GLSEN Changing the Game

PE Teacher Blog: Megan Lessert

My name is Megan Lessert (she, her, hers) and I am an out lesbian, high school physical education teacher and coach. Born and raised in central Florida, I moved to California 14 years ago and currently live and teach in San Diego. As a new Physical Education teacher, I am passionate about changing the way we “do” PE and ensuring that teachers and coaches always respect, include, and nurture LGBTQ+ student-athletes in interscholastic sports.

Growing up in a very conservative city in Florida, we didn’t have GSAs and I didn’t really know any LGBTQ+ people. Despite having short hair, playing softball, running cross country, and being on the wrestling team, I didn’t consider myself a lesbian until after I graduated high school--I didn’t even know what being a lesbian meant. I have vivid memories of being called a “dyke” in middle school and being teased by my peers on the high school wrestling team; this all led me to quit the team. I firmly believe that teachers and coaches have the power to prevent more stories like mine, as long as they are held to a high standard of accountability for how students are treated. My life might have looked drastically different if my younger self had supportive coaches and LGBTQ+ role models.

Today, I am feeling more “in my skin” than I ever have; I am married to my amazing life partner, I am doing what I love for a living, and I am committed to serving youth by undoing harmful practices in physical education and sports. Too often in physical education classes, I see sexist values expressed in the division of groups into boys and girls, and in statements like: “girls, you can do the modified push-ups.” These beliefs and practices enrage me because of the harm they cause LGBTQ+ and GNC students.

I’ve noticed two patterns among physical educators and coaches who are resistant to implementing inclusive practices. Some are simply unaware that their classroom dynamics are harmful. Many of these people have been teaching or coaching for years and haven’t stopped to think twice about why using gender as a basis for differential treatment could be problematic. Others, however, choose willful ignorance. Many teachers and coaches have been trained on how to implement inclusive practices, yet (whether it be due to laziness, bigotry, personal convenience, or another factor) they still choose to disregard the importance of inclusion. I’ve been in rooms with coaches who have uneducatedly discussed vague concerns about the “unfair advantages'' trans athletes receive. It has been proven that trans students do not have any athletic advantages over cis students, but coaches continue to endorse this rhetoric. Recently, states such as Connecticut, Georgia, and Idaho have attempted to pass bills that would bar trans people from competing on the high school teams that best align with their gender identity. If coaches do not commit to making their teams and PE classes inclusive of all students, we will only see more violent, transphobic legislation in the future.

When I’m working with a team or a PE class, I always ask myself: “What would 12-17-year-old Megan need to hear right now?” I am intentional about how my language, teaching strategies, and coaching practices can be used to positively impact all students, including LGBTQ+ and GNC athletes. I state my pronouns in class. I send out a survey at the beginning of the semester asking for their names, pronouns, and privacy needs. When I need to quickly divide people into groups, I use numbers, color of shirt or shorts, number of siblings, or other criteria that do not treat gender or sex as a valid basis for dividing the class. If I hear or am made aware of homophobic comments, I address them immediately. I try to empower my students by addressing them as “athletes,” “scholars,” “amazing humans,” and “rockstars.” All of these are relatively simple practices, but what matters is that you take the time to actually implement them. I challenge you to try at least one of these new practices the next time you lead your class or team, and I hope that every coach or PE teacher reading this will commit to creating a classroom environment that affirms all students, including LGBTQ+ and GNC ones.

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