Tag Archives: LGBTQ

On Being in the Closet at St. Ignatius

Originally posted on Where the Boom Bands Play.

St. Ignatius CollegeI distinctly remember one gay teacher while I was a student at St. Ignatius College Preparatory School in Chicago. Or, at least we all thought he was gay. He taught Spanish and was unapologetically flamboyant. I never had the pleasure of having him as a teacher, nor did I ever have a teacher who was openly gay until graduate school — I cried when she said it in passing on the first day of class. I don’t know if the Spanish teacher ever came out to students or ever said that he was gay. Frankly, it was none of our business. Even without the “official” confirmation, the students loved him. It was said that he was one of the best Spanish teachers in the department. In particular, the students loved that he was gay. However, students weren’t seemingly obsessed with the fact that he was gay because it was some kind of celebration of identity. They loved that he was gay because of the novelty of it.

I have vivid memories of male students making a sort-of-game out of approaching this teacher. He gave any student a hug when the student asked, and I remember watching male students dare each other to go up to him to get a hug. The male students would always approach timidly and reluctantly while a pack of friends stood back and giggled behind their hands. I wonder now as I wondered then if that teacher knew the spectacle those students were making out of his identity. I saw this exchange happen frequently during passing periods in the hallway. I have one particularly clear memory of a male student getting a hug and then promptly brushing off his clothes and skin as if he were wiping off the contact he had just had. He was a popular student, making his actions all the more “important” and the embrace all the more “egregious.” Everyone thought it was hilarious. The message that action sent has stuck with me over 10 years later. I can see that student’s face as he grimaced, wiping away this teacher’s homosexuality like it was contagious. I still know that student now. At one point that student was a teacher himself. I hope he gave hugs to kids that wanted them when he was a teacher. I hope no student ever wiped off his identity, his love.

I never got one of those hugs. I both thought it would be weird since I was never a student of this teacher (though he would hug anyone who asked, pupil of his or not). Moreover, I tried to avoid anything that might lead to the assumption that I myself was gay, since I was terrified of the truth that lie latent within me. I now wish I had gotten one. That hug could have been affirming for him and for me in a time when I felt like something was wrong with me; a time when I felt suppressed, confused, and invisible.

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The Day I Was Reminded LGBTQ Students Still Don’t Feel Safe in Schools

Recently, I co-facilitated a session with Lora Cover at a conference for school leaders of color, where we focused on creating more diverse, equitable, and inclusive education institutions. In the session, we conducted an activity (one which our Talent Advising team created in partnership with Erin Trent Johnson and Xiomara Padamsee) where we asked participants to name times in their lives when parts of their identities were either on the mainstream — seen as “normal” — or in the margins — seen as “other” — and to explore when and where certain identities potentially shifted between the two.

Then we listed some demographic identifiers that could describe a member of their school community — a teacher, parent, student, or even a school leader — and asked participants to physically place themselves on a spectrum from “IN” on one side of the room to “OUT” on the opposite side of the room depending on how that person might feel in the context of their school and work environment.

Most prompts yielded relatively balanced spreads across the “IN” or “OUT” spectrum, indicating a fairly evenly split between those that were struggling and succeeding in creating inclusive environments for different types of students, family members, and staff. However, when we came to “a student who identifies as LGBTQ,” every individual in the room with the exception of two non-school based leaders went to the “OUT” side of the room. The striking implication: not one school leader in that room felt as though their school was inclusive for LGBTQ youth.

I was heartbroken. As both a person who identifies as LGBTQ and a former teacher, to see a room full of school leaders all express that their school environments were non-inclusive for students who identify as LGBTQ was horrifying. However, it painted what I believe to be an accurate picture of the majority of schools in America. Despite the fact that gay marriage is legal across the country and that there is increased visibility and representation for LGBTQ people in the public sphere, individuals who identify as LGBTQ — particularly our children — do not feel protected, safe, or like they belong. They are not able to live as their full selves.

