Today is the annual Day of Silence, sponsored by GLSEN. Some of the students in our Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) are choosing to participate, maintaining silence throughout the class day to call attention to the figurative silence of the closet in which many LGBTQ+ people live, whether wholly or partially. Following GLSEN guidelines, teachers have been asked to support the kids, bending where possible to allow them to maintain their silence in the classroom (for example, writing out answers to questions or doing board work) with the understanding we might also ask them to participate vocally in cases where that might genuinely be necessary. At the end of the day, the kids will gather for a three-minute long period of silence followed by a ritual (read: loud and joyful) breaking of the silence.
Of course there was a point on the ride out to Boston where the kids were singing show tunes. How could there not be?! Singing “We raise a glass...” from “La Vie Bohème” at the top of their lungs, they all clinked their Dunkin’ Donut cups, their faces lit up by smiles.
I remember the air of celebration surrounding the first GLSEN Massachusetts student-educator conference I ever attended, some years ago now. I got the sense that here was a place where LGBTQ+ kids could - however temporarily - feel safe enough to burst forth from the closet. This year, that same sense of being accepted as one’s exact authentic self persisted, but in a calmer, more matter-of-fact way. This year’s conference theme, “Undone - Undoing - Still,” undoubtedly played a role in that. And in her welcome speech, Board member Trenda Loftin further expressed the mood of the conference, quoting activist Lilla Watson: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
“Well, maybe we'll still make the keynote,” I said to my student as we began the 10-minute walk from Wheelock's main campus, where I had attended last year's GLSEN Massachusetts Spring Conference (GLSEN being an organization that supports LGBTQ+ students and educators as well as their allies), to Wheelock's Brookline campus where, it turned out, this year's conference was held. They (the pronoun this student uses; here is a list of common choices) answered cheerfully, “Oh, it's okay. We'll get there.”
Recently, a colleague shared out an article with the unfortunate headline, “My Daughter Is Not Transgender, She’s a Tomboy.” The author, Lisa Selin Davis, seemed to be saying she wished people would stop questioning her daughter’s gender identity based on her gender expression, including not only people who have fairly limited ideas of how boys and girls look and/or should look but also well-meaning people who wondered - repeatedly - if she was transgender and what pronouns she used. Ms. Davis wrote that she appreciated both the well-meaning question of whether her child might be transgender and the sensitivity to pronouns, objecting rather to those times when people seemed skeptical of the answers and/or kept re-asking the questions. I shared the article on Twitter, adding the comment, “Seems like the underlying message is adults need to listen to kids about how they view who they are w/openness to all genders/expressions.” And several of my colleagues told me they enjoyed the article, thinking in particular of their own daughters who are frequently mistaken for boys.
It’s GLSEN’s “Ally Week,” and they’ve been sharing some wonderful resources. A "Dear Ally” letter was so strong and so concise that I decided to share it with Kaya Kim, our student Head of Community Alliance, Willy Therrien, our Dean of Community Life, Shawn Durrett, our Dean of Faculty, and Tod Pleasant, our GSA advisor. Ms. Durrett said she thought it would be a good resource for her classes, and Willy shared a link to another GLSEN page, “Actions for Allies.”
I look around and notice more and more conferences paying more and more attention to race, class, and multicultural competence. Last year’s Teaching and Learning Conference was a great example of a huge step forward, and this year, they consolidated that step forward with a good number of awesome and thought-provoking keynotes, panels, and sessions with noted educators of colour such as Renée Moore, Pedro Noguera, and José Vilson, and perhaps most significantly, 11-year-old Marley Dias. Ms. Dias found herself frustrated by the dearth of books featuring Black girls in her school; when her mother asked her what she intended to do about it, she didn’t hesitate for a second. In November of 2016, she launched the wildly successful #1000BlackGirlBooks drive, more than quadrupling her initial goal. (Teaching and Learning 2016) You can find her website here.
As it turned out, Alaine Jolicoeur, our French teacher-intern, and I wanted to attend the exact same sessions at Saturday’s GLSEN-Massachusetts conference and, as it turned out, we both had good instincts as that made for just about the perfect flow for the day. It began with keynote speeches focusing on affirming the wonderful spectrum of people attending as well as the inclusive theme “both/and,” moving on to a morning session dominated by trans and non-binary kids telling their stories and sharing methods of self-care, lunch, a session on intersectionality with a mix of kids and adults, a session attended entirely by educators on supporting K-8 kids, and finally a closing moment written and performed by those attending Trenda Loftin’s final workshop session.
When progress reports are due, I’ve developed a comfortable routine of going from McCusker’s to Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters to Bread Euphoria to Starbucks to Rao’s back to Starbucks and so on until all my skills assessments and narrative comments are done and I’m ready to return to school and enter them in FileMaker. So each fall, when I see the first announcement of the GLSEN-Massachusetts Educators’ Retreat and it falls right at winter midterms, I feel - conflicted. Sad. This year, however, I simply decided it was by far my best opportunity to meet, learn from, and network with educators who, whether or not they personally are LGBTQ etc., want to support our students who are. So, with some trepidation at what I was taking on, I set out for Provincetown right after classes on Friday with my trusty laptop and a few changes of clothes.