We’ve officially made it half-way through the year of 2022, and you know what that means: Happy Pride Month!
Pride Month started after the Stonewall uprising that took place in June 1969, in New York City, which sparked the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement that we know today.
In the present day, people who identify or support the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or other) community gather together during the month of June at pride parades, concerts, parties, or other events to celebrate and pay homage to the brave people who fought at Stonewall and opened the path towards change.
Despite the extravagant events typically associated with Pride Month, not all people have the luxury of an environment where they can safely say they identify with or even support the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, many people within our own community remain closested, in fear of what people will think.
As AISB’s “Pride Week” comes to a close, we spotlight several of the school’s queer teachers to learn more about their own journeys with identity — in hopes that it might inspire the people who need it most.
Kathy Whyte & Emma Holmes (both use she/her pronouns)
Despite being a married couple, EC4 teachers Ms. Kathy and Ms. Emma have been through relatively different experiences in their queer journey.
Kathy grew up in the Catholic community of Ireland, where LGBTQ+ related subjects were not spoken about. As it wasn’t discussed in school or at home, Kathy didn’t really get into exploring her identity until she reached her early 20s.
Emma, on the other hand, had never questioned her sexual orientation until the day she met Kathy. She had never been in a lesbian relationship before and had thus never encountered the struggles of coming out when she was younger.
Emma says, “We were best friends and then we got together and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.” She adds, “I just fell in love with her as a person. It was meant to be.”
Although no matter how romantic the love story, there will always be hurdles before the happy ending.
Kathy describes the time she spent worrying about coming out to her family — how they might change the way they viewed her as a person. But most of all, she worried of how her career as a teacher was going to be impacted.
A lot of schools in Ireland were influenced by the Catholic church and as a result, limited the options of schools Kathy would be able to teach in.
“Coming out as gay would have meant that I wasn’t adhering to the ethics of the school as a Catholic school, so it was going to impact my career as well and how comfortable I was in coming out,” Kathy explains.
This kept her closeted in the work atmosphere out of fear for her job.
Kathy and Emma had similar feelings in terms of how their loved ones reacted to them coming out as LGBTQ+. They both explained how they believe families have expectations of how your life will look like, and how it takes a while for them to process and adjust when you don’t follow those expectations.
Emma comments how she thinks they go through a “process of grief.” She hopes that society will progress to a point where parents don’t have the expectation that their child will keep to a “conventional,” heterosexual life.
“I think it comes down to ‘love is love’ and you fall in love with who you fall in love with; but it is pretty difficult to tell people around you that you are different — no matter what age you are,” Emma says.
Overall, both Emma and Kathy appear content with how their coming out situations ended up. Kathy highlights how she would have even done it sooner, as in her situation, her family was “so supportive and wonderful.”
She expresses how, “It was just like there was no more lying of where I was going, who I was seeing, who the important people in my life were. I think having to cover up a huge part of your life takes its toll eventually.”
“Until it’s out in the open, you don’t realize how big a weight you’re carrying on your shoulders,” states Kathy.
For her, coming out opened the possibility of sharing conversations with her family about her relationships – the highs and the lows – and it made it easier for her to be her true self.
On their wedding day, Kathy and Emma were both fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends who accepted and supported not only their identities but their relationship.
According to Kathy, her parents saw her as “another daughter.”
Sebastian Olivares Lizana (he/them)
By now, not only is EAL teacher Mr. Seba famous for being a baker, but also for being the leader of “The Brunch Club” flex time activity. Now it’s time to share his experiences as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I never had issues experimenting towards discovering my identity,” remarks Seba.
Surrounded by a large family which was predominantly female, it was not uncommon for him to dress up in “girls’ clothes” or play with “girl toys.” Seba grew up with parents who encouraged him to do whatever made him happy; in his case, that meant indulging in stereotypical “girly” clothes and activities.
Although, as a way to keep him protected from the hate crime in the country of Chile – where he grew up – Seba’s parents wanted him to only express himself at home.
Coming out was never really a concern of Seba’s. He mentioned how he struggled more with their future rather than with fears of how their loved ones would react to them identifying as LGBTQ+.
Seba says coming out to their mom went something like this: “So we were out for lunch with my mom and my mom’s asking, ‘So, are you gay gay?’ and I said ‘Oh, yes’ and she said ‘Oh, okay. Thank you for telling me.’”
He had a similar experience when coming out to their dad: “I was 20-something when we talked about it face-to-face as adults for the first time and I remember he came for lunch and he asked me, ‘Can I ask you if you’re gay?’ and I said ‘Yes’ and he said ‘Okay, that’s good.’ and he got really emotional.”
Seba states that telling their dad about their identity strengthened their relationship and brought the two of them closer.
“He was really thankful that I was open enough to tell him, because he told me, ‘I always knew it but I just needed confirmation from you and not from anybody else,’” Mr. Seba recalls.
