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I am a lesbian.

There. I said it.

It’s not that people don’t know; it’s that I rarely say those words out loud. And I never said it out loud when I was teaching.

Why is that?

The truth is that saying it out loud is scary, and during my teaching years could have gotten me fired. And, given current circumstances, there are many places where saying those words out loud could put my safety at risk.

One need look no further than the Pulse nightclub shooting, the introduction of so-called “bathroom” bills, the Nashville Statement, or the president’s recent ban on transgendered people in the military to know that my community is seen as “less than” and is definitely not safe in many situations.

So I have spent 40 years in “don’t ask, don’t tell” mode, despite total acceptance from my friends, family, workplace, and faith community.

Why is this important?

As an adult, I have had many years to learn how to cope in a world of bias and discrimination. But for our LGBTQ youth, these real world conditions can have devastating effects. It is well known that LGBTQ youth are at greater risk for depression, self medication, and suicide attempts. When a “bathroom” bill was recently introduced and the president declared a transgender ban for the military, the number of youth reaching out to the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention organization, doubled. As this study concludes: Living in states with discriminatory policies may have pernicious consequences for the mental health of LGB populations. These findings lend scientific support to recent efforts to overturn these policies.

I can’t help but wonder how being more visible during my teaching years might have impacted the thousands of students with whom I worked. What did I teach them about standing their truth (or not)? Did I inadvertently convey that they should hide who they really are? I know I can’t go back and do it differently. Reflecting on it now, I wish I could.

My community is only one group that is feeling increasingly unsafe during these challenging times. There are many communities that feel as though they are under attack, and there is lots of evidence to support these claims: the rollback of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the constant conversation about “the wall”, Charlottesville, the Muslim ban, and the seemingly acceptable murder of unarmed black men and boys, just to name a few.

As uncomfortable as it may make us all feel, it is time to acknowledge that what is going on now is a reflection of our collective consciousness.

As uncomfortable as it may make us all feel, it is time to acknowledge that what is going on now is a reflection of our collective consciousness. Ernest Holmes said, “Life is a mirror and will reflect back to the thinker what he [or she] thinks into it.” What we see happening in our collective mirror is a reflection of what the collective is thinking into it. The sooner we accept this truth, the sooner we can move through what is and towards healing and solutions.

The real questions for all of us are: What are we going to do about what we see? What am I going to do about what I see when I look into the same mirror? Tracy Brown, in this TED Talk, invites us to consider What’s Mine to Do.

This is not about blame or shame. Those will never get us to a new, more equitable or socially just place. It is, however, a call to wake up to the truth about where we have been, where we are, and what it is going to take to move forward as individuals and as a nation.

Over the next two months, the Center for Teaching Quality, in partnership with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, will be hosting a blogging roundtable discussion that focuses on issues of equity and social justice. During that time we will hear from educators and students from diverse backgrounds about their experiences and what it will take to create an equitable school system for all students. Some bloggers will reflect on the past, many will comment on the present, and all will offer ideas and suggestions for how we might co-create an equitable and socially just future.

If we can put our “ears on our hearts," we may hear whispers of what is ours to do.

Brene Brown, in a recent FB live event, said that we are not capable of taking off our own filters so we should believe people when they tell us about their experiences. During this roundtable and beyond, I invite us all to listen to—and believe—the stories of educators and students. And if we can put our “ears on our hearts," we may hear whispers of what is ours to do.

We can get through this together. We must!


Lori is a staff member at Center for Teaching Quality working on School Redesign, a National Board Certified Teacher, and has 25 years of teaching experience. Lori's post is part of CTQ's blogging roundtable on equity and social justice in education. Join the discussion by commenting on this blog and checking out the other blogs in this series. Follow CTQ on Facebook and Twitter to see when each new blog is posted and use #CTQCollab to chime in on social media. 

 

13 Comments

Bill Ivey commented on September 7, 2017 at 11:43pm:

Lovely way to kick off this discussion

I love the power of your writing that comes from your openness, honesty, and vulnerability. I love the deliberate mention of an intersectional lens, which foretells that we will be taking a variety of different focuses during these months, bearing in mind that they all are a function of systems of oppression and marginalization and that they all interact in different ways.

