Why are Gay Teachers Less Likely to Confront Anti-LGBT Bullying?

A new study has found that gay, lesbian and bisexual teachers are less likely to confront anti-LGBT bullying in the classroom — but why is this?

The study, conducted by Doctor Tiffany Wright and team from Millersville University in Pennsylvania surveyed 350 teachers and principals through a process of in depth interviews.

Approximately two-thirds of those surveyed said they had never seen another teacher protest homophobia if it came from other members of staff, while 59% said they had heard anti-gay comments made by other teachers.

The survey also found that half of gay teachers were reticent to challenge students who uttered anti-gay slurs.

Why is this?

“Often, LGBT educators are less likely to say something in response to homophobia, because then they might be perceived as gay,” Dr. Wright is quoted as saying. She went on to say that in turn, teachers felt that self-identifying or being perceived as LGBT might endanger their jobs.

Her team found that a majority of interviewees had reservations about coming out at school and many went so far as to say that they did not feel it was safe to do so. Many also felt it wouldn’t be safe to come out to parents.

A third of respondents expressed concerns about losing their jobs if they were to come out to other teachers, while a sizable 62% of teachers worried that they would lose their jobs if they came out to students.

When we are frequently hearing that LGB and to a certain extent trans rights are gaining ground, this reticence and fear may seem peculiar but, Dr Wright argues, it has to do with the heightened emotions surrounding America’s kids.

“A lot of folks, theoretically, might be in favor of gay marriage and have liberal views,” Dr Wright said. “But when you’re talking about their kids, that’s a little different. Then, suddenly, people’s prejudices come out.”

To put that in context, we know that the 2008 California ban on marriage equality found most fertile ground when it started talking about how gay marriage would be “taught” to students. Similarly, we know that opposition to the Employment Non Discrimination Act finds more willing ears when the opposition uses disgusting fear-mongering over transgender teachers being in the classroom.

So, while we can certainly say that the sample size in this study is small and therefore limited in that regard, the views expressed in the study aren’t that surprising. Furthermore, the media is rife with stories of teachers being fired for disclosing their sexuality or for being outed by others.

Take Carla Hale, a 57-year-old teacher who was fired from a Catholic high school earlier this year, not after disclosing her own sexuality but after her mother’s obituary outed her by making a reference to Hale’s same-sex partner. A parent contacted Bishop Watterson High School and called Hale’s presence at the school — her 19 years of service, in fact — a disgrace.

Or take the case of “beloved” Paradise Valley High School Principal Cynthia Davis who was fired for no other reason than a “concerned community member” sending a letter to the school’s board stating she suspected Davis was a lesbian and so was living a “questionable lifestyle.”

To be clear, this is just one study and is only a general indicator of attitudes.

However, it might be fair to inquire if the study were only applied to public schools (as opposed to private religious schools that are able to set their own behavioral codes) whether the modest but still significant anti-discrimination protections that exist for LGBT teachers would make them feel more comfortable about tackling anti-LGBT bias or whether without explicit LGBT federal protections, teachers still feel unable to take the lead on this.

What we can certainly say is that this study fits in with our understanding as established by wider research.

The Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network’s 2011 national school climate survey shows that nearly 85 percent of students report having heard ‘gay’ used as a slur, and more than 70% report hearing homophobia frequently in school. More than 70% also report having been the target of anti-LGBT verbal harassment.

What appears to be the issue here is that a systematic failure has occurred that is rooted in a lack of robust federal and state level protections, such as a failure to pass the Employment Non Discrimination Act and the Student Non Discrimination Act.

In turn, this creates a climate of uncertainty and in that climate, where anti-LGBT prejudice can thrive, LGBT teachers are fearful of coming out and of challenging anti-LGBT attitudes. The end result is that the climates persists and LGBT students are often the ones to suffer.

Thankfully, with a new $2 million drive behind the Employment Non Discrimination Act and with several states taking a more robust stance on anti-LGBT bullying, there is substantial progress to be made if only we can turn potential into action.

Image from Thinkstock.


Paula Stiles
Paula Stiles4 years ago

I'm not surprised. As long as gay teachers are punished for being gay by losing their jobs, they are going to be afraid of confronting teen bullies. Because those kids don't learn to be homophobic or bullies in a vacuum. Their parents taught them and their parents can get the teacher fired.

It probably doesn't help that many gay teachers were probably bullied as kids, so that they have to deal with the memories and old fears of that, too.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener4 years ago


Mike Wilkinson
Mike Wilkinson4 years ago

time for heterosexuals to grow up, evolve, and realize being gay or lesbian is not a contagious disease.......they deserve our respect, lets make a better world for us all and drop the baggage........

Sarah MacDonald
Sarah MacDonald4 years ago

Ever mentioned a boyfriend or husband, Amanda S? If so, then you're not keeping it so 'hush' as you think.

You don't have to scream 'I'm heterosexual' for people to know, and you don't have to walk up to people one at a time and say 'I am Gay' for people to know. Pronouns say a lot. Because you're of the dominant group, you don't have to censor those pronouns in everyday conversations.

Spend a week deliberately refraining from any mention of any hint that might tip a stranger off to your heterosexuality and then tell gay people to just not tell anyone about their private lives.

Me? I'm straight, yes. But I would much prefer a world in which any gay people I happen to meet don't need to censor themselves for fear of losing their jobs, their social standing, or even their lives.

It isn't my business who anyone sleeps with, as long as it isn't me or, say, my husband. But there are way too many people out there hung up on whether there's one Tab A and one Slot B or not. We won't achieve equality until everyone can just use the pronouns that fit the situation without fear of consequences.

Amanda S.
Amanda S4 years ago

Why should anyone "come out" to anyone? I don't prance around announcing that I prefer men for my sexual interludes but find women attractive as well. Keep it on the "hush". That's private.

Andy Walker
Past Member 4 years ago


Karena N.
Karena N4 years ago

Meh. Not a fan of teachers anyway.

Karen H.
Karen H4 years ago

Cowards, Tricia H? I don't think so. They might, as others have pointed out, fear for their jobs. If other teachers, administrators and/or parents even suspected they were gay, they might be out on their butts. Sad, isn't it?
In high school we had a teacher rumored by be lesbian, but nobody cared. She was a good teacher and that was all that mattered.

Lori Ann Hone
Lori Hone4 years ago

Bullying is wrong on any level, very sad