Among her suggestions was putting up a sticker in our classrooms.
A specific sticker.
A pink triangle surrounded by a green circle.
Derived from Nazi hatred, the pink triangle was the symbol assigned to homosexuals. The green circle has evolved to add the symbolism of acceptance, and that this space is a safe zone.
That little act announces that we recognize that some young people are struggling with their identities and, at the very least, your space is a space that welcomes everyone and invites the conversation.
We received this message on the coattails of learning about Mathew Shepard, a teen beaten to death in an anti-gay hate crime in 1998. His brain stem was crushed. He was tied to fence and left for dead in the middle of a Wyoming night. Thirty degree temperatures. They took his shoes and the twenty dollars in his wallet.
Our individual acts may not erase hatred, but we might position our classroom environments to promote friendship, open-mindedness, and acceptance.
Twenty years ago, a fourteen year-old boy in one of my classes researched Allen Ginsberg. His choice. Fascinated by hippies and the fifties he read about people called the Beat poets. So, he picked Ginsberg.
Mom took her son to the library.
A few days later I was called to the guidance office because an irate parent strongly objected that her son learned that Ginsberg was gay, and wrote profanity, took nude photographs of himself, and she wanted to know why didn't I stop it.
I reflected then. I asked myself if I should have stopped the fourteen year-old boy from researching a group of poets which he stumbled into because he liked that period of history. I second guessed myself. Should I have stopped him because he might stumble across the gay word?
Of course, it is every parent's right to monitor what their kids read and learn. Alternatives are always available, and in this case a few were offered.
But it was the savage nature of how furious she was with me that startled me.
We were on a conference call and her voice boomed through the speaker, "Why couldn't you have directed him to a more classical poet like Walt Whitman? Where's your sense?"
I didn't have the stones to break the news to her about Whitman. But the guidance counselor did.
I will carry that experience with me because it symbolizes the reality of American public education.
Objections litter public education almost daily.
I'd like to believe that no one would object if I simply put a sticker up in my classroom. I'd like to believe that no one would object that we have some books in our school or classroom libraries that have LGBT characters in them.
I'd like to believe that a group from Kansas didn't travel to Matthew Shepard's funeral to celebrate his death.
What would it mean if I put up one of those stickers? What would it mean if I bought some of those books for our libraries?
I'd like to believe that it meant that we were embracing our humanity.
And teaching kids to embrace it as well.
And not hate.
Because that hatred.
It breeds monsters.