I'm starting my 33rd year at my school, a girls school, and honestly no one (kid or adult) was out until my 12th year, 1996-1997. By 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state with marriage equality, our bookstore manager was comfortable enough to stand in front of the school and talk about how supported she felt here and how emotional she was standing with her then-fiancée on the steps of Northampton's Town Hall at midnight, the second same-gender couple ever to get a marriage license from that city. Seven years later, one of the students came out as a trans boy, another school first (though we had some transgender alums by then), and by now gender non-conforming and non-binary kids are pretty much woven into school culture, especially from the perspective of the kids themselves. It's been slow and steady progress, not without bumps and bruises and slipping back, and not without progress yet to be made.

I think Greg Curran in his Pushing the Edge blog "Can We Come to Your Wedding?" [ https://pushingtheedge.org/can-we-come-to-your-wedding/ ] (based in part on conversations with his students as Australia moves - hopefully! - closer to marriage equality) does an excellent job capturing that "sort of out but never far from the closet door" feeling a lot of LGBTQ+ people have in school. As a person who has become increasingly gender non-conforming over time in both identity and expression, I can imagine how you feel about the lost opportunities. At the same time I think we do have to acknowledge that times have changed a great deal from your first year in teaching, or mine. And besides, in the end, it's what we do moving forward that now matters.

So thank you for this blog. It matters. Now, let's move forward. :-)

Lori Nazareno Lori Nazareno commented on September 11, 2017 at 4:41pm:

Times have changed

Thanks so much for your thoughtful response Bill. I always learn so much from reading anything you write.

You are definitely right about times having changed. I actually remember when there was an intentional shift if the LGBTQ community around becoming more visible. The idea was to counter the notion that people fear what they don't know. And, while lots of LGBTQ folks have always been around, nobody knew it because we could hide. Once we started to be more visible, people realized that some their brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers and/or friends were LGBTQ. And when folks knew, they better understood. And, while we still have a long way to go, at least we have come this far.

Justin Minkel commented on September 10, 2017 at 5:29pm:

Solitary stick vs. Unbreakable bundle

Lori,

Your wonderful post made me think about individual vs. collective action as it relates to identity. Three images:

1. That old physical metaphor of one stick, easily snapped, vs. a bundle of sticks as strong as a log.

2. That scene in the old movie "In and Out," the first I saw with a gay protagonist, where every single person at the town meeting, including the entire fire department, stand up to declare themselves "Gay!"

3. A book I read with my 1st graders the first week of school, Swimmy by Leo Lionni, where a group of little fish swim together in the form of a shark to chase off the predators in the ocean. 

Two questions I'd love to hear responses to, from anyone in this Roundtable:

*How does your identity, your experiences, and your personal beliefs shape who you are to your students?

*As teachers/teacher leaders, how can we work with our colleagues at a school, state, or national level to become that "bundle of sticks?"

Finally, Lori, a question for you: What actions could your colleagues, administrators, or parents of your students have taken that would have helped you be more open about your identity with your students without fear of retribution?

Jessica Cuthbertson commented on September 21, 2017 at 6:38pm:

On Teaching and Momming at the Same Time

Great questions, Justin - I'll take the bait and answer this one:

*How does your identity, your experiences, and your personal beliefs shape who you are to your students?

I'm six weeks into the school year after a two year teaching hiatus. I feel like my identity and current experience is very much driving who I am both inside and outside the classroom in new (and not always good) ways. This is also the first year I'm juggling being a mom and a teacher. It's hard, and exhausting, and wonderful...and did I mention, hard? :) 

Being at a new school with a new group of 8th graders I decided to go big with vulnerabiltiy. The last group of 8th graders I taught I looped with for three years so I knew starting from scratch with a new group of kids I wanted to accelerate the relationship building by being real and raw to let them know they can be real and raw too (and that I'll love them in all of their realness).

