An Interview with a Queer Educator

One of the things I love about the online teaching community is learning about and from teachers with different perspectives and identities. After getting to know Paige, an educator who identifies as queer, a little bit on instagram, I realized I knew very little about the realities of being a queer teacher. They were kind of enough to answer a few questions for me so I could share them with you! 

1. To start, could you tell us as much as you are comfortable sharing about where/what you teach, as well as how you identify?
I teach in Philadelphia, PA. My school is a charter elementary school in the heart of South Philadelphia and is a Title I school. This is my third year here as a special education teacher. Though I do not normally bring it up in my professional setting, I identify as a queer, non-binary educator. My pronouns are they/them.

2. You told me that you can be fired in your state for being a person in the queer community. Are you out to your school? What about your students?
In many areas of the United States and with our current political climate, many schools and districts do not seem to follow the Civil Rights Act of 1964  (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal law prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.) []. In public and charter schools, there are many that state you will not be judged regarding your sex (i.e. gender identification), race, sexual orientation, yet so many administrators caution queer educators into "being quiet" in regards to their identification, gender, and/or sexual orientation. This also goes for Catholic schools. At this time National Catholic Education Commission (NCEC) says they will "not change" their stance on hiring queer educators. Unfortunately, this has been the reality as long as the institution of education has been built. I am "out" to some of my peers that I trust, but not to my administrative staff, students, or parents of students at this time. 

3. Do you think identifying as queer and transgender affects your relationship with your students in any way?
Honestly, I don't. Since I teach kindergarten through second grade Life Skills Support (LSS), they are usually the most kind and understanding group of students. Sometimes, they'll ask me if I have a husband and I say I have loved ones I live with. Or if they see a picture of me and my family, they will ask if that's my sibling or friend and I repeat that they're a part of my family. Keeping things as neutral as possible is key and I feel even if I were straight/cisgender, I would keep that part of my life separate (that might just be my own personal opinion).

4. Do you have any advice for other queer teachers, especially ones that might just be starting out?
I would say being as neutral as possible is key and be yourself from day one. Kids can smell out fibs (as we call them in our room) so be as honest as you feel comfortable with. But, be aware of your school and state policies and regulations in regards to your occupation protect laws. If you feel as though you are being forced to be someone you are not or lie, do not feel like you are stuck. There are so many different schools that would love to have you as an educator! 

5. Are there are any books or resources you would recommend to teachers looking to learn more about the LGBTQA+ community?
There are different organizations and teachers out there that are either fellow queer educators or allies online and in person! Check out instagram, facebook groups, and twitter.  Social media can be a beautiful tool to get connected. The NEA-GLBTC is one group that may interest you in becoming a member and is something I am looking into myself. 

Teaching Queer: Radical Possibilities for Writing and Knowing by Stacey Waite and Queer Teachers, Identity and Performativity edited by Anne Harris & Emily M. Gray are great tools and resources to have. Teaching Tolerance has a site that is a digital magazine that has loads of helpful articles on how to be intersectional and supportive to groups of individuals that face adversity, and not only for the queer community. I think this is probably the most important key detail to discuss: not every queer educator is white. It is critical that we look at a person with all their identities and orientations in order to become a more empathetic and intellectual world. 

I find that there aren't that many books and resources about this specific topic. I actually hope to change that after I finish my Master's program. Shout out to Brittany Wheaton (aka The Superhero Teacher) for being an out and proud queer educator that is changing the world one classroom at a time! 

6. You sent me a great fact sheet about Workplace Equality, which readers can check out here. Do you have any specific actions you'd recommend for teachers who would like to advocate for LGBTQA+ rights?
GLSEN has a Safe Space Kit to support LGBTQA+ youth that is very informational. The kit provides educators tools and resources as well as Safe Place stickers to hang outside their doors or in their classrooms to alert others that they are an educator that is also an ally. Read the book The ABC's of LGBT+ by Ashley Mardell! Also, have more books and posters and information dedicated to queer individuals that don't all look the same and identify the same. 

The last thing I'd like to add is that I only speak on behalf of my queer identity and journey. Though I am non-binary and queer, I still hold privilege of "passing" because I appear feminine. Additionally, I feel that the the fight for rights in the LGBTQA+ community is still something I will face probably the rest of my life. Intersectionality is key to unlocking freedom for the future.  

Paige, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and for all you do for students! You can follow Paige on instagram here.

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