Come Out, Come Out!
Published: Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Updated: Thursday, November 10, 2011 11:11
GLSEN NH, New Hampshire's Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, is teaming up with Plymouth State University professors Meg Petersen and Liz Ahl to bring up an idea resting on many queer, soon-to-be-teacher's minds – is it okay to be "out" at work?
First year teachers have a lot of worries while going into their new jobs instructing tomorrow's leaders. For some new teachers, the question of whether or not to be "out" – revealing their sexual orientation - at work, racks their brains every day.
While gay individuals often have to weigh the risks of coming out to their family and friends, "teachers must also weigh the risks within their own school communities as well," says Heather Ouellette-Cygan, Co-chair of GLSEN, NH. Oulette-Cygan is also an English Teacher at Concord High School in Concord New Hampshire since 2001, the faculty advisor to Concord High School's Gay and Straight Alliance –Tide Pride, and a 1996 graduate of Plymouth State.
Ryan Richman, Ouelette-Cygan's Co-chair of GLSEN, as well as an "out" social studies teacher at Timberlane Regional High School in Plaistow, New Hampshire, said, "depending on the state, some "out" state employees may face discrimination or even termination for coming out. Many religious and some private schools reserve the right to terminate an out-teacher. Depending on the school climate, out-teachers may also face harassment or abuse by students, parents, and colleagues. In New Hampshire, these incidents are more rare than in other states, but it depends on the community."
The Human Rights Campaign reports that 29 states do not protect its workers from being discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation. In these states, people can be fired for simply mentioning that they are gay, or if people suspect them of being gay and can prove it. The laws are very similar to the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which was repealed earlier this year.
This seminar-style event organized by Petersen, Ahl, and representatives from GLESN is planned to take place in the early part of the 2012 Spring Semester.
"The panel will most likely consist of a person with legal knowledge, a representative from GLSEN, and a teacher willing to talk about being out at work," says Petersen. This event can "provide an opportunity for people in cross-discipline areas to come together and talk to each other and make connections."
"We hope to give education students a sense of what to expect in the educational workforce. We will be giving them insight into what it means to be an out-teacher in New Hampshire, what kinds of issues present themselves, both in regards to the students and colleagues, and an understanding of the state of anti-LGBT bias and bullying in New Hampshire›s schools. As well, we hope to offer some real-world strategies for combating anti-LGBT bias and bullying in the classroom," says Richman.
"Even if you're straight, you can be a supportive colleague," says Petersen. Especially with the growing public knowledge of students bullying their peers for being gay, this seminar can help teachers in and out of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community by providing "connections and ongoing support" for teachers with students who may or may not be gay, lesbian, bisexual, and or transgendered.
"Repeatedly I've heard students say that just knowing that another LGBT person existed at school, regardless of whether or not the two individuals ever spoke, made a huge and positive difference in the life of the student," said Ouellette-Cygan.
As time goes on, and changes to state constitutions and local district bylaws take shape, it is important to remember that teachers set the tone for tomorrow's youth. Whether a teacher comes "out" or not, or whether a teacher supports LGBT students or not can make all the difference in a student's life, for better or worse.