Teachers do their best to educate, nurture, and protect their students. But at a time when educators in Florida are being told they have to teach that Black people benefitted from enslavement, and educators nationwide are grappling with prejudice in the classroom, teachers have their work cut out for them. 

Creating safe spaces for queer students is extremely important, but making those spaces for adults in the educational space is important, too. Who protects the teachers when they come from an LGBTQ+ background? 

It’s disturbing to watch videos of students attacking their teachers because of their sexual orientation. It’s painful to hear about educators who fear returning to work because of the attacks on LGBTQ+ rights and the dismantling — or outright lack of — LGBTQ+ protections in schools. 

Dr. Anika Simpson, an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Morgan State University, says it’s crucial for educational institutions at both the pre-K-12 and college level to foster a culture of protection around educators. 

“I think in all educational settings — whether it’s from preschool through graduate school — that educational institutions need to address the full human beings, that are the students that come to us,” Simpson says. 

“I don’t think the religious doctrine should be infused throughout the curriculum, but I also think that classroom conversations are just going to come up, and we need to have a space for varying beliefs.”

Simpson, who identifies as a member of the queer community, says regardless of the spaces that are created, educators must also take steps within their own journey to prepare for the outside world. 

“I’m very out on campus, so I know I’m sure I go into spaces where people are like, ‘here she goes with her rainbow flag,’” she tells Word In Black.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 8% of the 20 million adults in the country identify as LGBTQ+. In addition, more than 20% of high school students in the U.S. identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or other/questioning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“I think industry-wide, America-wide, we need to have more space to allow people to ask questions and become familiar with queer communities because I think there’s a lot of fear and ignorance,” Simpson says.

Movements like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ anti-CRT and “Don’t Say Gay” crusades aren’t only impacting legislation, but also teachers’ abilities to have productive and necessary conversations. 

Legislation passed in Florida has banned teachers from discussing any sexuality or gender information, an act that has caused teachers to leave the profession. The enforcement of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill makes it impossible for any conversation around LGBTQ+ rights to be discussed in the state’s public schools. 

LGBTQ+ teachers across the nation have been fired for even discussing any LGBTQ-related issue. One example includes an Ohio teacher who was fired for giving out Pride bracelets and a Florida LGBTQ+ teacher who was being investigated for playing the Disney filmStrange World,” which features an openly gay character. 

“It’s not a quick fix,” Simpson explains. “I think that dealing with institutions is very important to have leadership conveying a message that language like that is not tolerated. To have affirming language and principals, superintendents, school boards, lead teachers, in deciding that message.”  

“I think we all need to be resourcing security — so at peace with ourselves — that’s the hard work so that we can be at peace with others.”

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