Linda writes about her experiences working with future teachers at Buffalo State College, particularly in regards to LGBT students.
What a great role model you are to your students! I wish I could have had you talk to my classes of future teachers at Buffalo State College. Some students who happened to be gay were questioning about whether to be out in school. My advice was limited. I only had my experience at Hutch Tech High School. Not one teacher was out to the students. I found out recently that a gay student suffered from harassment from a teacher I knew. I wish I had known at the time. Maybe I could have intervened.
After you came out, I read a great deal about gay and lesbian issues. When I began teaching at Buffalo State it became my mission to inform my students as well since they planned to become teachers. Teachers can make such a difference in young lives. You gave me some materials. I got resources from web sites such as the Gay and Lesbian Educators’ Network (GLSEN). Also I invited representatives from PFLAG and from GLYS to speak to my students. One nice thing about being an instructor in college it was a bully pulpit. Students want to say the right things, so there was no push back.
However, one student teacher seminar was a huge surprise to me and to the other education faculty members. During each student teacher assignment we brought the students back to campus for a seminar. I asked to present on LGBT students so that all the student teachers, not just the ones I taught, would be sensitive to gay and lesbian students.
In the sharing portion I was surprised at how many student teachers were encountering transitioning students, and this was nine years ago! Though I included the T in LGB materials, I had little understanding of transgender students. At a PFLAG meeting a transgender woman who worked at city hall presented to us about her transformation and all the problems she encountered. But little did I think my student teachers would run into trans students. Of course these young people were going through horrendous social and familial problems. It was clear that we all needed to know more about this population. Luckily we had web sites and local resources to assist, but it was a huge learning curve for us all.
Which brings me to the present. Last Sunday at the Emmy Awards, actor Jeffrey Tambor won an award for his role as a transgendered parent in the TV program, Transparent. In his speech he honored the series and all the transgendered community for their support. In addition Caitlyn Jenner’s transition has helped bring attention to this often discriminated minority.
Yet high schools tend to be very slow to change. Students just a little different from the so-called norm are often subject to bullying. A local young man committed suicide a few years ago because he was being tormented on social media for being gay. In high school classrooms, students need role models like you to tell the truth about your lives and, thus, to make an important difference. For the sake of all those students I am glad and proud of you.