Messages keep coming to me from LGBTQ teachers throughout the South who have been fired or threatened with firing. These teachers have years of experience and exemplary records. Many have advanced degrees.
LGBTQ teachers are increasingly fearful. The Stonewall National Education Project, which educates teachers about inclusive classroom practices, reports that its annual symposium was sparsely attended due to fear of repercussions. One teacher who did attend wore a mask and asked not to be photographed.
This trepidation is not new, but it’s been heightened by the current climate. Conservative leaders like Florida Governor Ron Desantis and state lawmakers across the country have fed a national hysteria against the LGBTQ community. With much of the fear-mongering focused on schools, LGBTQ teachers have good reason to be afraid.
Teachers contact me because they know I was also threatened with being fired during my teaching career for writing for an LGTBQ publication in the 1990s. Sometimes I want to tell them it might be a blessing in disguise. I want to say, “In your new job you will probably be appreciated more and almost certainly paid more.”
Now political gamesmanship threatens to turn them away from it.
Where I currently live, the so-called “free state of Florida,” conservatives are doing everything possible to restrict people’s freedom of speech. Republican lawmakers are banning books, curtailing classroom discussions, and weakening laws that protect journalists from political persecutions. Teachers can even face felony charges for keeping classroom libraries.
These lawmakers are preying on people’s ignorance to score political points. But even if we give the politicians the benefit of the doubt and believe that they are sincere, their outrageous claims about Queer people don’t stand up to scrutiny.
In particular, the hateful smear that LGBTQ teachers are pedophiles or “groomers” has been successfully refuted since the 1970s.
In 1978, the “Briggs Initiative” sought to ban gay teachers from the California school system. During that debate, those against the initiative used research to disprove the myth of the LGBTQ teachers as pedophiles — and the public agreed by defeating the measure. Conservative icon Ronald Reagan was one of the many politicians to speak out against banning LGBTQ teachers from the school system.
Still, the political witch hunt continues — and it’s doing damage to the lives of real people. The present hysteria may eventually pass, but how many lives and careers will be sacrificed before the madness comes to an end?
During my 31 years in the school system, the LGBTQ educators I knew were some of the most dedicated teachers. Beyond their teaching, many were also responsible for some of the most meaningful extracurricular activities our schools offered students. Why would anyone want to root out these employees, especially during a national teacher shortage?