So it's National Coming Out day

… and I used this opportunity about 10 years ago to email a bunch of my closest friends and let them know what I had recently figured out about myself: I’m genderqueer, I lack a gender identity.

(In the spirit of the tools of Courageous Conversations, I am attempting to speak my truth, to acknowledge that this conversation may cause discomfort for you and/or me, to expect and accept non-closure, and to commit to keeping myself engaged.)

If you already know what lacking a gender identity means, feel free to skip this paragraph. While I was at night school at Hamline to get my teaching license, they had a guest speaker come in to teach us about the difference between 1) man/woman biology (what parts you have, most people are either-or, but some may have biological ways of being both / in between), 2) sexual orientation (heterosexual, homosexual, somewhere in between is really pretty normal - the Kinsey scale is one way people have thought about it), and 3) gender identity: what your head tells you and how that compares to the biology between your legs. Cis-gender is when your head and your biology agree. Transgender is when they disagree. I always knew that I did NOT feel like a man trapped in a woman’s body; I’m not transgender. I asked the speaker if gender identity was fairly binary or if it had more of a spectrum (like the Kinsey scale); after some thought she said she thought it was a spectrum. And after 35 years the light bulb went on for me: I don’t have one. I finally understood how I was different from the other straight women in my life that I admired. The social world made a lot more sense to me than it had.

Why am I bringing this up here, today? In the spirit of keeping it local, personal, and immediate, something’s been nagging at me. Why don’t I know anyone out at work?

This is my 6th year working at 287. I don’t know a single co-worker that is out to me. I know a lot of heteronormative stuff about a lot of my coworkers; I hear talk about husbands, wives, kids, dating, pets, vacations,… I interact with people that it occurs to me might be part of the LBGTQ community, but around me they have talked with the straight people about those people’s straight lives without ever bringing in information about their own relationships / status. I am aware that I don’t know if they have a significant other in their lives.

I have always done an “Interview the Teacher” activity near the beginning of the school year and almost all the time, I end up being “out” to the students that are present; I usually get some kind of question(s) like why is your hair so short, why don’t you wear make up, are you gay,… Over the past couple of year’s I have been more deliberately “out” with staff. After an advisory activity about it, I keep a “Genderbread” person scale filled out about me hanging in my room. I talk about going to PRIDE in Golden Valley (and NYC this last summer!), and I’m comfortable.

After Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade’s back-to-school key note, I’ve been thinking on the way he talked about how it doesn’t matter what kind of oppression people are facing; whatever it is has an impact. So I’m not trying to tell anyone they should be out at work. And I really want to respect the fact that at times as a district we are trying to isolate race to work specifically on that (especially as that is explicitly part of our 5-year plan while this is not). On top of that, while I consider myself Q in LGBTQ, I still live a pretty traditional white-hetero-middle-class-suburban life; married (to a man) with 2 kids. I would not pretend to be able to speak for the L,G,B, or T parts of the community.

But in the spirit of breaking out of what may be systematic and invisible to us, I am using this day as my prompt to ask: Why might people choose not to be out with their coworkers at 287?


Thank you for this post and the depth of your writing on this topic. I think there is still a lot of confusion about a non-binary way of looking at gender. I think the Genderbread info-graphic is very helpful in helping people see the continuum.

While I can’t say why people may not choose to be out with their coworkers, I can tell you that in a number of circumstances 287 employees have shared that information in meetings I’ve been in, so I know that there is some degree of comfort in talking about it with some individuals and perhaps it’s something that they need to come up in the context of the discussion. I tend not to talk about my personal life that often in almost any context. I hope that your post gets shared enough that others can chime in here, or let people know that sharing these experiences is important.

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I did not have as clear an understanding around this as you’ve just put it. Thank you, this is really helpful.

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Thank you for your post Leslie. This is an important conversation that needs to be ongoing so that everyone, no matter how they identify is valued, accepted and understood. Your courage is extremely helpful to many who are working to figure out their own gender identity.

