Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage
The legalization of same-sex marriage was a victorious step forward for the LGB community, but the discriminatory attitude toward openly gay individuals in the workplace seems to have abscessed since then. The United States has taken great strides toward creating an accepting environment for minorities, but the way gay teachers are viewed in educational and other professional settings is severely lacking in the so-called safe and uplifting environment that the school system prides themselves on.
While several workplaces have added “sexual orientation” to their list of unacceptable discrimination against employees, openly gay teachers are fired for getting engaged or married. As someone interested in becoming a post-secondary teacher, it’s incredibly discouraging to hear about, and personally experience, the backwards attitude shown toward openly gay teachers.
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A school, or any place of intellectual learning, is supposed to be a safe environment that allows students to thrive creatively and express themselves without receiving any harsh judgement unless the expression causes some sort of serious harm to another person. A teacher’s entire career revolves around supporting students and helping them learn through creative methods.
But when does a teacher’s sexual orientation, openly discussed or otherwise, become the ultimate cause of termination? While the United States is actually experiencing a shortage of teachers (Lynn), openly gay teachers are being forced to resign or otherwise terminated for simply being open about their sexuality. This discriminatory attitude toward openly gay individuals and upcoming teachers alike sends a strong message for those who are wanting to “come out of the closet” and be comfortable with their identity in the workplace.
The stereotype-fueled bias against gay teachers has led to the creation of an unsteady atmosphere surrounding the very topic of anything LGBT-related in an educational setting. Teachers, gay or otherwise, have to tiptoe over their words in order to prevent themselves from saying the wrong thing. And for gay teachers, it can be much worse. Eliza Byrad, the executive director of GSLEN, says, “Imagine the stress of living in the country we live in, working as hard as teachers do to serve children, and having to worry that you might be attacked or fired for this. For just being yourself (Schoenberg par. 5).” But avoiding the subject all together does nothing to solve the problem, and resisting the much needed talk about including different perspectives and identities in an educational setting is much like leaving an abscessed tooth alone to, eventually, rupture. Heterosexual teachers have always been able to freely express their sexuality and family life without worry. I can remember a time when my high school theater teacher made a slideshow of her wedding pictures for the class, and no concerns were raised because she was married to a man. But the ability to personally bond with students through wedding pictures or candid family pictures seems to only apply to heterosexual teachers, as seen when Stacey Bailey was fired for pushing the “gay agenda” on students through a similar presentation (Gutterman). The art teacher harmlessly introduced herself via a presentation featuring her and her wife dressed up as Finding Nemo characters, something very similar to what most teachers do when introducing themselves to the class. Concerned parents spoke out about the issue and claimed that she was pushing an agenda on her students.
The “homosexual agenda” is nothing but a biased rhetoric that is very commonly used to justify the exclusion of gay teachers from the classroom and based on the stereotype that gay teachers are pedophiles and preying on young children to “recruit” them. The argument that teachers are pushing for a gay agenda is still used today, and has been preached since the late 70’s when Save Our Children was created by anti-gay activist Anita Bryant. The current fear and anxiety surrounding openly gay teachers is likely influenced by Bryant’s statements when the campaign was still active in Florida. Her statement, “…homosexuals cannot reproduce—so they must recruit. And to freshen their ranks, they must recruit the youth of America (Frank par. 2)” has greatly impacted the current monologue often used by adults, or governor nominees like Scott Lively, who fear for the swaying of a child’s “delicate identity” via the positive introduction of homosexuality through innocent pictures of a lesbian couple dressed as Finding Nemo pictures.
Pastors can claim that Satan is the puppet-master behind the “spread of the gay agenda” (Lively par. 9) and Indiana Governors can casually mention that the legalization of same-sex marriage would bring about a societal collapse (Altman par. 13), but God forbid a teacher be gay. The exclusion of gay teachers from the classroom is unfortunately not a new concept, and it will likely take a few decades to dismantle the homophobic fears so tightly wound into society over the years. It’s time for society to unpack these fears and to ultimately destroy the systematic oppression that is holding us, society as a whole, from progressing beyond the means of homophobic rhetoric based on the fear of the unknown and the different types of nuclear families and norms.