Kim’s Corner: LGBTQI Teachers

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This article is the first part of an ongoing series written by Kim Fidler, a member of the Spencer Pride Inc. Board of Directors.  If you have feedback about this article, please share it with Kim at Kim@SpencerPride.org

Gay and Lesbian Teachers Continue to Suffer Workplace Discrimination

Although the U.S. Supreme court made a landmark ruling to strike down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, which promises many federal benefits to married gay and lesbian couples,  the ruling does little to reduce discrimination in the workplace for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teachers. Many gay and lesbian teachers live in states where same-sex marriage is not legal. These states will likely not take advantage of the rights given by the decision of the Supreme Court. In many schools, married gay and lesbian teachers will not receive benefits such as federal tax breaks and still face being terminated if anyone finds out that they are gay.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Windsor vs. U.S. ended the provision that limited the federal definition of marriage to “a union only between one man and one woman”. Since the late 1980’s, seventeen states have passes laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.*Not only is it unfair to force a gay couple to leave their home state to get married, but they also must face public scrutiny when they return home as a married couple. This is especially true for LGBT teachers who work in school districts that are not friendly to gays. There has even been an instance where a teacher was fired in Columbus, Ohio, after she was listed with her lesbian partner in an obituary in the local newspaper.

We must continue to lobby state legislators, not only against such measures as HJR-3, but also to prevent discrimination against same-sex partners in the workplace and in regard to their benefits (health and life insurances, disability coverage, leave provisions, and retirement benefits) as a married couple. Just days after the ruling on Windsor vs. U.S., the Office of Personnel Management, which is the human resources department of the federal government, provided a model policy stating that legally married, same-sex partners of federal employees would be eligible for benefits coverage, regardless of where they reside. The children of same-sex couples, including stepchildren, will be treated the same as children of all other married couples. The will also be entitled to FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) benefits.

At the very least, states that refuse to allow gay marriage, should be required to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. While Windsor vs. U.S. has helped at the federal level, we need more rights to be guaranteed at the state level. We also need to take the extra step to ensure that schools provide a nondiscriminatory environment for LGBT teachers and students.

*Those states include: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

The Lesbian and Gay Teachers Association of New York City (LGTA)

Did you know that the LGTA, formerly known as the Gay Teachers Association, was founded in September 1974, as an organization of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBT), who teach or, otherwise, are involved in education in the New York City metropolitan area?

The goals of the LGTA are to provide a networking environment for LGBT teachers; to conduct ongoing negotiations with the New York City Board of Education and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT); to train school administrators, teachers, and guidance personnel in order to meet the needs of LGBT students; to promote curriculum change in all areas to offer all students a realistic and positive view of the history and contributions of LGBT people; and to lobby as a teacher organization for a “gay rights” bill.

The LGTA holds regular monthly business and planning meetings that are open to all, smaller committee sessions, as well as social events. The LGTA also sponsors public forums; publishes a newsletter; hosts the student Zogby Essay Contest (named after the first LGTA member to die of complications from AIDS); and operates a Speakers Bureau, where LGBT teachers speak to classes or groups about issues related to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgenders in the schools. Further, the LGTA is a founding member of the Education Coalition on Lesbian and Gay Youth (ECOLaGY) that advocates a safe environment and support services for staff and students in every junior and senior high school in New York City.

As a former teacher of Spanish in a public high school for 16 years, I knew of the struggles of LGBT students and teachers. I felt powerless to help them outside of my own classroom. Today, as a UniServ Director for the Indiana State Teachers’ Association, I have worked in 30 different public schools and work with many legislators in Indiana. I have enjoyed serving on the Board for Spencer Pride. I have met many wonderful people. It is my goal to use my position to help LGBT students and teachers by working with the Indiana Department of Education and with Indiana Legislators. 

Won’t you help me by contacting your legislators today to ask that they do what they can to support LGBT students and teachers in Indiana public schools and at home by providing domestic partner benefits and legalizing same-sex marriage in Indiana?

Together we are stronger. All families matter. 

Kim