A middle school teacher in Texas has released a passioned op-ed calling for the end to a discriminatory law against LGBTQ instructors.
Geoffrey Carlisle penned the piece for the website EdSurge, detailing his own experience in the classroom as a gay teacher. Carlisle recalls the day one of his students asked “Mister, are you gay?”
Carlisle recalls his panic at the question. “When a 14-year-old student challenges you to reveal a part of yourself that you are obligated to hide,” he writes, “there’s a level of hesitancy that comes with that. My initial thought was to deflect and suggest this was a conversation for another time. But I remembered how frustrated I felt as a teenager growing up in the midst of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, desperately sifting through school, books, and media, hoping to find some glimmer of someone like me.”
“So,” Carlisle admits, “I responded, ‘Yes, I’m gay.'”
The statement quickly became a pivotal moment in Carlisle’s life. The reason: Texas is one of four states to explicitly prohibit LGBTQ people from serving as public officials. The state added the law to the books in the 1990s as part of the Texas Health & Safety Code. Section 21.06 mandates that teachers and instructional materials “should include emphasis, provided in a factual manner and from a public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense.”
Carlisle points out that homosexual conduct is no longer illegal since the landmark supreme court case of Lawrence v. Texas nullified anti-sodomy laws nationwide.
Still, given the attitude of hostility by the state, it should come as no surprise that sex education programs in the state even acknowledge non-heterosexual orientations.
For Carlisle, the antiquated laws need to change, not just for the benefit of queer teachers, but for the benefit of students as well.
“During my years in the classroom,” Carlisle says, “I’ve watched my LGBTQIA+ students navigate similar challenges: inadequate access to restrooms where they feel safe, teachers who allow homophobic and transphobic language in their classrooms to go unchecked, and bullying and harassment from their peers.”
“What’s most insidious about this law,” he contends, “is how far-reaching its impacts are while lurking just below the surface of awareness where most educators don’t know that it even exists. In the words of Elie Wiesel, ‘to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all.’ So, an important part of my work has been raising awareness and advocating for the elimination of this law.”
Carlisle goes on to praise students in Texas that have staged a walkout after a school banned “safe space” stickers in classrooms. He also praises Trevor Wilkinson, a student that took the fight to his school board after his high school placed him on suspension for wearing nail polish.
To Carlisle, the greatest benefit of repealing the homophobic law in Texas will be for the students there. He recalls the student’s reaction when admitted to being gay in the classroom.
“Thank you for being honest! I’ve never heard a teacher admit that they were like me,” the student said, embracing Carlisle in a hug.
Now that’s a moment worth fighting for.
Update 11/23/21: An editor at EdSurge reached out to us to clarify Mr. Carlisle does not fear losing his job, despite the wording of the statute.