Very early in his career teaching in New York, Glenn Bunger witnessed a student getting called "faggot" in between classes, but he hesitated to respond. As a gay teacher who hadn’t come out to his students or staff, he felt hamstrung.
"I worried: If I get involved, what will others think? Will they associate this with me? Is my reaction right now really about me? Or about the student? I was always processing these questions and insecurities that prevented me from speaking out."
Bunger remained silent that day but later brought up the issue to his supervisor. It was clear from the conversation that the supervisor felt students like this didn’t need any sympathy but, rather, just some "toughening up," Bunger said.
Bunger never came out to the school's leadership or any of his students during his first two years teaching. Many other LGBT teachers in the United States have long struggled with this same decision of whether to make their sexual orientations public—and the "extra layer" of worries that comes with it. The country's long history of discrimination towards LGBT teachers could help explain why so many of these educators are afraid to come out. In 1978, the state of California proposed a law—a ballot measure widely known as the Briggs Initiative—which would've prohibited openly gay and lesbian teachers from working in the state’s public schools. Years before that, a group of Florida legislators known as the "John's Committee" prompted the firing of more than 100 LGBT teachers between 1957 and 1963. Though the committee officially folded in 1965, the Florida Department of Education continued to regularly purge LGBT teachers through the 1970s.