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By Heather Kelley (she/her), BCTF staff

I moved to a small, remote community with a population of less than 150 people at the north end of Vancouver Island in 2018. Honestly, living here as a gay Black man has been very challenging. There is no queer community and no activities within the community to cultivate a culture of awareness and acceptance. I have felt isolated for many reasons. Events like the virtual queer teacher meet-ups have helped me feel less alone. I have realized that I can’t be a resource if I don’t have access to resources, and I can’t be a support if I don’t have supports.

– Christopher Rolle, teacher in Zeballos

There are moments when you know you are about to be a part of something special. I had one of those feelings last fall when I was looking at the volume of registration for the BCTF’s LGBTQ2S+ teacher meet-up. We had hundreds of people sign up and register. By all accounts it was one of the most successful virtual event sign-ups the BCTF has ever had. I was elated and, to be honest, also overwhelmed.

A few weeks before, I was feeling a bit silly standing in the media room at the BCTF waiting to record a video asking other queer* teachers to join me for a virtual meet-up to build community and connection. I have since been told my awkwardness in that clip comes off as mostly charming and, to be honest, that is all I could hope for! At that moment I thought having 10 teachers connect would feel like a win, but I was uncertain if we would even get that. I was experiencing Zoom fatigue and could understand a lack of interest in yet another hour of screen time. I had no idea the chord we were about to strike with queer teachers from across the province.

The monthly queer teacher meet-ups from October to June were deeply meaningful. The growing connection and community building was beautiful to witness. Friendships grew, older teachers mentored new teachers, colleagues shared advice and support, and despite it being on Zoom, during one of the most challenging teaching years, there was such joy and laughter. We had hundreds of queer educators joining us from across the province, many of whom continued to come back every month.

We started out in one large group for folks to connect, but soon realized that, because queer identity isn’t a monolith, we needed to create more specific break-out rooms for folks to connect with people who shared specific aspects of their identity and lived experience. This included dedicated spaces for QTBIPOC educators; trans, non-binary, gender-fluid, and gender non-conforming educators; pansexual and bisexual educators; lesbians; gay men; queer parents; queer elementary teachers; queer secondary teachers; new teachers; and a space to discuss resources and policy. The appetite for connection and space to talk to other queer teachers was palpable.

There are many reasons that queer teachers need and want community. First, schools reproduce, teach, assume, reinforce, celebrate, and desexualize heterosexuality. Historically, anything that is not neatly categorized as heterosexual or cisgender has been marked as problematic, deviant, and/or inappropriate. Unfortunately, this historical context often permeates school cultures even today. This places queer teachers in a space that is often complicated to navigate, with most of us having no road map to follow. Many queer educators expressed feelings of isolation and a lack of support. For some, queerness still seems like a professional liability. We had especially high participation from teachers in more rural parts of the province, who felt they couldn’t come out as queer in their job and others who didn’t have any access to queer community within a hundred-mile radius.

As someone who grew up in a tiny village in the North, I can certainly relate to the challenges of being the only queer person, that I was aware of, in a small town and feeling very divorced from any connection to queer community or acceptance.

I would have greatly benefited from having access to one queer educator during my education program or my early years of teaching. Younger me would not have thought it possible to have more than a hundred queer educators together talking about being queer teachers and all the joys and challenges that come with that. Even now, for me as a gay teacher who has intentionally created queer-teacher community for myself, these events were and will continue to be something special.

We look forward to connecting again with queer teachers on the first Thursday of every month, from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. Visit opportunities.bctf.ca/monthlymeetups for more information.

What participants are saying

Being a queer, trans educator can be very isolating, even in a large urban district, in 2022. In many communities and locals, there are no LGBTQ2IA+ supports; sometimes just talking about yourself and being who you are can be a challenge. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel safe. This is why the provincial meet-up is so important.  – Lee Locker, teacher in Victoria

I attended a few of the LGBTQ+ meet-ups, and wished I could have attended more. Last year was my first year teaching and my first year being openly non-binary. Attending the meet-ups allowed me to connect with other queer and non-binary teachers, something that was really valuable to me, as I know of only two queer teachers in my own district. I did not grow up with any LGBTQ+ representation in my own schooling, and so the meet-ups became an opportunity for me to share experiences, seek advice, and just make nice connections with teachers across the province. – Nat Baillaut, teacher in Saanich

The queer teacher meet-ups have been a much-needed mode of connection this past year. They have become something I look forward to, not only to give and receive support, but also to build friendships and cultivate community in and around my district and even across the province.

– Christina Billingham, teacher in Chilliwack

Queer community within teaching is fundamental to well-being for queer teachers. The opportunity to feel safe in discussing the unique experience of being a queer teacher is invaluable, especially for folks who may still be closeted or live in a rural community where they don’t have access to other queer teachers for connection. Systemic bias continues to exist for queer folks who endure public attacks for simply being queer. The opportunity to discuss these issues in a safe space on an ongoing basis is key to thriving as an educator. It only takes one “I totally understand” from a colleague to change your trajectory as an educator. Queer connection spaces within the teaching community also offer the opportunity to say, “And what else?” Participants don’t need to retraumatize each other by asking for the whole story again; however, they can dive deeper as a supportive community and move forward by asking important questions like, “What was the real challenge for you in that situation?” This kind of community creates a foundational support system for queer teachers to thrive.

 – Lori Jones, teacher in Nelson

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Category/Topic: Teacher Magazine