From Independent Queers, by Philip McAdoo
Richard never had any out teachers. Growing up in a conservative family in northern Florida during the 1990s, he felt very alone. His high school experience was miserable, and he walked around feeling afraid that his parents would disown him if they knew he was gay. He said:
“Things are good now. High school was really rough for me. One thing I still feel a lot of anger about was there were no openly gay people in my life. I didn’t know gay people could be smart or respected or contribute to the community in exciting ways or have happy lives or be loved. ”
Richard’s experience left him without a positive model of an adult gay life.
The 37-year-old married man struggles with how much of his personal life to share with his students. The culture of his independent school encourages teachers to be friendly, warm, and welcoming to their students. He said, “So on the one hand, because of that, I feel this really powerful responsibility to be out.” When his students ask seemingly innocuous questions about what he did over the weekend, as he loads up the computer and gets the handouts together to pass out, he could choose to respond with, “Oh, my husband and I went to see the X-Men movie.” However, in reality, he still feels the need to maintain his distance.
Richard’s active membership in the Gay–Straight Student Alliance serves to reduce this distance. He initially joined the group with reluctance, but Richard has since embraced the challenges in his school community and the need for him to share his story. He explained:
“We got a panel of LGBTQ people and one ally—an LIS senior who’s straight but has been raised by two moms. She talked about her experience being the kids of two moms at LIS. The kids asked me. I said, “This isn’t about me. It doesn’t need to be about me. If you want me to talk about my experiences in coming out, I will. The GSA was like, “No, you have to speak”.”
Richard talked about his coming out experience and about the “long, slow growth” of his parents. He received a lot of positive feedback. Students sent him emails thanking him for his story and sharing their own experiences of coming out. That same year, the students voted for Richard to win the Magnificent Faculty Award. The students presented Richard with the award and shared, “We really appreciate your attempts to remind us it’s okay to be different in a place that’s often [a] really homogenous kind of thing.”