Despite seeming to have had no major struggles, Seba shares how understanding his gender identity was a bigger difficulty for him than his sexuality journey.
As a Latin American, he could never associate himself with the macho-oriented concept of being male in his culture – thus being why he identifies as non-binary.
Even though some people have trouble with understanding the idea that he is not “male” but rather just “a person, an individual,” Seba is un-bothered about what people think regarding how he identifies.
He highlights that, “I don’t even care to be addressed as such, non-binary or whatever, because I feel it’s something so personal and my job here as an educator is to make evident that we exist and that if I can be a role model or if I can be a safe space for a student or for a family or for children, I’m gonna be here because, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it.”
Seba wants people to know that you can still be successful, follow your dreams and be gay or non-cisgendered (cisgender is a term to describe a person who’s assigned the sex at birth that matches their gender identity).
He also strongly believes non-binary people don’t owe people an explanation or education on their identity.
He says,“You’re struggling with your own identity, you’re trying to discover yourself. You don’t need to advocate if you don’t want to. First make sure that you are at peace with all your personal struggles, and then you can focus on advocating.”
Clark Masters & Guy Boudreau (both use he/him pronouns)
EC4 teacher Mr. Clark and Grade 5 teacher Mr. Guy have been married for awhile; but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have their struggles getting to that point.
Neither Clark nor Guy were taught about LGBTQ+ issues growing up.
Clark grew up in a conservative family where the subject was not discussed. In Guy’s case, a gender studies class he was in at university was the first encounter he had with the concepts of sexuality and gender identity.
Clark was an adult when he first came out. He struggled with the fear of rejection and of losing his family and friends, “You have an identity that you think is going to be completely changed – that’s the way I felt.”
He says the worry that his friends and family wouldn’t love him anymore often weighed on his shoulders and was really hard on him.
He emphasizes how, “Even though you really trust people, you still don’t know what’s going to happen when you talk to them about it.”
Clark also comments that people don’t want their whole image to be changed just because of one part of your identity; while sexuality is important, “it’s not your whole identity.”
He thinks that’s why stereotypes are harmful since not all gay or trans people can be categorized as all behaving a certain way.
Guy shares a very personal fact about himself: “When I was younger, I honestly did think about suicide at one point because I was so miserable and I felt like such a freak and I didn’t really want to continue that way, so I was kind of desperate to kind of think about how I could change things and that was the only thing that I could reasonably kind of imagine.”
It took a couple years for Guy to feel comfortable in his identity, as he believed “there was something wrong with him” for a good portion of his life.
A lot of his friends were LGBTQ+ and acted as a family for him. This led Guy to develop a better and more positive relationship with the community; and for a while, he was very involved with it — though he says he still felt lonely.
In the present, Guy notes that “It’s still a part of me and part of my history but I feel like I’m more than that now even though I don’t deny that as part of me.”
He now has a secure relationship with friends and a family who have grown to accept his identity, although he struggled with coming out to his family and waited until his 20s to do so.
It wasn’t easy for Guy’s parents. They are part of, what he calls, a “bigone generation” which adhered to traditional values and ways of expressing love. Although according to him, over time they matured and grew from the experience.
Clark was also an adult when he first came out. He was surrounded by a good group of friends who he knew he could comfortably share his feelings and identity with; they helped build his confidence for when he would come out to new people.
In his family, Clark came out to his mom first; however, he says it was hard on her. He found his siblings’ reactions amusing. “They were all kind of like ‘Eh, whatever.’”
On the other hand, he was surprised by his father who he particularly feared telling. “[He] was just like ‘Oh, congratulations,’ so it is actually quite weird.”
“You don’t always know how people are gonna react and you don’t really know what they’re thinking; you can have an idea of what their values are but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to react the way that you expect them to,” says Clark.
Both Clark and Guy agree that coming out was a freeing experience for them.
The weight of hiding away an important part of their identity was lifted and they felt like they could finally be honest about their true selves with loved ones after telling people; there was no longer a feeling of leading a “double life.”
Guy wholeheartedly believes that “Once you come out, even though it could feel like it’s gonna be the end of the world, it’s actually the opening and the beginning of a new world that you need to get to as soon as you can.”
All the teachers interviewed said they did not get taught about LGBTQ+ terms like sexuality and gender growing up. They all agreed that it would have been beneficial for them if they had.
This is why initiatives like Pride Week are so important.
Questioning your sexuality or gender identity can be really difficult, but there are people you can talk to. If you’re currently struggling or questioning, talk to someone: a trusted friend, counselor, or a teacher in AISB’s Accepted group (Mr. Lazzaro or Ms. Vera) or Pride group (Mr. Seba or Ms. Stevens). They are trained and will keep the conversation private and confidential.
*Please note that the author was unable to feature every LGBTQ+ staff member in this article due to time constraints. We celebrate you and hope to tell your stories next time! For an article celebrating Ms. Catalina Gardescu’s coming out story, click here. And for a podcast on her and her wife Laura Amza’s love story, click here.