Tiffany E. Wright, recipient of the Phi Delta Kappan International Distinguished Dissertation Award and Career Academy Principal at York County School of Technology, presented her graduate research completed at John’s Hopkins University, February 22, supporting that school environments which foster personal and job safety, regardless of sexual orientation, led to teachers being open about their sexuality.
Her lecture, “Leadership for Safe and Inclusive Schools: An Examination of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Educators’ Perceptions of School Climate” was sponsored by the Department of Educational Foundations and the Leadership for Teaching and Learning M.Ed. program and MU Allies.
Completing her undergrad at Gettysburg College and her master’s degree at Millersville University, Wright admitted her own struggle in navigating the school system, as an undergrad, saying that during student observations and student teaching, she did not want to “out” herself as a lesbian to the teacher evaluating her.
Valuing relationships with teachers and students in her profession she said, “Before I encountered the program here at Millersville, I didn’t know of any school leaders that cared about relationships.”
Considering struggles of LGBT educators, Wright looked at literature on school safety, history of homophobia, in developing her dissertation.
According to Wright, historically the perspective of hiring teachers within schools has reflected traditional gender roles in heterosexual marriage, and part of the McCarthy Era involved making sure that there were no homosexual teachers influencing students.
Today only 16 states provide protection for LGBT teachers, preventing them from being fired for their sexual orientation.
“It’s the collapse of the political and the personal. Everything I do because I am gay becomes political,” Justin Gilmore, who is Vice president of External affairs for MU Allies, a gender and sexuality alliance, said.
Wright also referenced research which shows that teachers, who feel safe, have a higher sense of self-adequacy, are more willing to have good attendance and stay after school, all these things lead to more student achievement.
Inspired by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educational Network, which publishes a report on school climate based on their biannual survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender students, Wright used Survey Monkey software to study teachers from across the country who defined themselves as LGBT, or other non-traditional sexual definitions.
Following a pilot study, the URL for a national survey was sent to various academic, religious, and other organizations,and fliers were posted at pride festivals. Although 514 participants were surveyed, not all of them finished the 171 question survey, leaving some margin for error in the demographics.
Wright broke up the data into regions and considered variables of age, school type, GSA involvement, and number of absences from work and by dissecting five domains including, how people experience homophobia in schools, principal support, policies in place, feelings of safety, and “outness.”
Using a factor analysis to determine the validity of these domains, the policy and safety domains were further divided into two factors, including policies of human rights, such as health care for life partners, and policies upholding non-abusive language, and job safety, and personal safety. Wright set out to prove a model for her dissertation that all the factors would predict safety, and would lead to outness.
One conclusion made was that age matters to LGBT educators’ perception of principal support. Noting the changing culture, Wright said teachers 43-50 years of age had a tougher role in the past. Teachers in this range were found to be more cautious about revealing their sexual orientation, as were young teachers just beginning their career.
Also, regional teachers of the Southern and Midwestern states felt less safe, and fewer policies were in place to protect them from bullying language.
According to Wright, the fact that teachers in kindergarten through fourth grade schools felt the least amount of job safety goes back to fear of homosexuals being perceived as pedophiles.
Although her data did not provide a full predictive path of personal support and policies of bulling language supported personal safety, while policies of human rights predicted job safety, job safety and personal safety did predict outness.
Gilmore, who is a history education major, believes finding a school that fosters outness is a necessity. He said, “I’m going to have to find a school district that does enable me to be an activist and be able to speak for students who feel discriminated against.”