I have distinct memories of not feeling safe in high school as a closeted teenager. I never felt I could act as my “full” self. I pretended to like all the things the other boys liked, including girls. For a while, I was incredibly unhappy. When I finally came out in my early twenties, I felt as though a burden had been lifted. Even still, as a teacher, I never came out to my students for fear of causing some kids discomfort, backlash from parents, and even potentially losing my job. This is the greatest regret of my professional career thus far. I frequently think to myself: “When is the next time my black and brown students are going to have a gay man of color in front of them to show them that that we do exist, that we do have value, and that we can be proud of who we are?”

Unfortunately, recent data underscore that things have not gotten better in our schools for young people who identify as LGBTQ.

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A Day in the Life: Bellwether Analyst Andrew Rayner

Andrew Rayner

Bellwether Talent Services analyst Andrew Rayner

Bellwether analyst and Chicago native Andrew Rayner always wanted to be a teacher. From a very young age, he says, he loved school, learning, and teaching people things. Teaching in the Marshall Islands and Bosnia after college reinforced his love for the world of education, so when he came back to the U.S., he worked as a behavioral specialist for kids with mental health and behavioral challenges. The following year, he was one of the founding teachers at a charter school in Boston, where he taught math and special education. “To see changes in my students, even over the course of a year, was so amazing,” Andrew explains about his love of teaching.

After five years in the classroom, Andrew joined Bellwether’s Talent Services team in August 2016. Below, we talk to him about his path from a classroom educator to an education graduate student to a member of our own nonprofit firm.

Why did you transition out of the classroom and into other branches of the education field?

My behavioral work with kids made me see the importance of organizational culture as a whole in terms of lifting up kids. The culture and environment you create for students, both in the classroom and in the school building, matter. I also saw how things outside the school building were affecting and enticing kids. When I was a charter school teacher, I taught the same group of kids for two years. Getting to know them reiterated the need to influence the culture inside the classroom, inside the school as a whole, and in the community outside of the school.

I love teaching. It is rewarding but also incredibly challenging. I wanted to find another way to impact the field. I’m a big believer that if you want to become an expert in a field, you should see it from as many angles as you possibly can. So, while five years is not an extensive period of time teaching in comparison to many people, I felt ready to see the field from a different perspective.

I went on to get my master’s degree with an interest in how to create safe and brave spaces in organizations to discuss issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I went to graduate school thinking I was going to do that work with kids, but I realized that adults actually need a lot of support to deeply and authentically engage in discussions about how to accelerate progress toward building and running DEI organizations.

Can you speak to your identities and how they inform your passion for DEI work? Continue reading

Bellwether at #Dreamforce16: What We Can Learn about Gender Inclusion

As an Operations Assistant at Bellwether, I had the privilege of being one of three Bellwarians to attend Dreamforce ‘16, Salesforce.com’s annual 4-day user conference in San Francisco. At Bellwether, we use Salesforce as our primary data and client management system, and I was looking forward to learning more about what Salesforce has to offer to take our operations to the next level. This was my first time attending, and I had been looking forward to it for months. I spent hours poring over the schedule and the 500+ sessions per day, trying to strategize which ones I (and, as an extension, Bellwether) would get the most value out of. I mentally prepared to be overwhelmed by the crowd of more than 100,000 attendees descending upon this small section of San Francisco. The last thing I ever expected to think about was my gender identity and how it would play out at the conference.

One of the first of many articles of swag available to attendees was a Dreamforce backpack. Inside it were brochures of sponsors, a water bottle, and a button pin attached to a card and stickers of pronouns, including one that simply stated, “Ask me.”

Pronoun card

Photo by author. Click to expand.

The card explained, “As part of Saleforce’s commitment to equality for all, Dreamforce welcomes Trailblazers of all gender identities.” The card, as well as various other communications I had seen before and throughout the conference, informed attendees that there were “all gender restrooms” in one of the main conference centers. 

Gender neutral restroom sign

Photo by author. Click to expand.

I don’t think I can adequately explain how this display of inclusivity made me feel, particularly because I hadn’t even been expecting it. I felt seen and welcomed, like I would be able to bring most of my whole self to this conference. My existence as a genderqueer person was validated by the restroom signs and this 4×6 card and button. I immediately chose the “Ask Me” sticker, and proudly fastened the button to my lanyard, front and center, just above my badge. I wasn’t sure what I would say when someone asked me, but I was hoping that someone would. Continue reading