The day there was a physical alteracation between two students (a first for me that left me momentarily paralzyed and escalated from 0 to 10 rather quickly) I dealt with the issue, got support for the two students, and then cried in front of my classroom when debriefing the incident -- I said something like, "I know you're 13 and 14 year olds and yet when I look into your eyes all I see is someone's son or daughter. I see my own five-year-old in you. And I want him and his classmates to feel safe in their classroom the same way I want each of you to feel safe in this classroom. I take your safety very seriously. For 100 minutes each day your mother, father, grandmother/grandfather, etc. are trusting me to keep you safe. And I take that very seriously because I know how hard it is to trust other people with your child. You are someone's child and during our time together it's my job not just to teach you but to also help you feel safe, capable, and successful." 

That's one example of many. (Basically becoming a mom has made me a mushy mess) but I think it is the right thing To be open and honest, raw and vulnerable with our students. To apologize when we're wrong, admit when we don't know the answer, share our own learning struggles, wrestle with hard questions, and not shy away from exploring and discussing what matters to students -- even if what matters to them is not of monumental importance in the grand scheme of things. If it's important to them and impacting how they feel/think/learn in the classroom then it should matter to us -- no matter how big or small it is.

I can tell my students I stand for social justice and equity -- but it's only through discussion, action, and interactions over time that I can show them how much this matters to me and figure out what matters to them. And I don't know how to do that without grappling with my own identity, beliefs and experiences -- if I don't -- how can I expect them to do the same?

Lori Nazareno Lori Nazareno commented on September 25, 2017 at 6:24pm:

Vulnerability made all the difference

Jessica,

You invited us "To be open and honest, raw and vulnerable with our students. To apologize when we're wrong, admit when we don't know the answer, share our own learning struggles, wrestle with hard questions, and not shy away from exploring and discussing what matters to students."

I DO know that I did these things as best I could when I was teaching and that made all of the difference. I am proud to be able to say that the largest group of my FB friends is former students. I think that being honest and vulnerable with them in the ways that I could made all of the difference.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful post!

Justin Minkel commented on October 15, 2017 at 1:08pm:

Beautiful strength.

Jessica,

Your students will always remember that moment of truth with them, and I will to. This is so beautiful:

"I know you're 13 and 14 year olds and yet when I look into your eyes all I see is someone's son or daughter. I see my own five-year-old in you. And I want him and his classmates to feel safe in their classroom the same way I want each of you to feel safe in this classroom. I take your safety very seriously. For 100 minutes each day your mother, father, grandmother/grandfather, etc. are trusting me to keep you safe. And I take that very seriously because I know how hard it is to trust other people with your child. You are someone's child and during our time together it's my job not just to teach you but to also help you feel safe, capable, and successful." 

I have been thinking a lot about gender lately, partly because of watching The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu, and I think we have internalized some deeply damaging norms about strength. Men of my dad's generation were taught that emotion and vulnerability are signs of weakness. In reality, many of these men ended up like a fallen tree I saw a few weeks ago that looked perfectly healthy on the outside but had a hidden rot that eventually brought it crashing down.

Being "a mushy mess" IS strength. It is a strength rooted in your confidence in yourself. You can show emotion precisely because you know it doesn't make you weak.

On a Story Corps, a Native American man who became a superintendent talked about his father telling him, "It's good to cry. That's how you get the poison out of you." 

This truth about strong emotion rings true when it comes to acknowledging imperfection, too. Leonard Cohen sang it right: "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

Tricia Ebner commented on September 18, 2017 at 8:48pm:

Such a powerful start . . .

There is so much to reflect upon in this post. Two ideas in particular resonate:

1. The question, "What did I teach them about standing in their truth (or not)?" strikes such a chord with me. I have asked similar questions over time. I still wonder about some of the students I taught early in my career. Now they're in their 30's. I know I could have done more. 

2. The second point: "What are we going to do about what we see?" Quite honestly, there is no hiding right now. We either speak up, or we are silent. Hiding, claiming ignorance may seem safer, more comfortable. It's also more dangerous than speaking up. 

I'm looking foward to this work unfolding as we move forward, together. 

Lori Nazareno Lori Nazareno commented on September 25, 2017 at 6:25pm:

Knowing better

I do know this: We all do the best we can with what we know at the time. And, as Maya Angelou said, "When we know better, we do better."

And yes Tricia, there is no hiding now!

