Uniting to end violence and discrimination against LGBTQI people around the world

By UUA International Resources

By Justin Hashimoto UU-United Nations Office LGBTQ Human Rights Program Intern “My only sin against God is not accepting the person he made me to be for so long” Garth Zimmerman, a retired teacher from Appleton, Wisconsin, shares his moving account of “coming out at fifty” in the third anthology of Kevin Jennings illuminating book “One Teacher in Ten in the New Millennium,” published by Beacon Press. Mr. Jennings, founder of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), compiled a series of essays shared by LGBTQI educators from across the United States and around the world. The contributors to this anthology speak on their unique experiences as LGBTQI educators, the progress that’s been made, and the challenges that remain. We recently had the opportunity to interview Mr. Jennings on the development of this book: In the preface, you describe a change from the first anthology to the current one. In the first edition, most of the contributors were closeted and used pseudonyms. In the current edition, virtually all of the contributors are “out.” What do you think are some of the main reasons for this change? “It was largely due to a movement led by the LGBTQI community. When we first did ‘One Teacher in Ten’ in 1994, same-sex relationships were still illegal in 1/3 of American states, so it was an incredibly different time…but the times have changed because a lot of people have done a lot of hard work. Julian Bond, the leader of the NAACP once said ‘Good things don’t come to those who wait, good things come to those who agitate,’ and there’s been a lot of agitation on behalf of the LGBTQI community over the last 20 years, especially around education, largely led by organizations like GLSEN.” You, yourself have contributed to this book: In the preface you mention coming out to your students in 1988. What inspired you to come out to them on that day? “It was really seeing the LGBTQI students I worked with struggling with many of the same issues I had faced when I was their age; I am a suicide survivor - I attempted suicide when I was 16 years old - and I had a student who was suicidal. One day, when I was talking with him about the need for counseling and the importance of keeping himself safe he said “why shouldn’t I do it? My life isn’t worth saving anyway.” I thought, whatever I do with the rest of my life, I am going to try and make sure that the next generation doesn’t have to be faced with experiences like that.” Regarding LGBTQI educators: How do you think discriminatory laws impact them? “I think what’s happened over the last two decades is that more and more teachers have refused to obey “don’t ask, don’t tell.” I am a former teacher - I was a teacher for 10 years - and one of the things that I know about young people is that they have very sophisticated ‘B.S’ detectors. And the teachers they like - the teachers they respond to - are ones they feel are authentic with them. When you’re not able to be authentic, you’re not able to connect with students. That connection, that sense that this person is real with me, that this person cares about me, that inspires students to achieve. So I think, in the end, the main reason we want to create environments where LGBTQI teachers can be truthful about who they are is because, like Mr. Yount says in the first chapter of the book, it has made him a better person and a better teacher.” -------------- One of the book's contributors from Holland, Duran Renkema, recounts an intense legal battle between him and his employer in the final chapter of the book, “We’re Not Nearly There.” Mr. Renkema, a previous employee with a network of traditional Christian schools in Holland, was asked to resign after his employers discovered he was gay. At the time, the Dutch Equal Treatment Law protected gay people from being fired on the basis of sexual orientation, but a special article called the “Sole Fact Construction” allowed religious employers in education to fire gay employees if they could provide justification through “special circumstances.” Mr. Renkema recounts this highly publicized struggle and how it impacted him and his family. Today, due to the hard work of activists and advocates, the Sole Fact Construction has been struck down. In many ways, the experiences shared in “One Teacher in Ten” are representative of an LGBTQI movement that is becoming increasingly global. Recently, twelve United Nations (UN) agencies released a joint statement on ending violence and discrimination against LGBTI people around the world. The statement calls on member states to protect LGBTQI people from violence and discrimination, to repeal discriminatory laws, and stresses a unified commitment in assisting member states to achieve these aims. The UU-UNO is currently working on establishing an NGO sub-committee on LGBTQI human rights to provide both support and accountability in this work. Discriminatory policies and practices directed towards LGBTQI people impede upon the effective, responsible and comprehensive implementation of the United Nations new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The UU-UNO will also be helping to register LGBTQI NGOs in South Korea and the surrounding region for the UN NGO/DPI Conference on Education, May 30-June 1, 2016 in Seoul. The goal is to have representation of LGBTQI issues at the conference, particularly as they relate to repealing and ending discriminatory laws, policies, and practices directed toward LGBTQI educators and students. Echoing Mr. Jennings sentiment, times have changed because a lot of people have done a lot of hard work. Let us continue that hard work; let us continue to unite and strengthen our capacity to end violence and discrimination against LGBTQI people around the world.

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