Dear teacher,
How often do you think before you speak? What do you think about? Growing up, I would bet everybody hears that question countless times, from parents, and from teachers. Is it not reasonable then to expect parents and teachers to think before they speak? I think it is. Obviously, a teacher would not use the word “nigger” in a derogatory way in the presence of a black student. That student is visible, and you would not want to disrespect him or her.
Similarly, you probably would not want to say something like “children of divorced parents are deprived,” or anything similar. If someone in your class has divorced parents (which is very likely) and you said that, many students would feel uncomfortable, if not be outright offended, and that would immediately put up a learning barrier. Your goal as a teacher is probably to harbor an atmosphere of learning, and you probably want to do everything in your power to provide such an atmosphere for your students.
One way you can do this is to think before you speak. In much the same way as a child of separated parents does not appreciate the assumption that everyone has married parents, a child who is gay, lesbian, or bi does not appreciate the assumption that everyone is straight. I am not accusing you of anything, but I ask that you be mindful of who your students are. If a comment is made in your classroom or in the halls that degrades homosexuals, you can choose to ignore it. This might not offend many people – but it might hurt some as well. It would hurt me.
The school likes to preach that everyone has a right to learn, and to feel safe at school. Frankly, by ignoring anti-gay remarks shouted in the halls and in the class, you as teachers are making me feel uncomfortable, and unsafe. Maybe you are not aware that this kind of abuse goes on, but maybe you should be. I have not made it through many school days this year, or last, without being called “fag” or “queer” at least a few times. In fact, almost every passing period, some people give me nasty looks or point and laugh, or whatever else they do while I try to ignore them. I don’t hold you or the staff responsible for all of this, but you could certainly do more – the reason some students feel they can be completely abusive towards gay people is this: they know they can. They know that most of the teachers won’t say anything, and the atmosphere is generally hostile toward gays.
Perhaps if more teachers spoke out a little more frequently, it would become less “cool” and even less acceptable to trash gay people in the halls or in class. If, after someone yelled “Fag!” in a hall, one teacher simply told the student that he or she was out of line, and that the comment was unacceptable, I think it would make a big difference. Right now, that almost never happens, and those kinds of comments have become rampant. If you don’t change your attitude or responses out of respect for me or people like me, change out of respect for the schools policies. You know, the anti-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, or the policy that all students should feel safe at school…or is it acceptable that a minority of students is harassed and therefore do not feel safe? Be mindful of what you say, and don’t let cutting remarks slide by – it’s that simple.
Now on to the point of this letter: As you may know, this Wednesday is the tenth annual Day of Silence. You can visit www.dayofsilence.org for a full explanation, but for the purpose of this letter, I’ll tell you why I am participating. I believe that everyone is equal, and should therefore be treated equally. Maybe you do too. I also believe that this means that if harassment and abuse of any person is not acceptable, than surely this applies to gays and lesbians as well. They are people too. Because of the assumption by many that everyone is straight, and being gay is either wrong or despicable, gays and lesbians live in a world where they are not made to feel welcome. Furthermore, harassment of such minorities too often goes unpunished, making gays and lesbians feel like they don’t count. In effect, they are being silenced by the disrespect, and by society.
In order to make everyone around me a little more aware of what happens as a result of harassment, discrimination, and ignorance, I will be taking a vow of silence for a day. This is to recognize the silencing I just described. I feel that if more people are aware of what gays and lesbians go through, more thinking might go on before speaking. The biggest problem for people like me is ignorance of society – and this is my way of battling that ignorance, if only for a day.
I plan to be silent for the entire school day on Wednesday, regardless of points I may lose by doing so. This day means more to me than a few points. I hope you can at least understand why I am doing this, even if you do not feel the same way. The bottom line is that everyone should be treated with respect, and should feel safe at school – and it is part of your obligation to see that this happens.
Sincerely,
Charlie Gorichanaz
P.S. If you would like to do a little more research, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network’s website, www.glsen.org, provides a wealth of resources that may be helpful.