This past weekend, I was at a gathering which I attend several times a year and about which I have written about before. Near the end of the weekend, a man told the group about being an openly gay teacher at a big-city junior high school in a poor, rough neighborhood consisting of mostly immigrants.
Although he was already "out" at the school, after the recent spate of highly publicized gay teenage suicides, the teacher decided that he had to speak out more. With the other teachers’ blessing, he went to all the seventh grade health classes, beginning the conversation by asking, "Who here is gay?" After some denials and giggling, he would say, "I am." This would produce considerable shock, but then there would be lots of good, constructive questions from the students, which the teacher answered as honestly as possible. When the teacher asked if any of the students know anyone who is gay, most did - a cousin or such - and said that "they are alright."
The man explained that the school shares the campus with a much larger high school and said that, one day after these conversations, he decided to sit outside during recess, knowing that he was taking some risk. He noticed some seventh-grade boys looking and pointing at him and went over to ask what was up. The boys asked him more provocative questions ("Who gives the sperm?"). The teacher was beginning to answer when he was hit by an open carton of milk thrown from afar.
The seventh-graders were nearly as shocked as the teacher and asked him why this happened. The teacher asked the boys if they saw who threw the carton. One or two pointed out a high school student. The teacher, still dripping with milk, went over and confronted the boy, who told him, "Don’t talk about gay stuff!"
After finding out that the high school student is the older brother of a seventh-grader, the teacher was told by school administrators that he had to get a number of witnesses in order for anything to be done about the incident. The teacher found that many students refused to get involved, but he did get enough of them to point out the high school boy, who was then sent to a juvenile rehabilitation facility.
We can admire this man and say that he is brave. We can say that he has balls to teach at a junior high school - not to mention one in a tough inner-city neighborhood and being known to be gay. But that would be too easy.
This man is doing what we in the GLBT community all should be doing, the hard work every one of us needs to do. He is getting out there day after day, standing up for all to see and being honest about who he is. Not only that - and more importantly - he is not letting those who want to deny his existence, shame him and destroy him succeed. In being his true self, he shines and is the one who, in the end, is stronger, survives and thrive.
The failure to do this is clearly evident in the success of Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage, in California. The gay community couldn’t even say "gay," and the opposition ran with it and made it all the more shameful and frightening.