This question was asked by an 8th grader in the middle of the school cafeteria. It was the first time a student had asked me such a simple question. My mind raced: Does he dare to come out to me? Is this a hoax among students? Will he share this information with others?
At that moment, I had a series of flashbacks: the first time in Mississippi happened at a teacher preparation program. I was sitting in a circle with other LGBTQIA + teachers when our managers told us we were not allowed to reveal our identities at school. The second time was during college. I was a camp counselor in Colorado when staff coaches said it was “inappropriate” for LGBTQIA + counselors to have our “true self” around campers.
Most of the time in my professional career, the message was clear: Don’t come out.
So, when a 14-year-old student challenges you to reveal a part of yourself that you are bound to hide, there is a level of hesitation. My initial thought was to distract and suggest that this is a conversation for a second time. But I remember how frustrated I was when I was a teenager Don’t ask, don’t tell, From schools, books and media, generously hoping to find the shine of someone like me.
So, I responded, “Yes, I’m gay.”
After a few moments, he quickly hugged me and exclaimed, “Thank you for being honest! I’ve never heard a teacher admit that he was like me! ” He then went back to his table to finish his lunch.
As much as I was happy for him, I later learned that in Texas, homosexuality is unacceptable under existing law, and for sex education teachers, promoting homosexuality is against the legal code.
There are no promo homo laws
Texas is one Four states Which is colloquially known as the “No Promo Homo” Act, an umbrella term for anti-LGBTQ curriculum law. Under the Texas Health and Safety Code Section 21.06, There is provision for sex education teachers and teaching materials which states, “Homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and homosexual behavior is a criminal offense. It must be provided in a factual manner and from a public health perspective.”
For reference, the No Promo Homo Act was signed at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1990s. This provision was part of the national wave of HIV / AIDS education curriculum legislation. Instead of requiring students to learn knowledge and skills to protect their health, Texas Health and Safety Code teachers teach students that being a queer is not acceptable.
Only 6 percent of Texas public schools have sex education programs Use a course that addresses sexual orientation or LGBTQIA + health needs. However, many of these materials often perpetuate baseless stereotypes and provide very little useful information to LGBTQIA + students. Moreover, Many districts have official or actual policies Which prevents teachers from talking about sexual orientation in the classroom and reproduces harmful stereotypes and stigma. For example, there is the Northside ISD in San Antonio Policy Teachers and staff, he says, “have a homosexuality issue […] Will not be part of the curriculum and will be left to family or pastors.
No promo homo is not only archaic but also legally wrong. In 2003, section 21.06 of the Code, which deems homosexual behavior a criminal offense, was repealed by the Supreme Court. Lawrence v. Texas. Although the law was overturned by the Supreme Court, it still exists in the Texas Legal Code.
Moreover, public opinion and public health attitudes have changed dramatically since the law was enacted. The Pew Research Center found that 72% of Americans agree Homosexuality must be accepted by society, with only 51% in 2002. Unfortunately, despite many legal efforts over the last ten years, the law has survived.
The fight continues
Unfortunately, Texas public schools are often hostile places for LGBTQIA + students. The 2019 GLSEN School Climate Survey LGBTQIA + students in Texas face verbal and physical harassment from their teachers, discriminatory school policies, and even homophobic and transphobic comments.
While in my classroom, I’ve seen my LGBTQIA + students navigate the same challenges: insufficient access to toilets they feel safe in, bullying and harassment by teachers and their peers who allow homophobic and transphobic language to be unchecked in their classroom.
The most insidious thing about this law is how far-reaching its effects are when it is hidden just below the surface of awareness where most teachers do not know it exists. In Eli Wiesel’s words, “the greatest sin is to remain calm and depressed.” So creating awareness and advocating for the abolition of this law is an important part of my job.
I have written an article on this topic, Leading Professional Development for Associate Teachers Texas Tribune, And LGBTQIA + contacted legislators to advocate for students. Last year, I testified before the Texas State Board of Education, advocating for new health education standards with LGBTQIA + students; Board member Marissa Perez-Diaz presented my recommendations as an improvement in standards. Although the Board voted against any mention of LGBTQIA + identity and health needs, I am committed to my goal of meeting the needs of my students.
Fortunately, this fight is not over for me. If you look at Lone Star State, the students are fighting against No Promo Homo. Student at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas Walked out After forcing teachers to remove “safe space” stickers for LGBTQIA + students. Trevor Wilkinson, an alumnus of Clyde High School, in Clyde, Texas. Refused to remove nail polish After repeated school suspensions. I also think of transgender students who have repeatedly testified against harmful anti-transgender laws in the Texas Capital over the past ten months.
Most of all, I remember my student daring to ask if I was gay in the middle of the cafeteria. Students have a right to know their own identity and this curiosity should not be denied due to outdated laws. His bravery, along with the majority of students in Texas, reminds me that we can win, and the cause will always be to fight.