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Why Brave Educators Matter
Andrew Sun (above, second from right), a 2014 Teach For America corps member, recently attended Teach For America’s Northeast LGBTQ Summit. With the Deep South Summit set to occur this Saturday in Atlanta, he shared what he learned and revealed a little of what to expect.
Am I Enough?
On a Saturday morning in October, I said goodbye to my partner and hopped on the train from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. to attend the opening for the Northeast LGBTQ Summit. Right away, I was pressed into action.
Upon arriving early at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, I was asked to select a book in the library catalog that had helped affirm my identity when I was growing up. This took me a very long time. I had difficulty finding just one author who reflected the intersection of both my racial and LGBTQ identities.
Finally, I ended up with two books—a graphic novel that represented my racial/ethnic identity called American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, and a young adult novel by Brent Hartinger called Geography Club that significantly shaped my LGBTQ identity in high school.
The activity brought me back. I remembered the first time I found Geography Club in my local public library. I kept it hidden close to my chest, and renewed it as many times as I could, even though I read the whole book in one day. For once, I thought that my secret was OK. I was “enough,” and that’s why reading Geography Club was a seminal moment for me. Somebody, somewhere, wrote it down in words that: “I was enough.”
What Is a Brave Educator?
Whether you grew up coming to terms with your LGBTQ identity or you identify as an ally who is committed to your LGBTQ students, you can be a brave educator. Being a brave educator does not necessarily mean coming out in the classroom to your students if you are queer or trans, and it doesn't necessarily mean starting a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at your school.
Being a brave educator is a constant process that I don’t think anyone will ever fully master. To me, it means constantly looking for ways to better advocate for the students in my classroom. It means taking risks—because you know that at the end of the day, it isn’t about you. It’s about that one child who will feel safe being who they are and feel like they are “enough.”
Why Attend an LGBTQ Summit?
During Teach For America’s LGBTQ Summit, what I heard from educators and administrators were the same exact issues I hear throughout the country: teachers risking their jobs to be “out,” teachers presenting LGBTQ-related material to students with backlash from parents, and the school-to-prison pipeline that is taking away the hopes and dreams of our students of color.
Today, bathrooms and locker rooms are still separated by boys and girls. The word “f-g” is still thrown around lightly in conversation between students. And every single day, I debate with myself if I should finally tell my fellow co-workers that I am part of the LGBTQ community.
On a more macro scale, LGBTQ youth currently make up only around 6 percent of the population, yet make up 15 percent of individuals in juvenile detention. Most of this is due to increased use of exclusionary discipline on gender-nonconforming students, especially LGBTQ students of color.
At the end of the day, no matter what region we’re in, as educators, we’re still learning to operate within the same, larger institutional structure of education that has historically been built on white, heteronormative, and cissexist beliefs.
Although you won’t be given a school handbook on how to battle homophobia and transphobia when you attend an LGBTQ Summit, you will leave with stories from educators and administrators that you will never forget. You will find that there were more queer and trans educators than you might have thought—and they’re all doing the same work you’re doing.
But most of all, you’ll learn more about how brave an educator you can be, and how much power you have in changing just one student’s life by making them feel that they’re “enough.”