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What about the Gay Kids?

September 4, 2012

Jason was doing poorly in school.  Though he seemed capable enough, he had a defeatist attitude towards his work which seemed almost more befitting of a teenager than of an eleven-year-old boy.  According to his father, at home, over the last year or so, he had become more and more defiant.  The father could not figure out why.  In spite of his all-American good looks and athleticism, Jason was not making an effort to be friends with any of the other fifth grade boys.  During recess, instead of joining them in a game of basketball, which his father insisted was his favorite sport, he was keeping to himself or putting up with being harrassed by the fourth grade girls who thought he was “cute.”

I sat across from his father in parent/teacher conferences and did not know what to say.  I typically pride myself on being honest with parents, even when I don’t have good news.  In the end, I gave him some vague advice about how Jason’s behavior was not typical for students his age in that particular community, and I recommended counseling.  The father was very receptive because he was worried about his son, but I’m not sure how receptive he would have been if I had told him my real theory about what was behind Jason’s behavior.

In my own mind, I added, after he had walked out the door, “I think your son might be gay.”

If my theory were correct, and I had been at liberty to say it out loud, it would have thrown a great deal of light on Jason’s unusual behavior.  Perhaps his negative attitude towards school and towards his family had arisen because he was confused about his first sexual feelings.  Perhaps he was avoiding the other boys because being around them made him uncomfortable for the same reasons.

There were two major problems with openly stating my theory.  The first was that I was working in an extremely conservative, Catholic-heavy community.  Jason’s father seemed very open and caring, but given the political climate of the community, it was smart to assume that he was probably not open and caring about gay rights.

The second problem is perhaps more important.  Who am I to determine whether or not Jason is gay?  Though he and I had a warm relationship, he never indicated anything like this to me.  My theory was based 100% on oberservation and speculation.  I noticed his mannerisms and his behavior and drew my own conclusions.

Every year, there are a few kids I teach who, I believe, will eventually discover that they are gay.  Even as pre-sexual fourth and fifth graders, they are demonstrating, in my eyes, characteristics that lead me to categorize them in this way.  But I am in no way qualified (nor is anyone else) to determine these children’s sexuality for them, so I keep my theories to myself.

The good news is, I do not have to be certain about whether or not there are individual LGBT kids in my classroom.  Regardless of the eventual sexuality of my students, it is my moral obligation to make my classroom environment a safe place for all kids.  Even in a conservative political climate, when the topic inevitably comes up, I tell my students that I have very dear friends who are gay, lesbian, and bisexual.  I also tell them that using language about gay people as an insult will not be tolerated in my classroom because it is personally hurtful to me.  This is an apolitical statement, and without stepping on too many toes, it makes the point clearly.

Someday, sooner than we might think, coming out of the closet will no longer be a big deal.  Being gay will no longer lead to academic and social problems for kids.  It will no longer break parental hearts.

Until then, I can still make my classroom a safe place for all LGBT kids, even if I may not magically know who all of them are.

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