Delanna Reed, a storyteller and ETSU professor, led a discussion on March 2 as part of the Queer in Appalachia speaker series, a program that is being presented by the ETSU Department of Women’s Studies.
The discussion — titled “A Round Peg in a Square Hole: Lesbian Teachers Fitting In” — centered around Reed’s experiences as a teacher and a member of the LGBTQ community.
“I told stories the teachers told me,” Reed said. “We discussed how being gay affected their teaching, their personal lives and how they presented themselves to their colleagues and principals.”
Participants talked about a large number of topics at the event.
“We discussed coming out, teaching diversity — or not — gay marriage, church and faith dating and relationships,” Reed said.
This wasn’t Reed’s first time discussing the topic, it is an issue that she has always been interested in.
“I did a performance of stories from interviews with K-12 teachers about being lesbian and a teacher,” Reed said. “I wanted to find out how their sexual orientation affects their personal and professional lives.”
Reed points out that it can be difficult to work as a teacher as a member of the LGBTQ community.
“Historically, teachers have been held to a higher standard of morality than others, as well as being required to be single — if female — at one point in time, then married — if female — when it seemed they were much too independent and satisfied with their single lives,” Reed said.
LGBTQ teachers can have a lot of bias thrown at them by the community.
“As recently as 2010 a South Carolina representative declared gays and lesbians should not teach,” Reed said. “Being out as a teacher has been difficult because of the accusations of ‘recruiting’ children to homosexuality and pedophilia — ninety percent of pedophiles are straight men. It’s becoming easier, but it’s still dangerous for teachers to come out.”
This danger is still prevalent today, even at ETSU.
“There is no social or support group for LGBTQ faculty and staff at ETSU, so most remain in the closet,” Reed said. “I did not want to come out until after I received tenure, although I was in a fairly accepting department — Curriculum and Instruction. Since moving to Communication and Performance, I feel safer because the department is very accepting of LGBT people.”
Reed hopes that members of the LGBTQ community are able to find safe and open opportunities in the teaching profession.
“The diversity policy at ETSU, and the equal employment statement both include sexual orientation,” Reed said. “I believe that makes ETSU a safer place than most. Still, it’s a lonely stance to take when most LGBT folk at ETSU are silent or closeted.”
Reed believes that her discussion during the Queer in Appalachia speaker series opened some minds to the issue that she has been fighting for a long time.
“I am gratified to say, several students and non-students approached me afterwards or asked questions during the talk back,” Reed said. “They seemed inspired and supported because I presented this program.”