I have started this blog post six different times. Each time, I stopped and erased everything I had written, worried that what I was writing would not accomplish all that I wanted it to accomplish. This time, I am just going to keep writing and hope that the kind hearts of anyone reading will be enough to help begin something big.
Four weeks ago, I braved a world that I did not understand and joined Twitter as an educator. I was instantly amazed, inspired, rejuvenated and captivated by what I found there. There is this thriving world of teachers who want to learn and share and connect. It is a place where people gather virtually in order to better themselves so that we can do better for our students. It. Is. Incredible.
I felt as if a whole new world opened up to me. Teaching can be a really lonely profession. It can feel very isolating if we let it. Too often, we get caught up in the day to day chaos to step outside our classrooms and really connect with the people we work with. Too often, we fear being vulnerable, so we stay hidden inside our rooms, in the comfort of what we know. We don’t mean to, but we isolate ourselves from the very people who can make us stronger and better. I know, because I have let it happen to me. Twitter is starting to change that for me. I have been able to connect. I have been inspired. I have found others who have already made me a better teacher, a better reflector, a better person.
Now, if teaching can be isolating and lonely for any teacher, it can be even lonelier and more isolating for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered teachers. I know this because I am a lesbian teacher and I have felt the effects of how isolating it can be. Knowing the unique challenges that come along with being an LGBT educator AND knowing the power that Twitter holds to connect and support people, I have been playing around with an idea. I don’t know exactly what it might look like, I don’t have any idea if I will be able to make it work, I don’t even know that I will be able to find others to join me, but I am going to try.
As far as life my life as an LGBT educator, I am very lucky. When I married my wife two years ago, I came out to my students, colleagues and community. For the most part, I was accepted and celebrated in the most beautiful way. And no one has been as accepting as my students. It is a powerful thing to witness. But, before that, I was not out. I kept a large part of my life hidden. I feared any moment when I would have to choose between lying to my students or outing myself by simply answering a question. I felt my heart skip a beat every time a student asked me if I had a boyfriend or if I lived by myself or even what I did over the weekend. Because kids DO ask. Especially kids in classrooms where teachers and students respect each other as human beings and where things don’t run with just one person standing in front of the room asking the questions. So kids asked. A lot. And I tried to find creative ways around the truth, but really I was just lying. I was keeping a part of myself from my students and I hated it. The single most important thing that I hope to teach my students is to accept themselves EXACTLY as they are and to be proud of the people that they are. How could I teach this if I, myself, was not being honest about who I was? So when I got engaged, I knew it was time to make a choice. Either I would come out or I would lie. I would have to remove my engagement ring when I went to work. And that was not something that I was willing to do. So I came out. And like I said, I was pleasantly surprised by the warm reactions.
So things are getting better. They are. They are so much better now than they were even when I started teaching eleven years ago. Things are getting so much better that sometimes it is easy for us to fool ourselves into thinking that there are no more issues for gay educators. But, do a quick Google search and you will see stories like this one or this one or this one. And then you realize that we still have quite a ways to go.
Some LGBT educators are out in their school communities. Some have experienced similar warm receptions as mine. Other LGBT educators choose not to deal with the issue at all for fear of what fallout it might bring. And still other LGBT educators go to extreme lengths in order to hide parts of their lives from their schools because they simply feel unsafe being out. They fear loosing their jobs, they fear parents’ reactions, they fear repercussions from administrators or they fear the comments of their students. These are all still very real fears for a lot of educators. So we have come a long way indeed, but we still need more. We still need to be there for each other. We need to support each other. We need to be able to lean on each other as LGBT educators.
But first we need to find each other.
Enter Twitter. I am hoping to be able to start connecting LGBT educators via Twitter and to perhaps begin a weekly or monthly or even one-time chat where we can come together to discuss issues that we face in our schools, to discuss how to make our schools safer for LGBT students and teachers, and to support each other in those unique challenges that sometimes it is nice to know that we are not the only ones facing. I want to be able to find a place on Twitter where LGBT educators can connect with and support each other. I have not been able to find such a place yet, and so I am hoping that perhaps, just maybe, we can start to create one.
But I need the help of anyone who might happen upon this post. Because finding LGBT educators is not always the easiest thing. Sometimes, people are afraid to mention that they are LGBT for fear of it causing problems at their schools. Other times, it is just not something that is mentioned because it might not be a part of an educators small Twitter bio. Other times, teachers might not think that it has anything to do with them as a teacher and their lives in the classroom. But I believe it does and I believe that there will be so much power in bringing a group of people together who can talk about life as LGBT educators.
So if you are able, please pass this blog post along. Help me to get the word out. Help me to begin to create a space that is needed. If you are an educator, and you know someone who might be interested in connecting with this kind of community, please pass this blog post along. If you are an LGBT educator and you, yourself, would be interested in connecting with this kind of community, please reach out. Leave a comment. Contact me via Twitter @JessLifTeach or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thus far, it is has been hard to find other LGBT educators to connect with, but I know you are out there. I know that you, too, have felt how isolating it can be. And I truly believe that there is a need that can be filled by Twitter if we are willing to reach out and start connecting.