In the battle for Marriage Equality, I reflect on moments in my classroom as a gay teacher. Most noticeably, a ‘can we come to your wedding?’ plea from my students.
Can We Come to Your Wedding – We’ll bring the flowers
It’s early morning, just before class.
One of my adult students comes bursting in, ‘Greg, did you hear the news?’
“Everyone can get married by the end of the year,” she says, referring to the forthcoming Marriage Equality postal survey in Australia.
With my students knowing that I’m gay and in a relationship – I say, “maybe Simon and I can get married soon.”
Her eyes light up, “can we come to your wedding?”
Others nod, big grins on their face – “yes we want to come, the whole class”
“We can bring the big flowers,” another adds.
We all laugh – as we picture the big bunches of flowers arriving at the wedding.
It’s an incredibly human, touching moment.
It must be love
And then in another class…
It’s day one, I’m leading a Digital Literacy Project, working in other ELL (English Language Learner) teachers’ classrooms.
With photography being the focus of our project, the class teacher shares a short animation about photography. In it, the male character spots a female character and is instantly smitten. She notices him staring and before long they’re both snapping photos of each other.
As the male character eyes the female, the students all exclaim in unison, “AAAHHH.”
The teacher describes what the characters are doing and talks about the characters being in love.
I wonder about showing the ‘In a Heartbeat‘ animation about the antics of two male school-boys who are smitten with each other. I wonder how this animation would be received in the classroom. Would it get the ‘AAAHHH’ chorus from the class?
In a class where heterosexuality is the norm, where teachers don’t have to think twice about showing a heterosexual video like this, my sense of difference and isolation bubbles away – out of view (I hope).
I’ll stay quiet, just in case
Day 1 continues, we’re examining portraits.
The class teacher then gets out her phone and walks around the classroom to show some of her selfies along with family shots – “…they’re my daughters.”
Instantly, the students reach for their phones, “teacher, teacher,” they exclaim, wanting us to come over and see their Facebook photos. Proudly they scroll through photo after photo of their partners (husbands, wives), kids, and extended families. It’s a really warm moment, where ‘everyone’ connects around the bonds of love and family.
Inside though, I’m hoping against hope that they don’t ask to see my photos, with my camera roll filled with shots of Simon and I.
Inside I’m hoping that I don’t get the usual first day question, ‘are you married, teacher?’
In a class where heterosexuality is the norm, where teachers and students generally don’t have to think twice about showing photos of their loved ones, my sense of difference and isolation continues to bubble below the surface.
If I could be anywhere else but here in these moments, I would.
In or Out: the Recurring Choice
Working in a system where there’s an overwhelming silence about LGBTIQ people, I never feel far from the closet door. Yes, there’s the pockets of support from staff and leaders (which is wonderful), and the students who come to know the real me over time – and are totally fine.
BUT then there’s the new classes and the seemingly inevitable: ‘what if they knew?’; ‘are they going to accept me as their teacher if they know?’, or ‘will I cop homophobic comments if they find out?
OR there’s the awkward, uncomfortable classroom moments, like I described above, where heterosexuality is just the presumed way to be.
Until the powers that be, along with straight teachers, take a more proactive, ongoing stance around supporting LGBTIQ staff and students in adult ELL (or other education) settings – then LGBTIQ people will continue to be challenged to navigate these uncomfortable, confronting, and often nauseating situations. And they’ll probably feel quite alone when doing so.
Looking to Love and Community not Hate
The contrast when looking outside my workspace is stark.
Support for LGBTIQ people and Marriage Equality is strong across a multitude of communities in Australia. It’s loud, visible and for the most part unequivocal.
Here we’re a valued part of the stories being told, and the photos and videos being proudly shared.
Here our health and well-being issues, as well as civil rights, are being taken seriously and amplified to a wider audience.
And this gives me hope, incredible hope for the battles ahead because it no longer feels like we’re alone.
Postscript: Lemons, Limes and Chocolate
Support for Simon and me continues unabated in my classroom
My students love to bring in gifts of food for me. Chocolates at first, then when I insisted on eating more healthily, big bags of fruit started arriving.
Never willing to accept a refusal from me, now they insist that I give the food gifts to Simon – if I don’t want them. I’m sure they think he’ll eat anything unlike fussy me.
And these moments may seem small almost unremarkable BUT to me they’re not.
These regular moments of raw, human connection – where I’m seen as I am, where the one that I love is seen and acknowledged – truly matter to me.
Resources, Support and Inspiration
- Check out my LGBTIQ resource page, for articles I’ve written relating to teaching, including being out in the classroom.
- Also listen to interviews I’ve conducted about supporting LGBTIQ students in the classroom.
Marriage Equality Inspiration and Support
- Answering questions about Marriage Equality – Australian Marriage Equality
- Staying Strong During the Marriage Equality Debate – AIDS Council of NSW
- Marriage Equality Resources in different languages – Australian Marriage Equality
- Parents of Gender Diverse Children (Australia)
- Motivated by love and fear, nothing can stop these mums – Ginger Gorman
- He is my family – Sani Ray Townson
- I still call Australia homophobic – Tim Minchin
- Religious Freedom does not Mean Banning Marriage Equality – Penny Wong
- Farmer does not want a wife – Ray Chan
- Dear Straight People, Speak Out and Stand Up – Jill Stark
- Safe Schools Resources – Victorian Education Department, Australia
- LGBTIQ resources (Australia specific) – Switchboard
- Multicultural LGBTIQ Support Groups (Australia specific)
- Safe and Inclusive Learning Communities – National Report for Edmund Rice Education Australia (by Peter Norden)