One of my former students approached me around October. He really wanted to start an LGBT group and wanted me to sponsor it.
I wondered why he had approached me. Over the years, I’ve developed a reputation for candor and for answering frank questions from students. I’ve always made sure to affirm the identities of LGBT students and pushback the use of homophobic or transphobic comments. So I guess he noticed.
We put together some fliers and I put an announcement to be read over the school intercoms that people who were interested in joining the club should come see me. I wanted to get student feedback to see what day would be a good meeting time and what they hoped the club would be. I had about 20 students see me.
I put in the official club paperwork with the school so that we could fundraise in the future if need be. We were a real club.
There were about a dozen students at the first meeting which was a little stilted as you might imagine a bunch of high schoolers might be if they didn’t all know each other. I made sure the students directed each meeting. They started by introducing themselves and how they identified, what pronouns they wanted. It was a diverse crowd: students self-identified as gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, trans, straight, lesbian, non-binary.
A few students haven’t come back since the first meeting, usually due to schedule conflicts. But we have a cast of regulars that are pretty reliable each Wednesday. Most weeks, the kids come in and talk about something they saw on Tumblr, or incidents that happen in class with students and teachers. They have read aloud the suicide note of a trans boy. They have listened as one boy laid bare a childhood marred by abuse. But they also go on tangents and talk about anime and laugh hysterically at things for which I have no context. They somehow know how to strike the right balance of heavy and light.
I struggle with the fact that I am a cis-gender straight man as the staff sponsor. Ideally, an LGBT staff member should lead. But given the climate of our district and state, neither of which has employment protection for sexual orientation or gender identity, I recognized that I could be of service if I could leverage my privilege to bring about institutional and cultural change at my school. I just didn’t anticipate that this undertaking would become one of the richest experiences of my life.
The pièce de résistance was last month for my birthday. The group went into my room while I was out and decorated my room with balloons and streamers and a poster they all signed. They bought me some of my favorite treats: Oreos, Pulparindo, Twizzlers. When I walked in, they had rolled my office chair to the entry and asked that I sit down whereupon they wheeled me to the middle of the room where we typically meet. I had never felt so loved and cared for as a teacher. I just feel so honored to be with such a special group of young people whose bravery and sense of rightness and duty impress and inspire me more and more each week.
Next month, we’re planning some activism around the National Day of Silence. We’re also pushing for staff training on LGBT sensitivity. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.