Monday, November 23, 2015

That Moment

Being Marginalized Today...

I recently wrote a post about the impact that ignorance had on my family when a derogatory comment was hurled our way. Although my son wasn't around to hear it, it definitely forced me to pause and reflect on our world and how we needed to go about navigating it to ensure that we all remained safe. You see, before coming to terms with my sexuality and living life as an openly gay man, I never had to worry about my safety because I generally felt safe in my world. I never had to think twice about how I would live my life because it was never an issue in my eyes. Call it white privilege. Call it being a straight man. Call it being cocky. Call it being educated. Call it whatever you want but I never thought twice about how I walked down the street; or whose hand I wanted to hold in public; or how I introduced my significant other. I never had to think about those things but suddenly my world has changed and I do think about them... and sometimes even overthink and analyze them. Trust me, living life that way isn't easy or comfortable. 

Unfortunately, I think this is the world we live in where if you are not a straight white man, there are a whole host of things you need to consider every time you are in public; every time you walk into a restaurant; every time you walk down a dark street in an unfamiliar neighborhood. If you are not a straight white man, you have to think about everything you do and how it looks to those around you - at least, that has been my experience as a gay man over the last couple of years - my experience as a member of a marginalized group. You see, I wonder how people will react if I am holding my partner's hand in public or give him a kiss on the cheek. I wonder what people think when they see my son, my partner and I in a restaurant together - I imagine they are trying to figure out how we are connected. I wonder about a lot of things when we are out in public, which something I never did in the past.

That Moment...

These thoughts and concerns have also made their way into my professional world. As an elementary school principal, I am always engaged in conversations with our students and I love these exchanges. Whether we are discussing the things we did over the weekend, the plans we have for an upcoming vacation or our favorite TV shows and movies, we love to share and chat! Of course, invariably those conversations also end up involving our families and the special people in our lives and that is when I start getting that uneasy feeling inside. I start to stress and worry and think about how our children might react if I mention my partner. Will they understand? Will they care? Will they be confused? The questions and concerns within my mind are endless.

For example, last week I was in a first grade classroom and a little girl ran up to me to show me a drawing she had made on her little whiteboard. When I asked her who was in the picture, she said, "It is you and your girlfriend!" Of course I smiled and complimented her art but I didn't really know how to respond or react. Do I mention that I don't have a girlfriend? Do I explain that I have a partner who is a man? Do I say nothing and just move on? Ugh... that moment was an incredibly stressful one for me even though this little girl only had the best intention. In the end, I said nothing because I figured it would just get too complicated and I didn't know how this little girl would feel or how I would feel afterwards. Unfortunately, these moments are not necessarily isolated and how I react and what I say is something that I think about... a LOT! As comfortable as I am in my sexuality and in my relationship with my partner, I am not sure how the rest of the world would react and so I often think twice... or three times... or more.  


Fortunately, I think there is hope... a LOT of hope because of the progress over the last ten years. For example, I recently attended the 5th Annual #LGBTeach Forum hosted at SUNY Old Westbury. This event started with Elisa Waters five years ago. It began as a small gathering (about 4 sessions) at Jericho MS and has evolved into a daylong conference with dozens of learning opportunities for educators who are looking to change the way schools navigate LGBT related issues. This is how we start to impact sustainable change within our schools. Coming together to discuss the issues that are affecting not only our students but our educators as well! Clearly, being gay doesn't carry the same stigma it used to carry and as a culture, we are more accepting of different lifestyles. But, being accepting might not be enough... we want to promote understanding and empathy - not just tolerance and acceptance. The time has come for us to be more intentional about the work we are doing to educate our children. The time has come for us to be more thoughtful about the conversations we are having in our classrooms, especially when it comes to the different types of families that exist in the world - traditional ones with a mom and dad; ones with two moms; ones with two dads; ones with one parent... and the list goes on. We must start these conversations at the elementary level so we can build on the children's naturally kind and accepting disposition and give them the knowledge, information and awareness they need so they can navigate life in an empathetic, understanding and empowered way.  

I am hopeful that we can impact change now so that down the road, people like me don't have to experience "that moment" where we are uncomfortable to be who we are and be true to ourselves and our loved ones... regardless of their gender, race or religion.      


  1. Great reflection Tony. Elisa is an amazing teacher leader. Conference was a standout. I had the opportunity to attend your session and I want to thank you for sharing your story which was inspiring and moving.

  2. All I could think as I read this reflection was "wow...someone else out there understands what it is like." Thank you so much for sharing your reflection and thoughts.

  3. As an educator and mother of a gay man who is engaged to be married and studying to be a teacher, this post touched my heart. You are so correct in identifying that we have much to be hopeful for when it comes to acceptance for diversity and that there is still a long journey ahead for authentic cultural proficiency. Our schools are a reflection of our society and in that society, there is so much to understand and learn about others. We need to start the dialogue about these similarities and differences in our Early Year's classrooms not only so children can see their family reflected in our conversations but to also let our teachers see themselves.