Openly LGBTQ instructors provide inclusive, accessible, and diverse learning

Jeff Rose

Elementary art teacher Stacey Bailey was put on paid leave because she mentioned her sexual orientation in class. This decision has now sparked retaliation against the school district. Her leave brings back questions of who can successfully teach topics of religion, politics, gender and sexuality — and whether or not LGBTQ teachers are as capable as their heterosexual counterparts. 

But Bailey was not attempting to teach subject material on religion, politics, gender or sexuality, she merely mentioned her own sexuality and introduced her classes to queer artists, something that is not abnormal and should not be punished. LGBTQ teachers can provide an inclusive, accessible and diverse learning environment to those who did not have one growing up.

Understanding their instructors’ identities only furthers children’s education, showing them how a person’s sexuality is a part of who they are and influences their work. There are 10 million LGBTQ adults in the United States — these people are just as prevalent in children’s lives as heterosexual people are, so teaching lessons involving queer people is not as inappropriate as a homophobic parent would believe . 

One parent’s inability to confront their own homophobic biases and refusal to discuss the existence of an entire group of people is their own fault and should not be the basis for letting a exemplary teacher go. Treating sexuality and the LGBTQ community as a sensitive topic dehumanizes queer people and deprives all youth of knowledge they will use to engage with those who are different from them. 

Ann Cvetkovich, a LGBTQ studies director, said “an openly LGBTQ+ teacher might be the first LGBTQ+ person that younger students meet, and they can provide important role models as well as fostering gender diversity for younger people.” One  of Bailey’s nine-year-old students specifically called her a role model in front of students, family, faculty and staff before she was placed on leave — queer instructors often have profound educational and emotional impacts on their students. 

“As those who may themselves have experienced hostility, discrimination or exclusion, LGBTQ+ teachers are likely to be aware of the need to create inclusive and accessible environments for students of all kinds,” Cvetkovich said. 

This is something Bailey and many other instructors before her have done: Making sure a high school had a gay straight alliance club and working to include sexual identity in the district’s non-discrimination policy. A queer instructor’s attempt to protect themselves, other queer staffers and young students of the district is crucial to creating a secure/safe school. Since LGBTQ people have higher rates of mental health issues than straight people do, it’s important to establish these protections in case of bullying or any other discrimination that young people could go through. 

The educational impact of queer instructors  is far too important to disregard due to any parental discomfort. We must work to create those inclusive environments where instructors and students alike can openly identify themselves and learn from one another. 

Rose is an English and rhetoric and writing sophomore from The Woodlands. Follow him on Twitter @jeffroses.