It’s still not safe for so many of us to be “out and proud” in our classrooms. Teachers like Elijah Eiler had an “entire career derailed” as a result of coming out to his students. But Eiler is not alone. For decades now, LGBTQ teachers have been persecuted as perverts and pedophiles.
But the fact of the matter is that we all share our sexuality with children–even if you’re straight. Straight people just do it in a more culturally-accepted way. Here are a few examples:
The Mrs. Prefix
We don’t realize just what this is communicating to our students by attaching it to a name. By calling a heterosexual woman “Mrs. [So-and-so],” we are telling our students: She is married, she is sexually attracted to men, and it’s so acceptable that she is able to display her sexuality that we will label her by her relationship status.
Students know what this means. They know that it means she goes home to her husband and sleeps in the same bed as him. They know because they know that’s what married people do. They’ve experienced it since they were born.
Talking about Family
Don’t get me wrong, I encourage all educators to talk about their families, and my intention here is not to deter people from sharing their families with their students. I think it’s critical to share about the people who’ve shaped us and made us who we are. It’s important we do it so that our kids can do it, too.
But the reality is, our families communicate so much about sexuality. The chances are pretty good that the adults running the family are in some form of a sexual relationship, and if there are biological children there, their sexuality was integral in growing this family and bringing it to life.
Sharing Engagements and Weddings
I’m all for a classroom engagement. I think it’s absolutely adorable for a partner to pop the question by involving children, assuming both parties are comfortable with that. But if it’s going to be okay for heterosexual couples to do this, it needs to be okay for non-heterosexual couples to do this, too.
Why? Because we’re communicating something about our sexuality when we do this. Let me be clear: I’m supportive of communicating sexuality to students. It’s a normal part of life, and something that many of them begin to experience very young in childhood through crushes and likes.
What does this mean for straight people?
If you are going to be okay with displaying your sexuality in all of these overt and covert ways, it needs to be okay for the LGBTQ community to do it, too. So many of my teachers growing up expressed their sexuality in these ways, and it didn’t make me any less gay than I am now. Likewise, teachers expressing their sexuality in these very same ways is not going to impact or change the sexuality of young children.
There’s nuance here to unpack. There are, in fact, certain things that are developmentally inappropriate to share with students, especially with our youngest learners. No one here is advocating for a pre-mature teaching of sexual acts or for any one to put their dating life on display. We’re just looking to normalize this crucial part of all of our identities–and in the name of equity.
Not to worry, you can help. Here’s what you can do:
- Use the word gay when talking about members of the LGBTQ community that identify as such. But don’t feel it necessary to put this at the center of their narrative. For people like Harvey Milk, that might make sense, but for people like Alan Turing, it may not. Regardless, we must desensitize the word.
- Find current public figures that are a part of the LGBTQ community. The 116th Congress is the most diverse to date, with many openly LGBTQ members now serving. Make them visible.
- Allow for nuance when talking about gender and sexuality. If the kids talk or gossip about crushes? Address it in a morning meeting by saying, “Most of you will experience crushes at one point or another. You might have crushes on someone of the same or opposite gender, you might have crushes on both, or you might not experience them at all.”
The point is this: heterosexuality is normalized. Homosexuality and bisexuality are not. We must balance the scales and use whatever privilege we have to normalize the experiences of the LGBTQ community. We must do so in the best interests of our LGBTQ students, as well as the educators that are entitled to feeling safe, comfortable, and welcomed in our schools.