Miss Lily McBeth was a substitute teacher at Eaglewood Elementary School in New Jersey for five years. Except back then, she was known as Mr. McBeth.
After undergoing gender-reassignment surgery Lily McBeth reapplied for that job as a substitute teacher. The school board voted 4-1 to allow McBeth to have her old job, to the joy of gay rights groups and the dismay of some parents. Mark Schnepp, a local parent, said in an article on CNN.com, “I will not allow you to put my kids in a petri dish and hope it all turns out fine.”
Other parents were concerned about introducing this to their children. McBeth has a deep voice and masculine features, but looks like a woman; parents are worried this will confuse their children.
McBeth is 71 years old and had three children during a 33-year marriage. “This is not something I got into just on a whim,” she told the Associate Press about her gender reassignment surgery. McBeth told the school board about her love of children and teaching. Several former students came to the school board meetings to testify that McBeth is an excellent teacher and that this is more important than her gender.
The decision to allow McBeth to return to teaching is a big step nationally and also in New Jersey, a state that did not allow Paula Grossman to return to teaching in 1976 after her gender reassignment surgery, saying that she was a negative influence on children. The decision was upheld by the Supreme Court.
But are gays, lesbians, and transgenders dangerous to children?
The irony is that openly gay, lesbian, and transgender teachers are often in more danger than any student. There is pressure from their colleagues and parents to leave their jobs. A study by Human Rights Watch, titled, “Hatred in the Hallways,” interviewed openly gay teachers and their colleagues. One man talked about a substitute teacher who left because students would harass him and even throw things at him.
The report states that an openly transgender teacher in the classroom does more good than harm, after a 2000 study found that most people hold fewer prejudices against homosexuals and bisexuals when they are personally acquainted with such individuals.
The report also talks about the impact an openly gay teacher has on students who also may be homosexual. They become role models.
“For students to trust that they will not suffer discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, they need to see that adults too are protected from harassment and discrimination,” Human Rights Watch said.
We are fixated on diversity in classrooms. Many people say that diversity helps students learn and grow. People need to remember that diversity spreads beyond color lines. Having a transgender teacher may confuse kids at first, but they’ll accept it. That’s the most important part.
People worry that a child is too young to experience someone different. But it’s easier to teach a child tolerance and understanding when that child is young, before the world has taught their prejudices to them.
Miss McBeth is a good teacher. She is dedicated to helping children learn. That’s all a teacher needs. She will not only help children learn grammar and math, but will also help children learn tolerance.
They say children are like sponges when they are young. It is better to absorb tolerance and acceptance than bigotry and hatred.
Carolyn Steeves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.