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Thank you for your thoughtful post Leslie!

I found myself agreeing with quite a bit of this content. I have a few thoughts…

I’m not intending to dismiss your point at all, but I wonder if part of the lack of conversation might be because of the nature of our work? In education, perhaps much more than in other fields, are man/woman biology, sexual orientation, and gender identity in any sense not frequently discussed because of the fact that we’re often working with and surrounded by kids?

I’d also put alcohol in the same category of things that get discussed far less in an educational environment than they do in a more conventional corporate environment.

This isn’t meant to diminish your post or your feelings. I’m very glad you brought this up and I look forward to learning more and hopefully can be part of helping things to improve!

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It’s good to hear that Jon and my experiences are different; I’m glad to hear there are some contexts in which people are comfortable being out. What I’ve become more aware of is how staff chit chat usually centers on what’s going on in the lives of the people with traditional families. I’m not ascribing any intent to this phenomenon, but it strikes me as awkward how very familiar I am with some people’s lives while I know approximately nothing about other coworker’s lives. At my last job (my first teaching job) I knew the home / relationship status of every staff member at the ALC: married / divorced / dating, kids and/or fur babies, same sex or hetero.

As Mike brings up, I do wonder how much it may have to do with working with particular segments of the teenage population (I’m at SECA high school, for those that don’t know.) But unlike alcohol which school universally finds inappropriate for youth, sexuality and gender are completely and utterly a part of teenage existence. I know for a fact some of our students are dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity stuff that may be out whether they really want it to be or not. I’ve wondered about running a GSA (gay-straight alliance / gender & sexuality alliance), but whatever it is that makes informal conversations go the way they do has made me wonder what the environment would be like for a GSA.

I want to thank everyone who is willing to engage in this conversation with me. I feel better for having this “out” there. :wink:

This is a great idea. I think our student populations may have a higher percentage of students who struggle and have found themselves in our programs as they try to find a place better suited to their needs.

I know that going back over ten years, many of my online students have chosen that platform for school due to bullying because of their own sexual orientation/gender identity. I feel like creating that space for students has really benefited so many as they express themselves on that platform. It’s amazing to watch them become more and more themselves as the course progresses. Whatever we can do to make our programs safer and more welcoming the better for all students and then we can show our member districts how we were able to create those environments.

I just noticed a version 2, 3 & 4 to the Genderbread Person info-graphic. Having people discuss the changes between versions might also be a good way to start this conversation with students/staff.

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For whatever reason, I think this is something we’re on the whole not good at yet in District 287. We seem to have walls between work and family. I’ve always thought it would be nice to have some family-inclusive events at sites.

These are really good points, and I third the idea of a GSA. Jon mentions this too, but I’m continually surprised at how many kids in NSO mention social ostracism as a reason for wanting to take online classes.

Thank you again for having the courage to bring this conversation forward. Sometimes things just need someone to go first, and you’ve set a great example.

(I’d also like to ask you to let me know if I say something that comes across as insensitive to the issue. This is new ground for me. I’m largely unsure how to participate, but I would like to help.)


Thank you for your openness, Leslie! I am sorry to hear you haven’t had opportunities to discuss your personal life at work. At NEC, I am aware of several colleagues who are out and open about it. Many of us have posted a sign in our window identifying our class/office as a safe space. Also, I’ve found that happy hours are a nice way to get to know about the personal lives of your co-workers. :):grin:

Please keep us updated on the GSA. I think it sounds like a fantastic plan!

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Hey Emily, thanks for joining the conversation! Personally, my life is a pretty open conversation at work. I think those of us (that I interact with) that are married with kids are the ones most likely to ask and get asked questions about home. That’s mostly how the 5 years of happy hours have gone too. I know I and the guidance counselor have safe zone / space signs in our rooms, I’m not sure if other SECA staff do too.

Just checking does “many of us” refer to NEC staff in general or to colleagues that are out? That is, are you saying you are out or am I misreading?