William Anderson commented on September 21, 2017 at 8:03pm:

So thoughtful and reflective

Lori this piece right here...so good. It has forced me to really be reflective in my practice and the truth/s I do and do not share with my students. And I think you are absolutely right, that at this present time silence is helping no one. Self-reflection and thinking about what is really in the "collective mirror" is key to me being able to show up the best version of myself for my kiddos and my community. Thank you so much for sharing. 

Lori Nazareno Lori Nazareno commented on September 25, 2017 at 6:29pm:

Can't wait for your addition!

Thanks so much for your comments Will. YOU inspire me with the work you do. And, yes, this is NOT the time to be silent on these things that matter so much and WILL define our future.

I can't wait to see the magnificent ways that you will take this conversation deeper. Much love!

Jessica Cuthbertson commented on September 22, 2017 at 11:06am:

Love everything about this...

As I tell my student writers, you had me at your first line. By leaning into your truth in this post I can only imagine how many others you've encouraged and inspired to lean into our own truth. You have certainly done so for me.

So blessed our paths crossed professionally -- your impact on my life is more significant than you will ever know. Every time I see the letters CTQ, NBCT, LGBTQ, or hear the words compassion or servant leadership, I think of you. When I hear of teacher powered work happening in pockets across our nation - I think of you. When I'm unsure about my next steps with a student, I think of you. When I'm afraid to speak up about our profession, I think of you. 

You've helped me muster the courage to call myself teacher leader. And your servant leadership continues to inspire and fuel my own courage to listen, speak up, and lean in...

Sherrill Knezel commented on October 1, 2017 at 4:56pm:

It matters how we show up...now more than ever!

Lori,

Thank you so much for this powerful and vulnerable start.  After reading your post, my reflections have been on whether I am doing enough every day to make a difference with my sons, with my students and in my community.  

I have struggled this fall with agency and wondering how I can address social justice in my elementary art room.  Sometimes I think we can overthink and overplan and so I decided to relax into just being more aware of the energy and side conversations in my classroom.

I recently assigned a project prompt to my 5th graders to create an indirect portrait, an assemblage of objects, icons, images that told me about them but that could not include a picture of them.  While we were researching and discussing examples of other artists' work, we organically landed in a discussion about gender bias as some of the students assigned "him" or "her" to the artist when all we could see were objects arranged in a photograph. When students feel safe in a classroom, they are more apt to explore these conversations and be open about their assumptions.  The following week when we revisited the discussion, I heard many students using "this artist" or "this person" instead of "him/her"  ...a small difference, but a change, nonetheless.

In the larger picture, I try to show up everyday open and honest with my students.  I work to hold them to kind and compassionate standards with each other and encourage them to tell their own story through their art.  I hold them accountable when they slip and are unkind. When we can appreciate each other's differences, we are all stronger.

I look forward to following this conversation! Thank you for your inspiration.

 

John Holland commented on October 20, 2017 at 7:33pm:

Thank you for being vulnerable

Lori,

Thank you for sharing your vulnerability and the strength you have learned from it. I have been learning and painfully exploring this form of strength recently. You quote from Ernest Holmes, “Life is a mirror and will reflect back to the thinker what he [or she] thinks into it.” What we see happening in our collective mirror is a reflection of what the collective is thinking into it. " Is particularly applicable as we live each day in our current political climate. 

I just heard today George W. Bush talking about the effects of the new political climate and changing Nationalism into Nativism. Another Republican sentaor talked about how Bush had always deplored racism and had instituted progressive immigration policies in Texas as Governor. This reflection, now more than ever, helped me to understand why I never liked Bush but I could "deal" with him because he had a seed of humanity. There is also great power in your perspective about how you might have acted differently.

I can’t help but wonder how being more visible during my teaching years might have impacted the thousands of students with whom I worked. What did I teach them about standing their truth (or not)? Did I inadvertently convey that they should hide who they really are? I know I can’t go back and do it differently. Reflecting on it now, I wish I could.

This idea of what do we hide is one that all teachers face when they step out of their door into the public sphere. No one is perfect and yet we expect all teachers to resemble a version of perfection. Like I said, thank you for your vulnerability. 

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