October was LGBTQIA+ history month. It’s a great time to do some reflection and look at how far we have come within society and our community. As a way to look back, I took a few minutes to catch up with the Principal at the school I am currently serving at, Celerity Crestworth School. Principal Sims is a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community as well as the Omicron Epsilon Pi Sorority, Inc. She was kind enough to share some of her thoughts on the state of things for middle school kids that fall into the LGBTQIA+ community. Talking with her gave me a great opportunity to think about my middle school experience as a gay woman and look at the differences that these middle schoolers face.
What impact has your sexuality had on your relationships/interactions with students, parents, and other staff members?
J. Sims: It hasn’t had much of an impact on my interactions with parents. It hasn’t really come up with them. As far as students go, I haven’t really had any negative experiences. You know, I did that assembly, where I came out to all of them, and I was really worried about what was going to happen that next day. Nothing ended up happening and I had a few positive experiences with them. No one on staff has ever had anything to say about my sexuality either. Because I am so comfortable with who I am and how I identify that I don’t have much to worry about. I’ve heard talk while I haven’t been in the room, but no one has been bold enough to say it to my face.
DT: I don’t think my sexuality has had much of an effect on my relationships with the students. There have been a few that have come out to me and sort of attached themselves to me because we fall under the LGBTQIA+ community. I think it’s nice for them to have someone to look up to that is like them in some way. It seems like these kids have a much better understanding of themselves than I remember having at that age.
Do you think that the students here who identify as LGBTQIA+ have it tougher than kids in other middle schools?
Sims: Middle School is the same everywhere. When I taught over in Atlanta it was just as bad as it is here, and Atlanta is a much more accepting community. Even in a more accepting city, the kids still throw around gay and homo as derogatory terms, when they have no idea what they are talking about.
DT: Middle school has always been a tough place to be yourself. I know I was picked on when I was in middle school, not necessarily for my sexuality (I wasn’t out then), but for a lot of other things. I’m from California so using gay as an insult wasn’t as big of a thing, at least not in middle school.
Do you think life has gotten easier for LGBTQIA+ youth in middle school?
Sims: Not particularly. Especially not around here. A lot of the kids were “straight raised” and are very narrowminded towards the LGBTQIA+ community. They haven’t been around long enough to form their own opinions on things. Those that identify as LGBTQIA+, and even the ones who are perceived that way, get picked on a lot.
DT: I like to think that there’s been a little improvement. Middle schoolers are still so young and while they know more than we give them credit for, a lot of their opinions on topics like the LGBTQIA+ community comes from their parents. Parents usually have an expectation they’ve set out for their kids and being queer doesn’t usually fit into that plan.
What kind of impact has working in a school environment had on the way you present yourself?
Sims: I’ve always been out and comfortable with my sexuality. But every year there will be at least one or two students that make me feel like I need to be even more out than I already am. They are always the ones that get picked on the most that may feel like the world is against them.
DT: I have had the luxury of being out and proud once I realized I was gay. Moving away from California to somewhere that is not quite as accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community has pushed me to be even more out and proud. Working with these young people and being able to show them that there will be a time when you will finally be able to comfortable with who you are and to be proud really makes my day.
What do you think is the hardest thing for people of color who identify as LGBTQIA+?
Sims: Family. Without a doubt, it’s their family. I don’t really know why that is, but especially if you are a black male that identifies as gay your family is going to be tough. Lesbians get it a little too, but it always seems to be that gay men get the worst of it. If there’s a gay uncle no one really talks about that is one thing, but the second it’s someone’s son in high school or college it becomes the biggest sin you could have ever done.
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