I have been a secondary science educator for fourteen years. I have loved teaching science – piquing students’ interest in the world and in scientific possibilities, and encouraging them to pursue science careers. After all, science solves the world’s problems. I was named ESL Teacher of the Year, twice nominated for my campus’ Teacher of the Year, and held numerous leadership positions at multiple campuses in multiple districts. In spite of this, anti-LGBTQ discrimination has led me to resign, ending my teaching career mid-contract.
In the fall of 2017, shortly after school started, I was approached by a student and asked to sponsor a GSA. I was ecstatic at the opportunity. My two sisters and I identify as LGBTQ and we have religious parents who learned to love and accept us. As an out educator of 11 years, married to my wife for 9 years, and mother to 3, I was excited to offer a safe space for students to feel open to express their true selves.
In late February, however, I was called to the office of an administrator on my campus and was asked about a conversation that had occurred in my classroom. During a genetics lesson I overheard a gay slur. Anyone who has spent any amount of time around teenagers is familiar with the rampant use of negative LGBTQ terminology - in 2015, 92% of Texas students reported hearing “that’s so gay” in the classroom and 86% reported hearing other homophobic remarks (GLSEN 2015 Texas State Snapshot). In this instance, as always, I intervened to challenge the conversation with my typical, “not appropriate” and “it is offensive.” I believe it’s our role as educators to tell students that anti-LGBTQ comments should offend anyone; homophobic or transphobic comments, along with racist, sexist, ableist comments and any comments targeting a marginalized group of people, should have no place in our institutions, as they keep our classrooms from being safe and welcoming for all students.
The administrators informed me that the brief conversation I had with students was not an acceptable use of academic time and that I should focus on teaching the TEKS, Texas’s guiding K-12 subject required curriculum. I was the campus GSA sponsor; if I did not correct this type of language, who would? I highlighted the worrisome statistics from LGBTQ students - nearly 9 in 10 were harassed or assaulted at school (GLSEN 2015). All adults in schools should know that ignoring comments like the ones I heard only encourages the anti-LGBTQ behavior and can increase the isolation felt by so many. Unfortunately, however, school officials did not agree and I was formally reprimanded. A letter was entered into my personal file and it was expected that I not get in “an extended dialogue about those things” and “that these conversations not be allowed in [the] classroom”. Reprimand letters become part of a teacher’s employment record, can be used as documentation to support a firing, and travels with the teacher, even to other schools or other districts.
Although I was a teacher in a suburb of the fourth largest city in the United States – one whose most recent mayor was openly gay— and, most recently working in the third largest school district in Texas, the anti-LGBTQ climate left its mark on me. Texas is one of 34 states that does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression in public schools. Beyond that, Texas is one of the seven states with “No Promo Homo” laws that are designed to restrict instruction and limit school expressions of support for LGBTQ people or issues. The law in the Health and Safety Code, Sec. 85.007. requires that teaching materials “state…homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense” (now deemed unconstitutional by the ruling in Lawrence v. Texas).
Although my last school district has a stated policy to protect for LGBTQ students – including “offensive jokes, name-calling, slurs,” the reality is that educators are expected to remain quiet about LGBTQ issues. If the current administration continues to be welcoming towards divisive, derogatory commentary, if the Department of Education refuses to protect all students, if school districts refuse to follow through with written policy, it is the students who will suffer.
The research concludes that “No Promo Homo” states like Texas can create more hostile school environments – with less LGBTQ resources or supportive educators. Our role as educators is to guide and protect students to become productive members of society; we do this for all students, not just those like ourselves - especially the most vulnerable.
Administrators in any state need to be supporting their faculty in creating learning environments where all students can succeed. That’s why GLSEN created this guide for Administrators and School Leaders. It is time for school boards, school administrators, and all educators to fully embrace LGBTQ students and staff, not just as policy – but to really fight for their rights to feel welcome, safe, and protected.
Shannon Flores, Educator and GSA Advisor, TX