As someone who strives to be an ally to individuals and communities, I think often about the need to show, not tell, this commitment, with ongoing listening and reflection. In my work as a queer* educator, I focus on supporting LGBTQ youth in my school community. It is also important, however, to think about how to support the LGBTQ adults in school communities, because ultimately, supporting me means supporting the young people I teach.
In our work to ensure futures full of health, safety, and possibility for LGBTQ youth, we want to provide opportunities for LGBTQ adults to feel affirmed in their workspaces too! Being able to bring my full self to work makes me a better teacher, happier person, and a stronger advocate. When colleagues and students approach me about LGBTQ issues because they know it is important to me, I feel fully seen. Because of this, I’m able to be a better ally to my LGBTQ students.
LGBTQ educators also need allies because it’s often educators who are best positioned to create change for their students. When it comes to what LGBTQ students need, we must take the lead from students, but to only focus on student leadership places an unfair burden on students who already experience marginalization. Young people are capable and brilliant, but they also leave the school upon graduation. Adults often remain at a school community beyond students, and ensuring their education and leadership means that LGBTQ inclusivity does not leave the school when a handful of students graduate.
Having a queer educator stick around for generations of student experiences ensures that many people in the community can learn from their experiences. We can sit on curriculum committee meetings and push for a more intersectional and inclusive book selection, or work with administrators to draft policy around sleeping arrangements on trips, and weave our perspective into the fabric of the school.
It is important to note that for some of us LGBTQ educators, bringing the “queer perspective” in and of itself can feel like a burden, and the freedom to choose how we engage with our school communities (as masters of our content, pedagogy, or as a community leader) is most important.
This week is GLSEN’s Ally Week, when LGBTQ students and LGBTQ educators lead the conversation on what they need from their allies in school. #MyAllies support me because they know that when I’m supported, I can support the LGBTQ students in my school. This week, I urge you to join GLSEN’s Thunderclap to send the message loud and clear about the importance of allyship – it can’t be overstated.
Emily Schorr Lesnick (she/her/hers) is a theatre maker and justice-driven educator. She lives in Harlem, NY, and teaches at Riverdale Country School.
* The word “queer” means many things to different people, but for me it is, in addition to a denotation of the broad possibilities of who I might connect with romantically, a reclamation of a history of struggle as LGBTQ+ people and a commitment to navigate the world challenging all systems of normativity and oppression.