One educator’s story with tips and resources for Pride month. By Linse Sullivan.
I am monitoring lunch time, opening fruit snacks and talking with students. A kindergartener comes up to me and asks, “are you a boy or a girl?”
While colleagues rush over with apologies and admonitions, I love that question. Kids are curious, and so am I – why do you wonder that? Is it because of my haircut, my clothes, my interactions? It’s the beginning of a rich conversation on gender roles and expectation, and all I did was show up to work.
LGBTQ+ issues in the United States
LGBTQ+ issues impact the 8-10% of adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and more. In the United States, this percentage represents at least 20 million people. We also know:
- 2022 is already a record year for anti-LGBTQ legislation, with 300 bills filed and counting. Many of these bills specifically target transgender children.
- In comparison, 41 anti-LGBTQ bills were filed in 2018.
- 50% of American parents feel uncomfortable by the inclusion of gay and lesbian characters and stories in elementary school library books
- Just one open and accepting adult in an LGBTQ youth’s life can reduce the risk of suicide attempts
My experience as a queer educator
As an elementary school music teacher, I have taught hundreds of students, received “highly effective” on my evaluations, and led many successful community events and concerts. Students and I learn and laugh together, and make life-changing music in the process.
However, as a trans and nonbinary queer* educator, I often feel like my job accomplishments are overshadowed by fear and ignorance.
Do families or community stakeholders see me as an asset, or as a danger?
Can I share my skills and experiences, or will I be asked to “stick to the facts?”
Will I be protected against attacks based on my identity, or will I be sacrificed to public opinion?
Limited workplace protections
In the United States, I am not yet fully protected against job discrimination because of my gender identity. Dress codes and “professional” behavior based on gender and racial stereotypes are linked to my job evaluation. Finally, recent anti-LGBTQ+ laws may seem shocking to some, but these are just the next attempt to codify the violence and dehumanization of people like me – and I feel my colleagues’ silence on the matter deeply.
For trans folks of color or people with other intersecting identities, these questions become more pressing, and the answers more disappointing.
Ultimately, this journey has led to a reimagining of my teaching career. Now I live in a new state where I am closer to my family and employed by the comparatively LGBTQ+ friendly field of higher education. Online, I see glimpses of the future: queer professionals sharing their successes and challenges, whether they are transitioning, teaching about LGBTQ+ history and culture, or just living their lives. These small moments of joy remind me that our stories are still progressing – that there is still hope.
Next steps for allies
By sharing my story and the following resources, I hope that caregivers and professionals find the courage to show up for their gender-expansive and queer family, children, friends, and coworkers.
I invite people to explore how race, language, health status, and other identities can create a unique experience for LGBTQ+ folks. For example, my life as a white trans person is very different from the potential experience of a trans woman of color.
There are many things parenting educators and other family support professionals can do to support LGBTQ+ community members, youth, family, and coworkers:
- Educate yourself on the terminology and issues facing queer people, and have honest conversations about what you learn.
- Enjoy books, shows, and music for and by the LGBTQ+ community:
- Ask your workplace, community organizations, or local schools about what you can do to support their Pride month education and celebrations.
- Write a positive note to your work, school, or community organization expressing your support for an inclusive and affirming environment, even if you don’t know of any openly LGBTQ+ people there.
- Practice intervening and protecting people subject to hate and threat.
- Research what LGBTQ+ organizations are in your community and support them. For those in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, here are some examples:
*I use the term queer to describe myself, understanding that not everyone prefers this term. I suggest asking people how they identify and following their lead. Watch “Tyler Ford Explains What Queer Means” (3:39) to learn more about the history and power around the word queer.