Fair, Randy, “Southern. Gay. Teacher.”, Atmosphere Press, 2020.
Been There, Done That
I was very anxious to read Randy Fair’s “Southern. Gay. Teacher” because I had once been a southern gay teacher. The conservative south has not been welcoming to gay teachers (even though there are many). There are Southerners who feel that there should be a ban on gay teachers and a law preventing them from teaching. Randy Fair shares what he went through in his over 40 years of teaching and as a student in the southern United States. He shows his evolution as a teacher while having to deal with homophobia, conservatism and just plain chaos.
Fair received threats from administrators, distrust from homophobic students, and challenges by students (both gay and straight) who desperately needed more openness surrounding the issues of concern for members of the LGBTQ community. In looking at his experiences, we see the concerns of gay teachers and from those who are gay and want to teach.
Fair’s teaching experiences also bring up issues of concern for both current and prospective teachers. He looks at the questions of “which parts of a teacher’s life are public and which are private? What right does a teacher have to engage in politics and activism? How much of a teacher’s beliefs are consciously or subconsciously embedded in the curriculum and the classroom experience”? We see the many roles and identities that a teacher must face constantly.
Fair looks at the life of a teacher who not only survives, but thrives and inspires his students and fellow teachers in an environment that is often hostile to him. We gain insights into American public education for students, parents, and the general public and we that there are those who feel that teachers are cogs in the education machine and are unaware of how school policies affect classroom content and teaching style. Fair looks at his encounters with homophobia in school systems and his activist bringing awareness and inclusion into schools and society at large. We see what society can and should be and how he became an inspiration to his fellow teachers and beloved by his students. I identified with so much that I often felt as if I was reading my own story.
I began teaching when racial discrimination was the primary concern in the schools and I was one of the first white teachers to go into a black school. I was not publicly out (it was a long time ago— I taught on both the high school and college level for 53 years).
People forget how much influence a teacher has on a child and like Fair, I remember there was no training on LGBTQ issues for those in the educational system. There were courses and in-service workshops on multiculturalism, special needs, and gifted learners but nothing about LGBTQ students and teachers. Fair’s anecdotes show the importance and vitality of understanding. He challenges us to continue being activists so that schools are safe places.
We also read of the highs and the triumphs that have been the result of hard work and determination. Randy Fair was a brave teacher who often risked his livelihood to do the right thing. Administrators became nervous because of him but he did not stop. He helped people who subtly discriminated against those that were different overcome their prejudices and stood up in the face of unfair treatment for students. This is a memoir of his journey from small town Southern boy to an advocate for LGBTQ students.