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The Student Newspaper of Jackson-Reed High School

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The Student Newspaper of Jackson-Reed High School

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LGBTQ+ teachers share their experiences

With abundant Pride flags, an active Gender Sexuality Alliance, posters adorning the halls recognizing known LGBTQ+ figures, and more, Jackson-Reed strives to be a supportive space. As many staff members at JR are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, they have found the school to be a highly LGBTQ+-friendly environment, but that doesn’t come without caveats. 

Acceptance:

Social Studies Teacher Robert Geremia (he/him), who identifies as gay, said he’s found JR to have an accepting climate. “I have never felt anything other than welcomed and respected,” Geremia said. 

Many adults at JR agree that they’ve found it’s fairly easy to be open with their identities. Assistant to Strategy & Logistics Lizbeth Garcia (she/her), who identifies as queer, finds JR to be “one of the more queer spaces [she’s] been in as a workspace.” Garcia explains that she sometimes does “temperature checks” before discussing her identity with fellow staff members, but adds that these sorts of actions “are just a queer experience in general.”

Patrick Cassidy (he/him), a gay social studies teacher, explained that before coming to JR, he worked at private Catholic schools, where it was difficult for staff members to be open about their identities without fear of being fired. He explained how seeing out LGBTQ+ teachers at Jackson-Reed helped him be more open in his own identity. “That being a part of who they are, that I think helped me become more comfortable,” he said.

Queer Social Studies Teacher Nicki Felmus (she/they) has found the student body to be overwhelmingly accepting. “Teens just get queerness and get gender and sexuality,” Felmus said. “When I tell them I use she/they pronouns, it’s not weird.” 

Transgender English teacher Flora Guthrie (she/they) said she hasn’t run into any issues with students either. “My students have universally been fantastic, I don’t think I’ve been misgendered once by my kids,” Guthrie said.

Visibility:

Queer Science Teacher Phillip Bechara (he/him) explained that he’s found Jackson-Reed a place where many more people are comfortable being open with their identities. “People are a lot more open about gender and sexuality now than they were in the past,” he explained. 

Felmus adds that they feel it’s important to be visible in her identity to students. “I feel like most students don’t have a lot of queer adults in their lives,” they said. “And I think that it’s important to see people who look like you.” However, they add that this visibility isn’t always easy. “It is emotionally exhausting for queer teachers having to be that person in any situation,” Felmus explained. “Just like any form of tokenization.”

Guthrie, who previously taught in Jacksonville, Florida, left their school after the implementation of “Don’t Say Gay” laws that limited the discussion of gender and sexuality in the classroom. She added that when she first toured Jackson-Reed, she was impressed by the amount of visibility she noticed. “I see so much queer representation tucked away. It’s not everywhere, and it’s maybe not as bold-in-your-face as I would like it to be, but it’s there,” she said.

Garcia explains that by being a visibly queer adult in the building, she can make students comfortable approaching her when they need support. “I’m not gonna say I’m an inspiration, but I hope to kind of have people, look at me and be able to be like, okay, this is someone who I can go to, I can talk to them if I have any questions.”

This year, the Jackson-Reed Theater Department is putting on a season that centers queer stories with the production of “She Kills Monsters” this November, and “Cabaret” in the spring. Director Daniel Iwaniec (he/him) explained that he believes these are important stories to make visible, as many don’t get the chance to see themselves represented on stage in high school, and by telling these stories, students can feel a definite sense of belonging. “When I think back to my high school experience, there was a definite lack of [visibility], to the point where I didn’t even understand what was going on,” Iwaniec said. “After a while, you start to feel like as students, you’re being left out. So I think it’s important to highlight and celebrate those stories.”

Looking Forward:

While teachers agree that JR is generally an accepting and inclusive environment, many also believe that more needs to be done in terms of inclusivity for trans and nonbinary students. 

Felmus said that when it comes to attendance and introductions at the beginning of the year, there is still work to be done to not alienate trans and nonbinary students. “I think it would be really helpful if it’s standard for people [on the first day] to ask students their pronouns and their name,” she explained. “It’s so uncomfortable if you’re someone who doesn’t go by…the name on the physical attendance [sheet], to have to answer to that.”

Geremia echoes this sentiment, stating that “the most important thing that teachers need to do is call students by their preferred names.”

Felmus encourages LGBTQ+ students to move at their own pace when it comes to finding their identities. “It doesn’t matter when you come out,” she said. “You do not need to fit in the stereotypes, although sometimes the stereotypes are comforting and helpful. And if it’s rough right now, I promise it’ll get better.”

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Simon Holland, Editor-in-Chief
Simon is one of two Editors-in-Chief, and if you start talking to him about RuPaul’s Drag Race, you’ll never escape that conversation. During the day, Simon can be found holed up in a corner of the library cranking through all his editing in one sitting, and after school, there’s a 99.9% chance he’s in the Black Box Theater, wishing he could see the sun.  
  • 2022-23: Style Editor
  • 2023-24: Editor-in-Chief
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