There is often talk about how schools can become safer spaces for queer students of color. Given that queer students of color are disproportionately impacted by poverty, homelessness, and inner city violence, this goal should certainly be one of the biggest priorities for school communities. However, creating a safe space for queer students will necessitate fearless and strong queer teachers who are willing to fight intolerance and bias within their own classrooms, and help students navigate the complexities of dealing with their own sexual and gender identities. Yet, the problem is that these corrosive and homophobic environments are often equally hostile to queer teachers as well.
I am both a Black gay male and an aspiring teacher. Often, when I tell people my chosen profession, I am affirmed with great words of encouragement. “We need more Black males in the classroom,” is generally the response I get. While I am thankful for their words, and understand the need for Black male role models within ghetto spaces, I simultaneously wonder how their sentiments would be altered if they knew that I was gay?
In the mainstream cultural consciousness, gay men are generally regarded as feminine. Femininity is generally not privileged in our society, and thus one of the most incisive insults to hurl at a man is to accuse him of being feminine. Because there are particularly restrictive notions of masculinity within Black communities, Black gay men are regarded with a special disdain. Eventually, I will have to work in communities where it will be believed that my sexual orientation undermines my ability to be both an effective educator and Black male role model. So therefore, part of the work I will be engaged in within urban school communities will be proving that that my Blackness, maleness, and queerness are not antithetical to one another.
Several of my friends are talented Black gay teachers, and despite most of us being out in most of our networks, the schools where we work become spaces where we again have to retreat into the rigid confines and prejudices of a homophobic society. This retreat is perhaps necessary to be of service to many of our students, but becomes frustrating when we encounter the homophobic slurs launched by many of our students, or when we see some of our students struggling with their own sexuality. Unfortunately, most of the narratives of proud out teachers usually involve white teachers within liberal and affluent spaces. So as Black gay teachers, we have very little precedent to help negotiate the troubles we will face as educators in restrictive environments.
I do not believe that Black people are any more homophobic than the rest of our society. But the stakes for masculinity within the Black community are higher, and this puts particular pressure on Black gay males. It is my hope that as our society becomes more progressive in its engagement with queerness, that schools in urban spaces will become safe and affirming spaces not just for queer students, but for queer teachers as well. We all have a responsibility to help foster educational communities of tolerance. In order to ensure that we have students that can rise up to the fullness of their potential, we must work to ensure that their teachers can do the same.