Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gay teachers: age, theory and practice (mine, at least)

“Veterans” of gay civil rights history remember the Briggs Initiative in California in 1978. That would have banned gays from teaching jobs in a manner a bit like today’s “don’t ask don’t tell” for the military. Voters turned it down, and the then governor Ronald Reagan even rejected it. Other initiatives have sometimes been tried in other states, such as in Washington in 1986 or (by implication) Oregon in 1992. As an aside, it’s well to note that Florida’s ban on gay adoptions harkens back to the backlash started by Anita Bryant back in 1977.

Today, sometimes gay teachers cause stirs when they attract public attention, as with marriage ceremonies. The net affect of all of this could be to make school board curriculum battles over including balanced education on sexual orientation (such as a recent struggle in Montgomery County, MD) moot point. There is so much on the Internet that kids may find (sometimes written by teachers on their own dime) that they will get the information anyway. Safer to get it in the classroom in a supervised setting. The established media have long been forcing the issue, now with stage productions of Christopher Marlowe's controversial "Edward II" which many high school seniors will want to read for "book reports."

In 2006, I squared off on the question of gay issues in high school curricula in a book “Teenage Sexuality” (edited by Ken R. Wells) in Greenhaven Press ‘s “Opposing Viewpoints” series, discussion here. I supported the idea of formal instruction on both ethical and pragmatic grounds, and presented my account of the “culture wars” examined on these blogs. I was opposed by Linda P. Harvey, who said some pretty horrible things about people with “homosexual feelings” around children. (She’s right in saying that homosexuals sometimes seem to place a disproportionate effort on looking after themselves instead of others and dependents.)

Where this all leads is a zigzag of non-linear thinking. In the middle 1990s, I decided to become very public in tackling the military “don’t ask don’t tell,” using by own story which has its ironies. After my 2001 “forced retirement” I became more aware of career switcher programs and of the demand for teachers. At this point, I had to consider a number of practical realities.

For one thing, I could spend a lot of money on licensure certification and not get a job because of the “political climate” (especially in Virginia) in conjunction with the attention that I attract. So the “threat” of discrimination compounds the issue: I have to behave like my own insurance company here. Second, disadvantaged students are likely not to respect me as an authority figure because their social culture tells them they don’t have to (if the legal system says that I am not fully “equal” because I can be kept out of the military, marriage, and sometimes parenting responsibilities). That is exactly what I encountered as a sub. Ironically, good students are likely to respect me more in most cases. But the demand is on the needy end.

There is an additional complication, that in one case some material I had written (a fictitious scenario set up as a screenplay) caused a lot of issues when it was found by search engines and taken out of context (with respect to other materials “around it”), the “implicit content” problem that we are having to deal with on the Internet. One point that I raised in that writing is still unclear: if the government can make an issue of “forced intimacy” with its DADT policy for the military, is there a potential legal issue if an “open” homosexual gives intimate care to a disabled student without “legal consent”? That point, when I raised it, was disturbing to school officials.

There is another practical problem, as I outlined on my main blog Tuesday (Dec 11) and have discussed before. I spent decades living in a “separate world” that did not require attention to children. (In fact, on one assignment I was actually ambushed when I got there to find that it was “child care”). All in all, I have no desire, at age 64, to become an AARP-HRC poster man and fight the circumstances just to prove that I personally can overcome the discrimination. I don't get the benefit of the doubt.

Had I never entered the public debate (on DADT and then COPA) and kept a low profile, could I have made the switch comfortably? I don't know. The political climate would still have become an issue, as well as my years of "urban exile," and I would have had to depend on organized lobbyists to fight for my rights, an anathema to me.

Were I of college age, however, I would feel completely differently about this. I would have no discomfort at all as a gay man in education with responsibilities for younger students if the culture I lived in placed me in circumstances where I had these responsibilities and I acclimated to them. I still must live with the old chestnuts (as Dick Cheney once called them) of earlier, differently challenged generations.

First picture: bus stop in Minneapolis; singles sought for adoption and foster care.
Second picture: My Praxis results in Math. (159, passing in VA)

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