“I wrote this book as a quest for authenticity in education.”
From Out and Visible, by Philip McAdoo
I am a teacher. I began my career in education in the New York City public school system. As a gay man, I was cautious about how my work with young men could be perceived. My work yielded a basketball mentor program, an arts exchange initiative, and a global educational outreach program for inner-city students. Given the nature of what I was trying to teach the young men—self-respect, advocacy, and equity—to remain silent about my sexual identity felt somewhat disingenuous.
I was reluctant to “come out” as a teacher. Rasmussen (2004) described “coming out” as a lifelong process of “becoming aware of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity” and disclosing this information to others (p. 144). My experience of school cultures was that of defined gender norms, heteronormativity (heterosexual norms), and homophobia. Understanding the continual nature of self-identity development, I assumed that sharing my homosexual identity in an educational setting—fed by experiences I had seen, heard, and read about—meant my sexual orientation would be a deterrent to the learning of my students and engagement with my colleagues.
As I transitioned into independent schools, I worked hard as an educator to use my life as a resource. Drawing from my personal experiences and early personal and professional challenges, I conscientiously strove to teach students and colleagues alike about the experiences that minorities often face. I felt safe and protected in my school setting because—as in most independent schools—there was a clear and stated diversity mission of acceptance and tolerance. I defined and evaluated my effectiveness as an administrator, teacher, coach, and mentor in terms of my relationships with my students, their families, and my colleagues. My professional demeanor and integrity were critically important to me, and I went to great lengths to establish collegial and constructive relationships. Slowly, that safety and security began to change as I increasingly encountered bureaucracy, homophobia, and limitations within the confines of my independent school setting.
During the aftermath of a gay teacher being arrested for child pornography, I experienced an insensitive and homophobic rant directed at me by a student and his family. The implication was that gay teachers had an intrinsic perversion toward young boys and male colleagues. When I brought it to the attention of the head of discipline, he was equally concerned and made provisions to see that a proper form of discipline would be applied to the student. Within moments, the same school that praised and awarded my creativity, invocation, commitment, and dedication now had questions and concerns that I suspect evolved from homophobia. In that moment, I thought about my newly adopted son and my students. I thought about the kind of father I wanted to be and the kind of teacher and leader that I had become. More importantly, I thought about all the openly gay and lesbian teachers who put their lives, families, and reputations on the line every day, just to be able to do what they enjoy doing: teaching children.
Given my experiences as an “out” gay teacher, I found it necessary to explore gay and lesbian teachers’ processes of coming out and how they negotiated their sexual orientation and identity within the context of the educational philosophies and practices of independent schools.
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