Colored pencils lined up.
Your antidote for inaction is in the classroom
How LGBTQIA+ teachers show up for their students
June 20th, 2018
⏱ 6 min read

How many teachers have you had who look like you: same hair, same eyes, same skin color? How many teachers have you had who live like you: same language, same economics, same family structure? How many teachers have you had who love like you: same sex, same gender, same orientation? 

For most developing students, the need for a strong, positive role model who grounds their burgeoning sense of identity cannot be overstated. This is why we need LGBTQIA+ teachers in our classrooms.

Want to be the teacher who changes students' lives? Take our quiz to get started. Or check out more Pride Month articles here.

Create immediate change

If you’ve felt uneasy in the past few years when confronted with the daily barrage of bad news for those who don’t neatly fit the mold of the “American experience,” there are likely two responses you’ve found yourself debating: disengage and turn off or do something to make a change.

If you’ve found yourself marching in rallies, writing your congresspeople, passionately discussing issues with your family and friends, and still seeking a place where your immediate actions can make a change: I want to encourage you to think about teaching.

Fundamental to a pluralistic, open and democratic society, the education that we provide our future citizens needs teachers who understand the work. We need those who see facts, context and direct impact of actions to lead classrooms in an environment where these ideas are under attack.

We need teachers who model curiosity, teamwork and empowerment of young voices to activate future citizens, who are told repeatedly their thoughts don’t matter.

We need creative, solution-oriented and passionate adults to share how learning is not a conceptual exercise, but a practical and authentic application of information to change students’ lives for the better.

Rediscover your power

If you’re beginning to pull away from your role as an active citizen, becoming a teacher can change your life. Beyond servant leadership that gives your life meaning (currently challenged by a difficult political and cultural atmosphere), teaching can be a place of optimism and hope. 

Teaching allows you to effect action each and every day with students who will take your passion for your content, interest in their lives, and skills you’ve taught them through their lives' journeys.

For cynics, teaching can reignite a fire that each of us has the power to change the lives of others.

Representation matters, too: Just as research indicates that students of color and their white peers always benefit from having teachers of color in the classroom, so it is true for every innate or socioeconomic demographic you find in the spectrum of human experience. 

As an LGBTQIA+ teacher, you become a lifeline for students struggling to find understanding adults, a model of differing life experiences for homogenous communities, and an aspirational figure for those who have access to too few in their lives.

M. Scott Tatum at work.

Join the movement

In the last two decades of my educator experience, the environment for LGBTQIA+ teachers has changed dramatically. As a student-teacher in the early 2000s, I found myself keeping information about my partner quiet, redirecting natural student inquiries about my personal life—in their effort to connect more closely with me, and within the context of growing presence in pop culture of openly gay men and their stories—to concerns of the classroom. 

My hope was to avoid the issue, and this was considered normal protocol for LGBTQIA+ teachers.

This was likely a good tactic as Texas had, and continues to have, no specified statewide protections for employees based on gender identity, expression or sexual orientation. Within just a few years, however, change has started to pick up at a rapid pace: 

As the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case was digested by the larger population, and as sodomy laws were invalidated, legal distinctions about the morality between sexual orientations no longer have much footing. Hiding from something that, on its very face, could have been a criminal act due to immutable characteristics is no longer necessary. 

Soon, colleagues and I saw little reason to shed the layer of authenticity of our familial lives when introducing ourselves, sharing our experiences or fielding curious questions from young people seeking a connection. Of course, culturally this culminated in 2013 Obergefell v. Hodges when same-sex marriage was recognized as a fundamental right under the Constitution.

Recognize your network

But the changes that have most impacted my career as an educator came from the students themselves. They have grown up in a diverse world where history, culture, the arts, sports, gender identity and roles, and the dismantling of the patriarchal and colonial expectations of the past have yielded a generation who no longer always seek to continue the dogma of their parents’, and prior, generations. 

Young men are comfortable being caring and loving with each other in ways I never saw outside of a theater classroom. Young ladies are successfully challenging every male-dominated field found at school and beyond.  

Students who reject the premise of distinction between those two genders are able to have that conversation publicly, finding communities of support and resources in the students, teachers and school district administrations. As a result, I am very happy to share more about who I am in the classroom. The interaction between more comfortable students and more comfortable teachers reinforce one another and makes for a better educational environment for everyone.

Become a teacher

It’s not there in every school or every district. Not yet. Brave pioneers who understand the importance of representation will continue to struggle with adults in district offices or parent associations who wish nothing but the status quo for their children. 

But teachers will continue to find ways to push the arc of the universe, even if for only one school, one classroom or one student. 

They will balance authenticity with tactics and help their students be more accepting when they leave the classroom than when they entered it.

School districts are adjusting quickly, some more quickly than others, to the reality that the way forward for the education sector is to affirm and expand equity and access to a quality education. Dallas ISD is one of many districts in Texas to specifically add protections for LGBTQIA+ students, families and employees.

So, what are you waiting for? Be the teacher students need in their lives. Whether it’s sharing your passion for your content or being a role model for a life that just keeps getting better, LGBTQIA+ teachers are a vital part of the future of education.