Like many, I’ve been transfixed by the the story of Bruce Jenner.
My hope is that his willingness to transparently share his experience as a transgendered person will make it safe for others to live openly and to be accepted for who they are. Awareness is the first step towards acceptance — and if Bruce’s journey builds awareness in a respectful way, it has the potential to radically redefine the conversations that we have about gender identity in America.
But what I’m wrestling with this morning is whether or not we have worked hard enough to make our schools safe places for students who are different.
To put it more simply, do the gay and lesbian and transgender students in our schools — who deserve the love and support of the important adults in their lives — feel like they belong in our buildings, too? Or are they forced to live a lie, pretending to fit in because they are afraid of the consequences of standing out?
It’s impossible to underestimate the consequences of living that lie, y’all.
Then spend some time reading about Leelah Alcorn — a transgendered student in Ohio who committed suicide by walking in front of a semi on a Cincinatti highway in December after being rejected by her parents for not being “the perfect straight little Christian boy” that they wanted her to be. Sadly, students like Leelah aren’t alone: 41 percent of transgendered people attempt suicide at some point in their lives — a number that is NINE times the national average.
Here’s another question I’m wrestling with: Are the teachers in our buildings prepared to lead open conversations about gender and identity and sexuality that are based in facts? Or are we, too, hiding from the truth — avoiding difficult conversations about a potentially controversial topic because we are afraid of the shade that will be thrown our way if we even suggest that the students in our building who are different have actually been normal all along?
I only ask because I know that I am afraid of the shade.
After years of seeing teachers and schools eviscerated by Evangelicals for even suggesting that global warming might be real or that animals adapt to their environments or that homosexuality might be a part of who a person is instead of something that a person chooses to be, I often catch myself dancing around controversy instead of giving it the respectful space that it deserves. I waver in my commitment to the truth — and to people who are counting on me to speak the truth for them — because I’m afraid of what will happen to me if I speak it.
Heck, if I’m REALLY being honest, this post has me sweating.
If the wrong person reads it, I’ll end up buried in accusations of pushing a liberal, left-leaning, gay loving, anti-family values agenda. Ultra-conservative whacks and hacks will turn me into another example of the “brainwashing” that happens in public schools even though conversations about gender issues almost never surface in my middle school classroom. Not kidding: I’ve been torn apart on local talk radio — and called on the carpet for “being controversial” — for a LOT less than suggesting that gay, lesbian and transgendered students deserve respect.
What’s TRULY frightening, though, is that If I’m the norm rather than the exception to the rule, that means our schools remain anything BUT safe places for kids who don’t fit into the neat, clean boxes that we want to place them in.
Can you imagine how lonely it must be to live in a world where no one openly talks about who YOU are? Or worse yet, can you imagine how lonely it must be to live in a world where the only open talk about who YOU are is filled with hate? My guess is that’s all too often the truth for gay, lesbian and transgender students ion our schools — and for that, we should be ashamed.
Our job as educators is to create safe spaces for every student to thrive — not to perpetuate a culture where some people win and other people lose based on nothing more than how closely their gender identity aligns with “traditional values.” Just as importantly, our job as educators is to create learning spaces that are defined by respectful dialogue and critical thinking. Our society becomes stronger when our students learn to see value in the thoughts and opinions and experiences of people who are different.
Hiding from the conversation helps no one.
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