I did something momentous today. Something I’ve wanted to do since I first started teaching middle school ten years ago. I told a group of my students (20 sixth graders in my advisory group) that I am gay. I was ready and the time was right. Our entire middle school (6th through 8th grade) had watched a documentary called “Bully” about Jamie Nabozny, a gay man who was bullied for being gay, starting in the sixth grade and continuing throughout high school.
After the movie, all teachers at our school led a discussion about the documentary and bullying. At one point I asked, “What was this movie really about?”
A boy said, “About a gay boy who was bullied and beaten and how we need to accept gay people.”
“Right,” I said. “You may not think you know any gay people but there are kids in your class who are gay. They might not have told anyone, but they know. And when you go into the high school, or college, or the workplace when you’re an adult, you will know gay people. They are everywhere. There are millions and millions of gay people in the world.”
Then I realized I was talking about these “gay people” as if I wasn’t one of them, and I decided, in a split second, that the time was now, and I was going to tell them. Now is the time, I thought. Here is your opportunity.
“You may not know this,” I said, “but I’m gay.”
Pure silence. All eyes on me.
“I was teased in middle school and high school. Not because I was gay, but because I was different. Because I grew up in a small town and I didn’t hunt or fish or play football, and instead was smart and liked theater and speech.” (I should have added and had impeccable taste in shoes.) I continued: “Kids pushed me and shoved me and called me faggot and queer and gay, and for that reason middle school and high school was really awful. But when I got to college I realized there were other gay people and I wasn’t alone and I came out. I told my family and friends and they all accept it. All of the teachers here at school know I’m gay. I’ve been out as a gay for twenty years. I’ve never told my students because I was scared, scared of what your parents might think, scared of what you might think. But today, watching the movie about Jamie, I realized that if an eleven year old boy in a small town in Wisconsin can come out, then I as a forty three year old man can come out to my students at the school where I teach.”
I stopped. I had said what I wanted to say. I had said what I never thought I would say. I had said what I had practiced in my head so many times hoping for the right time and the courage.
And then a girl clapped her hands. And then a boy. And then the whole class. They were all clapping for me. Clapping because I had been courageous with them and told them I was gay. I felt relieved and scared and exhilarated and proud all at the same time.
A girl in the back raised her hand. “So are we the first class you’ve ever told?”
“Yes,” I said.
“That’s really cool,” she said.
A boy raised his hand. “Are you going to tell your other classes?”
I smiled and laughed. “I’m sure they will all find out. You’re all going to put it on Facebook, right?” Several laughed. “I’m sure most kids will know by Monday,” I said.
It’s true. With news like this and texting and Facebook, they will share the information.
Before I left for the day and the four day Thanksgiving break, I also told several teachers, my principal, assistant principal, and discipline coordinator. From all of them I got unwavering support. They were happy for me, they were proud of me, and they understood the difficulty of hiding my gay self that I have been doing for ten years with students. Each of them said the same thing to me, the theme of the anti-bullying campaign at our school: We will stand up for you. And I know they will. Any backlash from narrow minded and prejudiced parents who think a gay man who is a middle school teacher shouldn’t tell his students that he is gay will be dealt with in a twenty-first century way: acceptance and celebration of gay men and women who deserve all the respect and rights of their heterosexual counterparts.
On this Thanksgiving Eve, I certainly am thankful that I came out to my students. I am thankful that I work in a school environment that has created a culture and community where I can come out. I am thankful that I know I work with people who will support me and stand up for me. I am thankful that I am proud enough and courageous enough to come out in this capacity. It’s been a long road to get here. But life is a long road. A long wonderful road that I am thankful I am walking on in my own way.