By Julie Rine, Minerva Local Education Association
It was the second day of the Spring RA in Columbus. As my colleague and I walked to the Convention Center, a young teacher in front of us talked on her cell phone. When she ended the call, she said to us, “You’re teachers, right? With OEA? Get this, my friend said she heard there are picketers outside the convention center!” The three of us discussed who else was meeting that day that would warrant protests. We knew there was a dance competition and some volleyball tournaments and MARCON, whose members might be a little eccentric, but surely weren’t the cause of protests.
Imagine our surprise when we neared the convention center and saw that WE were the cause of the protests. The signs read OEA Kills Babies and OEA Advocates Homosexuality. There were only a few protesters, and it was a short walk from where we were to the main doors, but it only took a few people and a few steps to fire me up. As we got closer, I yelled that I had no agenda other than accepting all of my kids.
“Oh yes, you do! You all do!” a woman yelled back with pure hatred in her voice.
My blood boiling, I started walking over to her, but my colleague pulled me away. “Let it go,” he said.
But as I sat through the meeting that day, I could not let it go. I still can’t. It infuriates me.
Yes, I love and accept my LGTBQ students. I treat them the same way I treat my straight students, my poor students, my rich students, my blonde students, and my short students. I try very hard to treat all of my kids with respect regardless of their backgrounds or baggage, their identities or their ideas, even when I don’t particularly like their attitudes or approve of the choices they make.
OEA is an organization focused on one issue: public education. As members, we are making a statement that we care about and support public education. There are OEA members who support pro-life groups, and there are OEA members who believe, for religious or other reasons, that being gay is a choice, an immoral choice. But being members of the OEA doesn’t mean we have to agree with each other or with a candidate whom OEA supports on those or any other issues; it means we share a position on public education.
One of my colleagues once gave me the advice that we cannot focus on the fantasy of how things should be, but instead we must deal with the reality of how things are. The reality is that we have kids in our classrooms every day who are in great pain, who feel that the way they feel or the choices they have made are unacceptable and wrong. They are bullied and beaten down by words or fists. They are mocked and made to feel like freaks. They have lost friends and family because of who they are or what they have done. That’s why it is unfathomable to me that anyone would not want our classrooms to be a place of safety and acceptance, a place where a teenager can feel respected and be treated with common decency. One of my favorite writers, Jon Pavlovitz, has been called a LGBTQ ally. His response to this? “I’m an ally for all people; I just consider LGBTQ people, people.” As professionals, this is how educators must view our students. We must be an ally and an advocate for all of them.
Those who protest with signs at our meetings don’t seem to understand what OEA is all about. OEA does not dictate how we must feel about gay rights or abortion or any other of the countless current topics that merit discussion and dialogue.
OEA cares about how we feel about educational issues, and that is why we have RA assemblies where we are given a voice. There were some hot topics at the Spring RA, several debates and spirited discussions, and it’s okay for us to have different opinions, even on topics that impact public education. But there is one belief that must unite us no matter our personal feelings about anything else: being an OEA member means that we believe that every kid, regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, family situation, ability, religion, or socio-economic status, deserves to have a fighting chance at success and a quality education. Some may protest what they think we stand for, and that is their right. What matters most is that WE understand what we stand for, and that we are united in advocating for all of Ohio’s kids.