In any case, I’m glad there are staff that feel comfortable being out at NEC; that’s encouraging. I wonder if some staff here choose to keep things private because being out to other staff might become out to students and that part would be uncomfortable somehow? … just speculating.

I would encourage anyone who is trying earnestly to learn or do work on this not to worry too much about coming off as insensitive, at least with me. Sincerity and openness to feedback go a long way, in my opinion. I will endeavor to politely let anyone who participates here know if something seems insensitive to me and how so, but I’m really no expert. I keep checking in with my pan-sexual non-binary teenager who is actually in a GSA about how to talk about things!


Hi Leslie,

With my use of us, I did not mean that I am out, but I am an ally!

I wonder if there’s a good way to connect staff throughout the district who are out?

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I’m planning to start a different thread to report back on starting a GSA at SEC (our first meeting is planned for Fri 11/16). I wanted to share here, though this article about steps to consider in coming out at work. It was written for a national audience, so I’ll point out I’m pretty sure Minnesota protects workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. That’s definitely not true for all states.

When I figured out I was genderqueer, I also better understood why picking hair styles was so stressful to me. I was working in the insurance industry but knew I’d be leaving to become a teacher before very long. I went to my supervisor and his supervisor and had a polite conversation with each that basically boiled down to “I’m going to switch to a buzz cut.” They were both very cool about it, not sure if the same protections existed 10 years ago or not. I had the luxury of not worrying if it would affect my career path there since I knew I was leaving. I got hired to my first teaching job with the buzz cut (and wearing a suit, of course).

FYI, cool looking free talk at U of M Thursday 11/15

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I don’t know if I can make it on the 15th - but I’ll put in a plug for Kelly Holstine. She teaches in an ALC and her work is very relevant with regard to our ALC work in 287. Kelly came to NECA in August and talked with our teachers about instruction. She talked about how she shifted from a more direct instruction orientation to personalized learning in her classes and how she’s worked to maintain a sense of a learning community within a more personalized structure. There were several “aha” moments for me during the informal session we had with her. She was very open to other teachers connecting with her for support as well.

Another article, this time suggesting including your pronouns in your email signature. I’ve seen one 287 coworker ally do this already. I’m considering it, but it seems weird to me to announce pronouns when I haven’t really decided if I want to change mine. I had a hard enough time changing over to Leslie instead of Heather; it took several years before my husband started calling me Leslie and these days my sister uses “Leslie” around me but uses “Heather” when talking to my parents about me because they never switched (they are both over 80). When I was young I would make up fantasy stories with a non-gendered (usually alien) protagonist and I would think about made up pronouns for them. But in real life a lot of social anxiety for me comes from making other people uncomfortable when they mistake me for a man and figure it out when I open my mouth… {awk-ward}.


As requested, updates here.

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While this is not directly connected to the district, I think this is connected to understanding the struggle of people in the LGBTQ community trying to live as their authentic selves. On Sunday I stepped away from a congregation I have been partnering with for the last 14 years.

A much longer explanation of my experience and decision is available at this link.

The special session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted on Tuesday 2/26/19 for the Traditional Plan that reinforces, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” I mourn leaving this institution that I have been connected to my whole life.

I am genderqueer (something that’s been true my whole life but I didn’t have a name for until the last 10 years). My kid is queer. And I cannot believe that this is how Jesus would want his church to treat us. The mainstream US is finally allowing some space for queer people to live life as our true selves, without having to subvert it, feel guilty about it, or think we need fixing. But the UMC has actively declared changing course to the rear, something so uncharacteristic of my experience with that institution that it has caught me by surprise. I can no longer partner with the UMC unless or until it moves forward on accepting queer people in love.


Thanks for sharing this, Leslie!

It’s very eloquent. I’m sorry that this has happened to you, and I hope you can in time find a new community of faith. I can only imagine how disappointing and insensitive it must feel.