This idea that even heterosexual students needed to know about gay issues was further reinforced for me a year later with a student who I will call Steven. Steven was in the senior class for students who didn’t intend to go to college. At the time, we even called the class “Non-college Bound Senior English.” Steven was a great student and very mild mannered, especially for that class. He never caused any discipline problems.
At the very end of the year, he suddenly started acting out. In the middle of class one day, he said loudly, “I hate faggots.” I replied, “Steven, you know you are not allowed to use that word in this class. Don’t do that again.” The next day, he did the same thing. Once again, it happened almost exactly in the middle of the lesson. I said, “I have already warned you about that, and if you do it again, I am going to turn you in to the administrator.”
The third day, he did the same thing, and I turned him into the administrator. Because I knew the administrators were extremely homophobic themselves, I wasn’t surprised that the administrator took no action, but I was surprised when Steven made it a point to come in the next morning to tell me that the administrator didn’t give him any punishment. When he told me this, I said, “Well, since the administrator didn’t give you any punishment, you can just come in for detention with me.” I didn’t expect him to show up. He was a senior with only two weeks left before the end of the school year. We both knew that if he didn’t show up for the detention, nothing would be done.
I was surprised when he did show up on the morning of his detention. He even came early, getting there before I even arrived. Realizing that he wanted to tell me something, I asked him why he continued making those statements when I told him to stop. He said, “You want to know why I hate faggots?” I first said, “Don’t keep using that word, and yes, go ahead and tell me.” He surprised me with his reply when he said, “My father is a faggot, or as you say a gay man, and he left my mother when I was born to run off with his boyfriend. I haven’t seen him in years, and now, he wants to go to my graduation. That’s why I hate faggots.”
We spent the next thirty minutes talking about his father. While I assured him that it was understandable that he would be angry with his father, I asked him to think about what it must have been like for his father to be gay in the mid-seventies when Steven was born. By the time Steven left, I could tell that while I hadn’t solved his problem, he did at least get to talk about it with someone. This is something he wouldn’t have been able to tell anyone other than a gay man.
As with Mary, I realized that he deliberately brought up this subject in my classroom because he wanted to have a conversation about it. He could have brought this up in another teacher’s classroom, and not only would his comments have been allowed, they would very likely have been supported. He wanted someone to give his father’s side of the story. This isn’t to dismiss or excuse his father’s lack of involvement, but I think that Steven wanted some explanation, and he wanted some movement towards a future where he might be able to forgive his father.
This was another reminder to me that we shouldn’t remain silent on these issues, but at that time, I was a little uncertain what to do about this silence. June often referred to me as “the voice crying in the wilderness.” The obvious need for discussion around this topic conflicted with the almost tacit conspiracy on the part of the school system and society to prevent any discussion of the topic. I pointed this conspiracy out whenever I got the chance. For example, when the school system was adopting a new literature textbook series, I asked the salesman why none of the lesbian or gay authors were identified as lesbian or gay in their biographies. I pointed out that the biographies of heterosexual authors always listed the partner of the author. The salesman thought I was crazy. He quickly told me, “These textbooks are published in Texas, and we have to appeal to people in Texas since they are one of the biggest school systems in the country. Do you really think anyone in Texas would buy these books if we put that information in there?”
The South as a region has proven to be resistant to the idea of LGBTQ teachers. Some Southerners, including prominent politicians, have gone as far as asserting that it should be against the law for LGBTQ people to teach. This memoir chronicles the changes that Randy Fair witnessed in his over forty years of experience, both as a teacher and student, in the school systems of the South.
Full Disclosure: My longtime friendship with the author, retired educator, Dr. Randy Fair
I met Randy Fair during Atlanta’s Gay heyday during the early 1980s shortly after his move from Alabama. We meet through mutual friends–where else but in a gay bar? Shortly after, I ran into Randy almost everywhere I went out partying in the evenings, and occasionally, at a house party for mutual friends, or we’d run into each other during our normal course of this thing called, ‘life’.
Though Randy knew me by my legal name at the time, we were attracted to one another, but he and I never confided our interest (until our late 50s!) for the other all those years ago, and therefore remained friends
throughout the decades, mostly just running into each other at one of the many gay bars in Atlanta of the day in the ’80s/90s & the early 00s: Backstreet, Armory, Weekends, Crazy Ray’s, Hoedown’s, Metro, Stephens, Burkhart’s, Illusions, The Cove, Hollywood Hots, The Answer, Poodles, Bulldogs, when gay bar-hopping was an art-form of its own.
About Author, Dr. Randy Fair
Dr. Randy Fair is the author of the memoir, Southern. Gay. Teacher. Originally from Weaver, Alabama, Randy attended undergraduate school at Jacksonville State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Education with a concentration in Language Arts. After moving to Atlanta and beginning his teaching career, he attended Georgia State University, where he earned a Master’s of Education degree in English Education. Randy returned to Georgia State, where he earned a Specialist of Education degree in English Education and Doctorate in the Philosophy of Teaching and Learning. His essays and writings have appeared in The Southern Voice, where he was a regular columnist, The Houston Voice, The Atlanta Journal, The Anniston Star, Etc. Magazine and in the anthology, Telling Tales Out of School. He is the co-founder of the Atlanta Chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Teachers Network and was named one of The Southern Voice’s “Twenty-five Who Made a Difference.” He is a National Faculty – Smithsonian Fellow, and he taught English for 30 years in the Atlanta area.