Out of the classroom closet: A qualitative study of the social construction of professional identity among sexually marginalized educators
Gay and lesbian educators face what has been termed the last socially acceptable prejudice in America: the bias against homosexuals. This qualitative study explored issues relevant to the social construction of professional identity among six educators (three gay and three lesbian) who are not closeted in the workplace, or, in other words, whose sexual identities have become part of their professional identities. Participants included a high school guidance counselor, an elementary physical education teacher, a secondary administrator, a college instructor, a middle school special education teacher, and a high school English teacher. Through in depth interviews, documentary data, and informal observations, I crafted the personal stories of each educator, contextualized in their individual workplaces, and explored themes that emerged individually and collectively in their data. I explored aspects of personal belief and professional survival that impinge on the day-to-day existence of homosexual educators. Through narration and robust thick description, as well as careful data analyses, emergent themes and patterns regarding commonalities and experiential differences were detailed. Findings relevant to their age, number of years in the institution, and professional stature were found to be indicators of the expressed comfort level of the individuals who were studied. In addition, how sexual identity affects professional praxis as well as relationships between sexually marginalized teachers and students, colleagues, administrators, parents, a and the larger community were an integral part of the research.
Because homophobic attitudes may be particularly strong when directed against those who teach children, those individuals studied who have successfully broken the code of silence through disclosure have perceived a reduction of heterosexist bias within their workplaces. The culture of each educational institution, as well as those factors that influenced how gay and lesbian educators present themselves, shape their professional identity, and conduct their work, were also part of the study, as was the participant's role within that organizational culture. Personal as well as professional experiences as they related to overall job performance, student/teacher relations, curriculum, and political activism were also studied.
0340: Educational sociology