Being a fully out gay high school teacher in rural, conservative America just isn’t easy, even with all the progress the country has made over the past several decades when it comes to LGBT rights.
In his moving memoir “Southern. Gay. Teacher.” Randy Flair explores what’s changed and what hasn’t for LGBT public school teachers. Over a 30-year career in Fulton County (Georgia) schools, Randy lived and worked through the cultural revolution that allowed to him to go from being “The GAY teacher” to being a teacher who just happened to be gay. His book explores both the changes he has seen in the schools, and his own personal evolution as a teacher.
Surprisingly, Randy still advises young LGBT teachers to proceed with caution, as in some areas you can still be fired for this. Some school districts were very progressive as far back as the ‘80s and ‘90s, but in some districts, even today, LGBT teachers are at risk if they have pictures with their partner or spouse on their desk. It’s really a rural vs. urban thing. And Randy knows this well as he began his teaching career in rural Alabama, but eventually left to teach in metro Atlanta, believing he would find more acceptance, which he did.
During his years in Atlanta Randy wrote columns for the Southern Voice and co-founded the Atlanta Chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Teachers Network. But he found that even in Atlanta schools he needed to be careful. Randy shares some powerful memories dealing with homophobic students and parents and with administrators and colleagues who were supportive for the most part, until he became well know as a columnist for a gay publication and a gay rights activist. And he credits the Milton High School English department head Judy Hammock for being his champion. “I don’t think my career would have been possible without her willingness to say, ‘I don’t care what you think of him as a person. It’s what he does as a teacher that matters.’ Judy was so willing to go to bat for any teacher in her department. She would find the best thing about each of us and bring it out.”
Randy does reveal in the book that the good far outweighed any negativity that he experienced. “I love teaching. I have a storage box of letters from kids saying, ‘You changed my life!’ ‘You made such an impact on me.’ But the exhaustion of it is just unbelievable. I don’t think anybody understands what a teacher’s life is like unless you’ve actually lived it.”
And the book has received outstanding reviews as well. The Atlanta Journal called it “A moving memoir” and The Georgia Voice said it was “Groundbreaking.”
Southern.Gay.Teacher. is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and at Southerngayteacher.com.