Gender identity diversity in educators: important, yet often overlooked

April 2, 2020 — by Anouk Yeh

In late January, Los Gatos High School’s school newspaper El Gato published a video interview with teacher Kay Mount on its website

At the start of the school year, Mount came out as a transgender woman. She has been an English teacher in the Saratoga-Los Gatos School District for 20 years, teaching first at Saratoga High and later at Los Gatos — along with being an administrator at SHS for a few years — and is the first openly transgender teacher in the district. 

In the interview, Mount discussed how she was adjusting to life and teaching post-transition and her experiences so far. Mount’s interview reignited a long-ignored dialogue about the importance of sexual orientation diversity in educators. 

Even though the student population in the United States has greatly diversified both racially and in terms of sexual orientation in the past decades, the majority of educators across America have remained largely Caucasian and heterosexual, with very few trans people as well.

This limited diversity is especially problematic in specific regards to educator sexual orientation diversity. 

Oftentimes, LGBTQ history and coverage can seem practically invisible in classrooms. While the history and progress of almost every other major marginalized group in the U.S. has been largely documented in nationwide textbooks and curriculums, LGBTQ coverage in classrooms comes close to nonexsistent. 

Throughout my past 11 years in school, I had never once learned or even heard mentions about key events in LGBT history such as the Stonewall Riots or the HIV/AIDS epidemic. 

Sure, there was an occasional mention of the LGBT community in health class or an occasional hint at a famous historical figure being gay in a Ken Burns documentary, but there was never any direct coverage of LGBT issues in class rooms. Rather, LGBT history and familiarization seemed like an issue schools were just too afraid to tackle head on. 

Despite indisputable progress made by the LGBT community in the last decade, in 2019, the Public Religion Research Institute reported that 31% percent of Americans still oppose laws protecting LGBT people from any form of discrimination.

This elongated period of time that it’s taking for the nation to come around to the shocking (please note sarcasm) notion that all humans should be treated equal — regardless of who they love, could be a reason why many curriculums have been reluctant to cover the issue. 

This lack of inclusion in classrooms is one of the reasons it is so necessary for schools to invest in having diverse educators and support them. 

Without accurate coverage in classroom curriculums and real life role models within the community, it can become easy for students to conflate media perpetrated stereotypes with reality. 

When educators of diverse backgrounds join a learning space, that learning space automatically becomes more inclusive, as educators from different backgrounds are more sensitive to different needs.

Due to the aforementioned lack of curriculum coverage and political climate surrounding the LGBT community, it is now more important than ever for students to be able to have role models. 

Mount’s coming out is monumental in many ways. In a time  where not being straight or gender conforming is still viewed as criminal in many parts of the world, Mount staying true to who she is, is the ultimate display of resilience and what it means to stay true to yourself. Mount’s coming out as an educator serves as very tangible inspiration for students: in-person inspiration that no textbook, no media outlet can replicate.

Although gender identity, sexual orientation, race or anything that makes up a person’s underlying life experience is in no way the sole determinant of the capability of a teacher, it does allow teachers to better relate to students who have endured similar situations due to their shared traits.

In order to create more holistic learning environments that don’t just cater to one demographic, it is important that schools focus on hiring teachers from a variety of backgrounds.

Teachers like Mount, who are unapologetically themselves, are leaders in this important movement.

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At UC Berkeley, PhD student Abrar Abidi and research assistant Yvonne Hao have embarked on a goal of creating hand sanitizer for the Bay Area's most vulnerable populations, including the homeless and the incarcerated. Their hand sanitizer includes glycerol mixed with other products, in accordance with a formula from the World Health Organization. So far, they are producing 120 hundreds of gallons of sanitizer each week. Photo courtesy of Roxanne Makasdjian with UC Berkeley.

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