The Classroom as a Closet: Talking with Lesbian Schoolteachers


Shaping today’s youth can be a daunting job at times, specifically for teachers, who spend countless hours with our children, doing their best to educate them while serving as a good example, and all while making very little money. It is often said that teachers are the most important people on earth, their patience and genuine concern for the well-being of their students is what sets them apart from any other profession.

Although in today’s society we have seen a drastic shift in the acceptance of out teachers within the public school system, there are still teachers all over the world who keep their sexual orientation a secret, because they are afraid of how the students, the parents or the school will respond. On the flip side, there are many teachers who are out to their students and have found themselves to be the support system for some of their LGBT kids, providing knowledge and guidance to any who might need or want it.

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There are, of course, specific scenarios as to why it may or may not be a good idea to come out to your students. To some people in the queer community, it might seem rather offensive to not be true to who you are, no matter where you work. Sadly, in 28 states, it is still legal to be fired from your job because you are gay, and this is something people tend to forget. Aside from that, the type of students teachers are educating, makes a huge difference on whether being out is the best decision.

“I have a few reasons why I am not out to my students,” said Jen G., a teacher for grades six to eight in Michigan. “One being that my students are special education and young and not mature enough to know that detail about my life.”

The age and ability of the students does not always make or break the coming out process for teachers. In speaking with a former high school teacher who is now a principal at an inner-city public school in Michigan, not being out is a matter of safety.

“I have on occasion been called derogatory names, and I just don’t want any more reason for people to come after me,” Holly* said. “I get threatened enough as it is.”


Keeping your sexuality a secret is not something all teachers feel the need to do. There are teachers who live in areas that are much more accepting of the LBGTQ community, not to mention there are certain school districts that embrace their faculty regardless of their orientation.

“Initially, my primary hesitation with coming out stemmed from a fear of how it would impact my relationships with students,” said Erika Rust, who teaches grades nine through 12 in the suburbs of Detroit. “But honestly, if anything, my openness has strengthened relationships and even allowed me to create a safe space for students struggling with their own identities.”

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