An out middle school teacher in the LA area and his union brought up the harassment he's experiencing and the school's indifference at a board meeting last week:
Although Collins and the union are making specific demands of the district, the nature of his complaint centers every bit as much on a general feeling that his superiors don't take him seriously.
In the early years, he said, administrators were genuinely puzzled by his complaints, saying "boys will be boys," or that they themselves used to play games like "smear the queer." Now, he said, even though the school has adopted some programs in response to his complaints, he believes school officials treat him like a nuisance, or even an enemy.
"My principal (Debra Johnson), she'll talk over me, roll her eyes at me, or just stare at me," he said. "Sometimes she just stops talking completely."
Collins went even further in his comments to the Lennox school board, describing her response to his complaints as "hostile."
At least he's in a school district that didn't just fire him for coming out or filing complaints, probably because they have a strong union there and a high turnover rate for teachers.
I understand this problem, though. When you're in a position of authority over students where your ability to do your job depends on having their respect, the fact that they are the ones harassing you raises the stakes all that much higher. As Collins describes the problem, it's not his students, but other students in the hallway who know he's gay but don't know him at all, who insult him at the school.
But there's reticence to challenging these issues, especially at the middle school level. There's the idea that the students are too young to know about homosexuality, that it's just childish banter, and that bringing up the issue will cause problems when it comes to the more conservative parents.
On the other hand all that points to the fact that it should be easier to intervene at that point, that the kids who are just learning to call other people gay at a time in their lives where gender and sexual policing are at their highest are the ones who need to be told the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. The fact that there's an openly gay teacher at the school should help with that, since if this is the harassment he's receiving, kids at that school are probably getting it worse.
Lennox Middle School history teacher Robert Collins is openly gay and says he is fed up with years of anti-gay slurs.
Usually, he says, it happens as he's walking past a group of boys, only to hear a voice in the pack calling him a "fag," or worse. On at least one occasion, he says, the incident felt to him like a physical threat.
Teaching straight children how to interact with their LGBT peers and LGBT children that they're just fine as they are isn't some sort of bizarre, new indoctrination that schools have never participated in before - it's a basic part of teaching young people how to behave in a modern democracy.
If talking about gays seems overly sexual, it's only because Disney, et al, have successfully de-sexualized heterosexuality and made it about flowers and singing and marriage, but never about intercourse. Queer teachers should be able to be just as honest about their lives as straight teachers, and when children start harassing teachers, much less their powerless classmates, a school should intervene and address that problem as early as is necessary.