us how to live.