Published in the Journal & Courier, Lafayette, IN, July 1998
To the editor:
Why are some people so terrified about gay and lesbian teachers in our schools? And, why is the climate in our community such that a small group of people motivated by fear and hate can have such an impact on public education? These are the questions which I believe we need to face if the upheavals at Jefferson High School are to be understood and reversed.
Homophobia (fear of homosexuality) has deep roots in Western society, and although gay men, lesbians and bisexuals have made tremendous strides in gaining acceptance, much prejudice and discrimination remains. People who are anti-gay seem particularly concerned about children having contact with "these people." This fear seems based on some vague, and clearly mistaken, concept that homosexuality is "contagious," and ignorance about the primary perpetrators of sexual abuse on children. Most such abuse is carried out by heterosexual men, and schools and other institutions working with young people need policies and procedures which protect children from any potential abuser.
I dont personally know any of the administrators or teachers who have been harrassed locally, nor do I have any information about their sexual orientation . However, I do know many gay men and lesbians who are teachers both in this community and elsewhere. Some of them are among the best teachers I have ever met. They are intelligent, caring and motivated. Their sexual orientation has little to do with their success or failure in school.
I use the word "little," though I would prefer to use the word "nothing." Unfortunately, the homophobia of our society currently makes that impossible. The performance of gay and lesbian teachers is often impaired by the fear that they could lose of their jobs if they are "found out."
Over a decade ago when I marched in the first gay/lesbian pride march in Syracuse, NY, there were several school teachers who marched with paper bags covering their heads. If they had not done so, many students might have lost superb teachers. Gay and lesbian teachers are forced to conceal their personal lives in ways that heterosexuals often dont realize, and their partners almost never receive the medical and other benefits to which heterosexual spouses are routinely entitled.
It was heartening to read in Sundays paper that Superintendent Ed Eiler and several members of the Lafayette School Board stand squarely behind gay and lesbian teachers. Rather than merely trying to "catch" the handful of people harrassing teachers, I encourage the school corporation to take a proactive step and specifically grant equal rights to gay and lesbian teachers and other corporation staff.
Such a step would not only make a strong statement against the hate mongering, but would create an environment of safety for all our educators. This would provide a valuable lesson about democracy and equality for our students. Similar action by the TSC and West Lafayette School Boards would be a wonderful way for us to turn this terrible situation into a triumph for justice, compassion and human dignity.