Queer Voices from the Classroom
reviewed by Markus P Bidell - February 09, 2015
Queer Voices from the Classroom
Hidehiro Endo & Paul Chamness Miller (Eds)
Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
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In Queer Voices From The Classroom, editors Hidehiro Endo and Paul Chamness Miller provide readers with individual narratives from LGBT classroom teachers. In 2012, the editors solicited queer schoolteachers to submit personal narratives examining the intersections between their LGBT identity and who they are as schoolteachers. The end results are short but powerful autobiographies from twelve lesbian women, eight gay men, two transgender individuals, and one person identifying as a queer heterosexual ally.
At its core, classroom teaching is relational work. Teachers must manage multiple, intricate, and interconnecting relationships with students, parents, colleagues, and administrators. Handling this complex mix presents significant challenges for any teacher, but more so for those that are LGBT. Even with dramatic advances in public attitudes and policies, being out (or outed) as an LGBT schoolteacher can have dire consequences: there is still no national employment legislation protecting LGBT people. The editors utilize "don't ask, don't tell" as a meta-narrative for the LGBT teachers experiences; after reading the stories of these LGBT teachers, we could also draw on a modified version of the ACT-UP slogan: silence equals safety. Its safe to conclude that LGBT teachers have largely had to hide their LGBT identity in order to maintain gainful employment. The narratives provide readers a front row seat into the unique trials, triumphs, and tribulations that face LGBT school professionals; each story brings to life the myriad ways LGBT teachers struggle to be who they are while at work.
When we consider that research shows that almost all LGBT students report experiencing some type of verbal or physical harassment while in middle or high school, it seems both miraculous and noble that LGBT people would willingly seek out careers in places that held (and hold) such affronts. One teacher sums this up succinctly by saying, I hated school and school hated me (p. 97). In Queer Voices From The Classroom, we begin to see why most of these brave individuals have returned to the classroom. In the first section, we are reminded how complex and risky it can be for LGBT teachers to manage their personal identity within a professional school setting. The second section emphasizes intersectionality with stories from transgender and ethnic minority teachers. The third part explores the lives of teachers that have come out, and we are reminded how much LGBT human rights and social justice work remains ahead of us in the fourth section.
In sum, each storyteller articulates the Herculean challenges of being an LGBT schoolteacher in a society that continues to be biased and prejudiced. One limitation of the text is that the editors offer little in the form of commentary or evaluation, but this is also precisely what makes the personal narratives so powerful and important. Each personal story can be experienced without the moribund language used in so many queer theory scholarly publications. For those seeking queer discursive analysis, the unfiltered and authentic narratives provided in each personal story may disappoint. Yet the narratives are compelling, and they point to how far we have come and how far we still have to travel in order for LGBT schoolteachersand more importantly, societyto embrace the essence of Do Ask, Do Tell.