Tag Archives: LGBT

Three Lessons From an Out Classroom Teacher

Justin Borroto in the classroom

photo courtesy of the author

When I became a teacher, it had been over five years since I first came out. In that time, I didn’t worry much about my sexuality. My friends and family overwhelmingly accepted me, my college campus made me feel safe, and the progressive nonprofit where I worked celebrated the ways that I was unique and different. But as I walked into a high school classroom as a teacher, all the scary feelings I once felt as a high school student came creeping back in. Would being gay hurt my relationships with students or their families? I resolved that I wouldn’t lead with the fact that I was gay, but I wouldn’t lie about it either.

It turns out that I didn’t need to worry. Throughout my teaching experience, I have had the opportunity to share my authentic self with students and facilitate conversations around sexuality and gender. I’ve shown my queer students how to love themselves and their peers how to be good allies. And on top of continuing to work as a classroom teacher, I’ve had the privilege of serving as my school’s LGBTQ Liaison, a position unique to DC Public School (DCPS).

Here are three lessons I’ve learned from my time in the classroom and as LGBTQ liaison:

High school is not how I remember it

As a closeted queer kid in high school almost 10 years ago, the idea of being out was scary. There were very few out students and absolutely no out teachers.

Things are getting better. While a 2015 survey conducted by GLSEN revealed that 60% of LGBTQ students reported frequently hearing words like “fag” or “dyke,” that number is down from 80% in 2001. So don’t get me wrong, discrimination hasn’t completely stopped, but I’m pleasantly surprised each time I watch a student be themselves boldly and unapologetically. LGBT students at my school are generally encouraged to be themselves, so much that our Prom King this year was openly gay.

Having an employer that protects your students’ and your own sexual orientation and gender identity is a blessing Continue reading

High School Sucks for Many Queer Youth — I Was Lucky

photograph of author Jeremy Knight in high school

photo courtesy of the author

The common narrative is that for many queer-identified people, high school is a time of awkwardness, isolation, or fear. As young queer people come into their own identities and expressions, they navigate building supporting friendships while being true to themselves, and may even experience taunting or violence.

But during those years which most of my queer friends bemoan, I actually flourished.

Sure, coming out is difficult, and it’s particularly difficult as a black man. There were very few public examples of queer identity, same-sex love, and men bucking traditional forms of masculinity, especially ones that included men of Caribbean descent like myself.

But as I came out during my sophomore year in high school, I actually found solace in school. Antithetical to the schoolyard bullying that many face, all of my teachers, administrators, and peers loved me for who I was. Business went on as usual — I still got parts in our theater productions, kept all my friends, managed to date, and was even elected student body president. All without issue. And, importantly, all while getting a rigorous education.

I owe a lot of that to my environment — I spent my middle and high school years in a pretty racially mixed, middle-class suburb outside of Atlanta after spending my early years in a black, working class community in the city. My mother moved us to the suburbs because the schools I was zoned for were notoriously dangerous and had poor academics. Even in elementary school, I had instances with teachers questioning my academic ability.

Had I stayed in the schools I was zoned for in Atlanta, my story would likely be very different. It’s hard for me to imagine getting the same emotional and academic support.

I owe a lot to my high school teachers and administrators. They created a school environment that felt safe, inclusive, joyful, and deeply rooted in strong academics. It was this environment that encouraged me to think about pursuing a career in education. When I got to college, I began taking a few education courses and joined Students for Education Reform, a student organizing group advocating for better K-12 schools, and realized policy and advocacy could be an avenue to make large-scale changes that affect more than one school building. After graduating, I led and supported successful campaigns to raise teacher pay in North Carolina, elect a school board member in Los Angeles, and get better supports for English language learners in Massachusetts.

This passion started because I wanted to help design a school that was as supportive and enriching as my school in the suburbs — but for kids in neighborhoods like mine in Atlanta. I want a world where black kids can be challenged, supported, and realize their limitless potential in a loving school community — no matter what identities, interests, or experiences they bring into the classroom. I’m encouraged by the progress major urban districts have made this past decade, and look forward to the next generation of young, queer school advocates who will continue to lead with equity and intersectionality in mind.