Andrew Perretta holds a pride flag imitating the Texas flag at a rally at Crockett Park to protest a ruling made in the case of Kenne McFadden.
Andrew Perretta holds a pride flag that imitates the Texas state flag during a 2018 rally. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Imagine an openly-gay first-year teacher eager to start his career in education. He’s been out to family and friends since college, and in the midst of preparing materials and curriculum for the school year, he doesn’t consider how his sexual orientation could put his job at risk. That is, until he learns that his school could legally fire him for being gay. 

Afraid to lose the job he loves so much, he decides not to disclose his sexual orientation to his students or their families. He goes back into the closet. He loses his identity.

As the semester begins, his students, parents, and co-workers ask him about his wedding ring, so he makes up stories about his home life. All the while, he preaches to his students the importance of identity and loving each other. He feels like a hypocrite.

That teacher was me eight years ago. I hid my identity for five years, until I became principal and decided it was time to model inclusivity, pride, and acceptance. 

But many LGBTQIA teachers still feel the need to hide who they are for fear of losing their jobs. Data from the 2017 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows that LGBTQIA-based sex discrimination charges increased 118% from 2013 to 2017. And with President Trump’s most recent comments about letting employers fire LGBTQIA individuals for being gay, it is now even more imperative that something be done. This injustice is unacceptable, disgusting, and disturbing in 2019 after decades of the gay rights movement fighting bigotry. 

According to a 2010 study LGBTQIA individuals who lived in a state without an inclusive non-discrimination policy reported an increasingly higher number of negative messages than those who lived within a state that did have an inclusive non-discrimination policy.  The lack of an inclusive non-discrimination policy for LGBTQIA teachers perpetuates internalized homophobia within schools. 

As a result of internalized homophobia, LGBTQIA individuals experience a different form of stress called minority stress. Minority stress occurs when LGBTQIA individuals perceived discrimination and prejudice and/or anticipate incidents that include discrimination and prejudice.

Researchers have found a significant difference in the occurrence of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse among LGBTQIA individuals, who are 2.5 times more likely to develop a mental health disorder than their heterosexual counterparts.

A 2015 study conducted by the Williams Institute, found that organizations in Texas that had LGBTQIA-supportive policies led to LGBTQIA teachers being more open in the workplace, less discrimination, improved health outcomes, increased job satisfaction, and greater job commitment. This is why we need non-discrimination policies.

Six years ago, San Antonio saw the importance of ensuring that our LGBTQIA community felt protected and passed a nondiscrimination ordinance. I was thrilled and hopeful that things would change in the workplace, especially in our schools. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Modeling inclusivity for LGBTQIA teachers is imperative because it also impacts our LGBTQIA students. Currently, 4.5% of the current U.S. population identifies as LGBTQIA. This means that it is highly improbable for schools to not have any LGBTQIA students in their schools.

According to the 2017 National School Climate Survey, 98.5% of LGBTQIA students reported hearing “gay” being used in a negative way and 87.3% of LGBTQIA students experienced harassment. Even more disturbing, 55.3% of LGBTQIA students did not report their harassment or assaults to school staff because they did not feel that something would be done or felt that the situation would worsen. Because of this, LGBTQIA youth are at higher risk of poor mental health and suicide than their heterosexual and cisgender peers.

Our LGBTQIA students’ safety is in jeopardy. District and school leaders must model inclusivity within their schools for LGBTQIA teachers so that LGBTQIA students feel safe to express their identities.

District and school-level administrators, you cannot wait for lawmakers to implement inclusive non-discrimination policies. You have a moral responsibility to be proactive about creating an environment for LGBTQIA teachers to proudly and fully express themselves, serving as models for LGBTQIA students to do the same. LGBTQIA teachers have just as much right to live freely and openly as their heterosexual co-workers, just as LGBTQIA students have the same rights as their heterosexual peers. You have the ability to help create a safe, open, and welcoming environment for LGBTQIA teachers and students. The time to act is now.

Juan Juarez is a doctoral student in educational leadership at the University of Texas at San Antonio and is the Successor Principal at KIPP Austin College Prep in Austin, Texas.