As I sit and ponder my thoughts on this beautiful Friday afternoon in Dallas, Texas, I cannot escape the social media focused on PRIDE WEEKEND this weekend. While pride has made several changes this year as far as location goes, I want to highlight all of the current, past, and future LGBTQIA educators. When I was in the classroom, I was not exactly able to be my actual self. I mean, I was ‘out’ to my teacher colleagues; however, my gayness wasn’t exactly the topic of conversation with my elementary students.
In Texas, like many other states, LGBTQIA people can still be discriminated against for their sexual orientation. In recent years, down the street in Mansfield, Texas, a lesbian art teacher was fired for showing a picture of her future wife to her students. She sued the district for violating her rights; however, I’m not sure of the outcome. I do know that many I am saddened for this situation to take place and can empathize with her frustration.
I want to take you back to my very first teaching position back in Tampa, Florida. I literally started mid-year, on a January Monday morning. The eighth grade physical education teacher left without notifying his students about his departure. I was not ready for what I was about to experience [That’s another story]. By the end of the school year, though, many students were questioning my sexual orientation. In eighth grade, the kids were already sexually active themselves, sadly. I remember a particular student, from Sweden or Switzerland, asking me if I sucked d*ck. I was shocked! She threw me off guard, big time. I didn’t know how to answer, but disciplining her for her disrespectful language was out of the question. Schools don’t do much these days with that. I kind of brushed it off, until the very last day of the school year. I knew I wasn’t coming back to the school. I went up to that particular student and asked her if she remembered what she had asked me earlier in the school year. She knew exactly what I was referring to and tempted to repeat it. I pretty much stopped her with my facial gesture [nothing sexual], solving the mystery. We hugged, as she was 100% supportive.
When I moved to Dallas and worked as a K-5 physical educator, I never came out to any of my students or parents. It was quite easy to hide my sexual orientation from the K-4 students. I do believe that some of the 5th graders were hesitant to consider me straight. Once again, I was out to my colleagues, but not out to my students, parents, or the community. This was also the case when I taught 5th grade mathematics at a local public school. Though I was out to my colleagues and knew that my sexual orientation wasn’t information my students needed to know, I always felt a sense of inadequacy and it actually hindered my self-esteem and confidence. I couldn’t have pictures on my desk of my partner. I couldn’t have my partner’s photo appear on my locked screen on my cell phone. When my partner had sent me something, such as Tiff’s Treats or Nothing Bundt Cakes [both are amazing], I had to hide the card he sent me and brush off questions from students about the sender. The kids always assumed it was a female colleague sender.
Kids at my last school constantly thought I was dating many of my female colleagues that I spoke with in the hallways or hung out with outside of school. They always asked me if I was with certain female teachers. One student asked if I had a side piece, too. By the way, some of the fifth graders at my last school were sexually active. Yes! In fifth grade. I actually played off their ‘straight’ assumptions of me dating my female colleagues. I mean, what would they think of me if they found out Dr. Hampson was gay? Many would be okay with it, but many wouldn’t look at me the same. Just when I thought some of the students cracked my sexual orientation, they’d question me about being with another female colleague. I was relieved every time. Honestly, I think if I had taught sixth grade and higher, the kids would’ve known so much more about my sexual orientation. Kids are super intuitive and I was able to dissuade K-5 kids from finding out my sexual orientation, but I’d be fearful as the kids age. That one grade higher frightens me with anxiety.
I haven’t even touched on my interactions with parents and the community. Because I was hiding who I actually was, I lacked self-esteem and confidence. Especially, when I was one-on-one with parents. I felt more comfortable with several parents who I had built a strong rapport with, but I still felt that inadequacy and loss of being my true self. I also worked in an area where family traditions weren’t particularly supportive of the LGBTQIA community, in a general sense. Of course, there were plenty of families that I assumed were open-minded. In fact, one of my previous colleagues and friend who taught music, was gay and out. I don’t know if he necessarily ‘came out,’ but the kids and parents assumed he was gay and he didn’t hide it. I remember hearing several students talk about this teacher being gay throughout the year, but I didn’t hear negative comments and that made me feel more comfortable.
This next generation is surprisingly open-minded and tolerant. I am hopeful that more people will feel comfortable with themselves, both personally and professionally. Whether I attend the pride festivities or not this weekend, I am grateful to be able to be myself as I assume my next professional role in higher education. I hope that teachers of all sexual orientations are able to be themselves as tolerance and acceptance heightens throughout America.
Happy Pride, Y’all!