We need to speak up for bullied teachers, too.


There's been a lot of attention given to bullying lately, especially the bullying of LGBT students. That, of course, is fantastic news. Right now, groups across the country are figuring out ways to address bullying on all levels. They're changing administrative policies, creating teacher and student trainings, increasing safe spaces for students and doing all sorts of other wonderful things.

But an important group that's left out of this conversation is teachers. LGBT teachers are often stuck in the closet. There are no federal or state-level protections for Michigan LGBT employees, and there are rarely policies on the local level that give protections specifically to them either. There is, instead, an archaic fear that LGBTs are pedophiles who couldn't possibly provide a safe learning environment.

This fear means that no one talks about LGBT teachers, and the myth prevails that they just don't exist.

We expect a lot of our teachers. Often grossly underpaid, they deal with a whole slew of social issues when their students suffer from poverty, hunger and neglect. They're the ones who are blamed for poor test scores, despite the fact that they often have insufficient educational supplies due to districts suffering from budget cuts. And some teachers are now being forced to lose their union rights in very public debates. Republicans, dead-set on gouging out the middle class while giving the wealthy and corporations tax breaks, have decried teacher salaries and tenure. As if working 70 hours a week and controlling a classroom of 30-plus students isn't a noble job that deserves a barely-middle class lifestyle.

In addition to all of this, our LGBT teachers are forced to deny an integral part of who they are for fear of losing their jobs.

It's not as if teachers have never protested for the right to be out and employed. But so far, those attempts have not resulted in widespread change, acceptance or protection of our LGBT educators.

As we make changes and improvements to the school systems so that they're less conducive to bullying, and as we implement strategies to protect LGBT students, we can't forget teachers' rights too. When we make policies that say that students should not be harassed or denied privileges due to their gender or sexual identity or orientation, we should be weaving in language that also protects teachers. When we proclaim that no student should fear for their physical and emotional safety, we should proclaim the same about teachers too.

We must not forget that as LGBT teens are organizing and lobbying for their rights, they are often aided or guided by a concerned teacher who is selflessly giving his or her time outside of school to help these students. Many of those teachers are straight allies, but some of them may also be LGBT, and are thus fighting to give students rights that they as employees don't yet have.

Just as unfairly treated LGBT students lose their right to an education, LGBT teachers who are stuck hiding in the closet fear the loss of their right to support themselves.

Teachers should have a right to keep their private lives private, and to not worry that their relationships will interfere with their ability to feed and shelter themselves and contribute to the development of society by educating today's youth.

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