TNP: Gay Teachers Divided Over Issue: Should they be open about it? (Sept 15)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Gay Teachers Divided Over Issue: Should they be open about it?
by Liew Hanqing

Some support teacher who outed himself on blog. Others say such personal details should be kept private

Gay teachers here are split on whether they should speak publicly about their sexual orientation.

While some support one gay teacher's decision to come out on his blog, others disagree with what he did.

The latter group feels that he may have revealed too much, too soon.

However, his supporters think otherwise.

A 32-year-old gay former junior college (JC) teacher offered this argument: 'Heterosexual teachers are able to talk to their students about their personal lives. Many life lessons are transmitted to students through this form of bonding.

'When parents require gay teachers not to talk about their personal lives, it curtails their ability to connect with their students, and to be themselves in the classroom.'

He said he made the decision to come out to his students and colleagues at the JC he used to teach at because it was a 'matter of personal integrity'.

'This is who I am - I hope coming out to them helps them become more accepting of diversity,' he said.

Though he is aware of some parents' concerns over having an openly gay man teach their children, he says their worries are unfounded.

'The younger (these children) are exposed to these issues, the fewer hang-ups they may have when they grow up, and they may be more certain about who they really are,' he said.

He even said he felt teachers who were open about their sexual orientation were a valuable resource.


He said: 'If the students have no positive role models to turn to, they may go through a period of confusion about their sexuality.

'By placing restrictions on gay teachers, the schools are effectively reducing the support that some teenagers need.'

Disagreeing, a gay teacher in his late 20s said he had reservations about coming out to his students, whom he feels are 'too young' to deal with such issues.

Most of his students are 13 and 14 years old.

He said: 'It's unclear whether teens at that age can actually be swayed by a person in a position of authority like a teacher, but I'd prefer not to impose my personal values or beliefs on them, while they are still relatively immature.'

He added that he feels teaching is a profession which requires drawing a clear line between the personal and professional domains.

'There are still many misconceptions people have about gay people - that we are promiscuous, and that we are out to prey on children.

'Being too open at this point will only cause unnecessary anxiety within the school, and among parents.'

The teacher who outed himself on his blog had earlier attended a forum to discuss the concerns of gay teenagers in the Singapore education system.

Held last month, the forum drew a 110-strong crowd, including about 20 teachers.

A secondary school teacher in his 30s said he was aware of the forum, but chose not to attend because he 'did not want to out (him)self.'

He said: 'The school environment is not open for discussion about homosexuality, except in a derogatory manner.'

He has chosen to remain closeted to both his colleagues and students, because he says he does not want to jeopardise his career.

'Some associate gay people with paedophilia and other demeaning things. If colleagues and students know about my sexuality, they will simply label me,' he said.


He added that the decision to come out of the closet depended, to a large extent, on the school's culture and willingness to discuss issues like sexual orientation openly.

He said: 'The teacher who came out on his blog was probably able to do it because he felt confident enough in his working environment - that the school management would be understanding about it.'

He added, however, that other schools - such as the co-educational school he teaches in - are much more conservative.

'Some schools just aren't ready to handle the open discussion of issues like sexuality. In such schools, there is no value in coming out - it will only create a backlash,' he said.