Teachers who come out of the closet in class: "I have done it so that LGTBI students do not suffer what I suffered"

David Armenteros decided to do it after a lesbian student told him that some classmates had made a homophobic comment to her at recess. Since María José García said it, he has seen many students come out of the closet in class. Mikel Díaz had no choice in the face of the gender transition that he was about to undertake. With the rainbow flag in the form of a bracelet and her nails painted with the colors of the bisexual is how Virginia González Ventosa usually goes to classrooms: "We are not doing anything other than reflecting what society really is," he says.

They are teachers who have decided to come out of the closet in the educational centers where they teach. Before the rest of the classmates and also before the students. They are part of the LGTBI+ collective and that is how they are, but, in addition, they take it almost as a personal responsibility with the children and young people in front of them. "As soon as I told the class that I'm gay, after recess, some came to tell me about their cases. You see that it really is something they need and when something happens to them they turn to you," says David, a Mathematics teacher at an institute of Salamanca.

However, their cases are not so common. Visibility in the workplace is still a challenge, and the teacher is no exception. According to the study Photography of LGTBI+ teaching staff in the educational field, presented this week by the State Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Trans and Bisexuals, there are, in fact, a minority of teachers who express their sexual orientation or gender identity. That's why, coinciding with the beginning of the coursethe organization has launched the campaign Mirrors in the classrooms, with which it intends to encourage teachers to come out of the closet in the face of the "need" in educational environments "of visible LGTBI + references".

"For me it was very difficult, when people have already made a composition about you, it seems that you are failing them. You are afraid. It also happened to my family," says María José, who has taught music for 18 years in a Loeches College (Madrid). She also points to additional complications depending on the type of center. "It is not the same in a public one as in a private one or with a conservative environment. I always say that I have the law and my place in my hands, but not everyone has the latter," she adds.

The differences are also confirmed by the radiography prepared by the FELGTB, which among its main conclusions highlights that the degree of "generalized" invisibility of the group in education "does not affect everyone equally". Young men and those in Primary Education are the most visible, while the levels are considerably reduced in the case of interim staff or those who do not have a fixed position, highlights the research, which points to mobility and job instability as determining factors.

"For me it had always been a red line, because in some way we are always told that we should not talk about our personal lives, but then I realized that I should have done it before," says David, who after much reflection decided to tell his class that is gay four years ago. "It is said that it is part of private life, but with the students you share much more than the contents of the subject, that is for me the way of teaching. In addition, from heterosexual classmates in a matter of a few months you already know if they have partner or with whom they have gone to the beach", adds María José.

Once they have come out of the closet, the reactions they have encountered have been mostly positive, they highlight. Above all, of the students. Mikel, a teacher at CEIP Moreno Espinosa in Cebreros (Ávila), assures that "he was received very well in his day" and when he tells it to new classrooms "he is received naturally". Virginia acknowledges that "there has been everything." “There are families who have thanked me because the minors lived through a lot of suffering and others who continue to remind their colleagues that it is my fault that their children are the way they are,” exemplifies the teacher, a member of the LGTBI+ Teachers collective.

A rise of families who reject that sexual-affective diversity is treated in the classroom this is what María José has identified "in the last three or four years". They are few, she says, but "they make a lot of noise." And to her, this has impacted her directly. "Especially in the case of fathers or mothers of older students. They have come to question my professionalism as a teacher before the management team and last year I received quite strong complaints such as that I only talk about sex in the classroom or that I I tell the students that it is better to be homosexual", laments the teacher.

For any teacher consulted, it has been an easy task to make themselves visible as LGTBI in the classroom, but they do not regret it. On the contrary. "We have become benchmarks for the students who belong to the group and see that they can come to us. Looking back at my school years, I would have liked to have had people who are in your day-to-day life, who are part of your life and are a model in which to see yourself reflected. That is so important... It would not have taken me so long to accept myself as bisexual if I had had a reference," says Virginia, who is 34 years old and is a specialist teacher in therapeutic pedagogy in Madrid.

It is a shared opinion. "For me it is a responsibility if we want the students to grow up in freedom. Above all, I did it so that they would not go through what I went through. Without references and in a small town, I came out of the closet with my surroundings very late", acknowledges María Joseph. Mikel goes further and states that "visibility is important because it saves lives". He also remembers his childhood and youth without a mirror to look at himself. "I didn't know a single trans person around me and having no role models I lived the life that society expected of me, that's why I've transitioned as an adult," she says.

They all agree that times have changed and there have been social advances, but also that it is still a reality marked by invisibility, fear of rejection and harassment. According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, schools "are still far from being safe places for LGTBI students". The last survey in this regard, from 2020, revealed that still half of the LGTBI students in Spain between the ages of 15 and 17 are in the closet and more than three out of ten have been ridiculed, insulted or threatened for this reason.

For this reason, the effects of their gesture are verified on a daily basis. María José identifies "an advance" since then and talks about students who have come out of the closet in class. "They see it naturally, that her teacher is a lesbian and has a girlfriend. And that's very positive," she says. In addition, the educational center has begun to work on diversity in a transversal way. "We celebrate, for example, the Day against LGTBIphobia, it has been included in official documents and activities are carried out in this regard," says the teacher. In the institute where David teaches, an LGTBI group coordinated by him has been set up, to which the students attend.

There is no one who cannot list a few anecdotes about it and several cases of children and adolescents who have approached them in search of information. Virginia remembers the case of a 4th year ESO boy who asked her if he had a boyfriend and she told him no, that he had a girlfriend. "He began a dialogue about how he perceived homosexual people, he had a totally contaminated vision and he asked me many questions that worried him. At the end of the course, he told me that thanks for making him so happy," he recalls.

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