As part of NASSP’s commitment to support diversity, equity, and inclusion in all K–12 schools, the LGBTQ+ School Leaders Network was launched to provide a safe place to meet, network, share, converse, and explore opportunities for the future. Dustin Miller, one of the network’s founders, and Kody Colvin, an active member, share what the network means to them and how educators can support LGBTQ+ students and school staff.
Dustin Miller’s Story: Why Are We Here?
Is today going to be the day a homophobic slur is spray-painted on the school building? Ask an LGBTQ+ school administrator and they will likely confirm that, even in 2021, it is a common worry. School leadership is hard enough, but shouldering the burden of whether students, parents, colleagues, and bosses will embrace you for who you are can make these challenging jobs feel unbearable. As a high school principal, I thought about how powerful it would be to connect with other gay school leaders, share our lived experiences, and support each other in our roles as LGBTQ+ school leaders.
I knew I wasn’t alone, but finding others is tricky. Where skin color, religion, or gender might provide pathways to shared lived experiences, members of the LGBTQ+ community are often left to cautiously find their own way. In nearly 20 years of serving as a school administrator in a large metropolitan area, I knew only three other LGBTQ+ school leaders. Meeting one of them was out of complete happenstance, and meeting the other two, in all transparency, was due to profiling them based on stereotypes within our own community. Although we have definitely evolved, LGBTQ+ individuals are still left to wonder if they have fellow LGBTQ+ people in their workplaces, neighborhoods, and social circles. I felt there had to be an easier way than a chance encounter, relying on stereotypes, or scanning social media to draw conclusions.
How Did We Get Here?
I knew I needed the help of a professional organization with access to school leaders nationwide. I picked up the phone and called NASSP and had a wonderful conversation with Beverly Hutton, the chief programs officer. With her nod of approval, along with my fellow colleague, Rae Garrison, and a group of wonderfully dedicated NASSP colleagues, the LGBTQ+ School Leaders Network was born. Since there were no established channels to reach LGBTQ+ leaders within our community, we crafted a letter to the general NASSP membership explaining our purpose and providing a sign-up link. The initial outreach connected over 60 individuals across the country, and that number has grown to over 150 since July 2020.
Where Are We, and Where Do We Plan to Go?
The network meets bimonthly via Zoom. During each meeting, two or three members are asked to present and share their professional and personal experiences. We receive updates from NASSP on policy initiatives and allow time for general conversation. Additionally, there is a separate book talk and Facebook group, and we have an active email listserv for sharing timely information.
A landing page has been added to the NASSP website (www.nassp.org/lgbtq-school-leaders-network), members have recorded brief personal stories that are being shared via NASSP’s social media, and discussions are underway to welcome LGBTQ+ school leaders of all levels to our network. There is also interest in crafting professional learning experiences for this group to support them as K–12 school leaders. One of our initial conversations centered on hosting a reception during the annual NASSP National Principals Conference. Although the pandemic tabled this event, we look forward to starting a yearly tradition of a homecoming/reception at the conference for network members.
Being part of something matters. School leaders spend most of their professional lives working to bring students, teachers, parents, and communities together. The LGBTQ+ School Leaders Network now lets them be part of something uniquely special to them—an opportunity to meld their personal and professional journeys together with others who share similar experiences.
Kody Colvin’s Story: Meaning in Membership
Ten years ago, I remember scanning multiple districts’ webpages for signs of safety—as in, this district would not fire me if people found out I was gay. At that time, only two districts in my state specifically enumerated “sexual orientation” as a protected class in their nondiscrimination clause. I received subtle and not-so-subtle messages that my queerness should remain hidden to remain a competitive job candidate. Although 10 years does not seem like long ago, LGBTQ+ identities were almost nonexistent in the district—or state—at that time. My story is one of the thousands where educators could not live authentically out at work.
The opportunity to engage with other queer-identifying school leaders was exciting. The email from NASSP was something I have not received from other school-related organizations in the past. The beautiful thing about affinity groups is that you often do not realize how much you need them until you join one. For minoritized educators and administrators working in a cis-heteronormative space, you forget how common it is to code-switch to survive the day-to-day grind. NASSP’s LGBTQ+ affinity group is where I can go and not feel the need to switch who I am.
Many reasons draw individuals to affinity groups. I enjoy hearing about other queer administrators. Some are out to their whole district and school communities. Others remain closeted due to more hostile work and school environments. It’s easy for us to assume that other spaces are like ours if we aren’t able to engage with educators from other districts and states. This group presents opportunities to collectively push for greater change for the LGBTQ+ community in K–12 schools and higher education.
For other queer administrators reading this, we are much stronger together! Our collective liberation can not only heal our historical trauma from a hostile school system, it can work toward a nation where LGBTQ+ people are not only tolerated at school but celebrated. My hope is that queer individuals will no longer need a space to heal from the pervasive cis-heteronormative venues we navigate daily, but until that day occurs, I’m grateful to have space where LGBTQ+ administrations can support each other.
As the LGBTQ+ School Leader Network grows, NASSP continues to advocate for equity in all schools. Find out how you can support your LGBTQ+ school community with NASSP’s position statement on LGBTQ+ students and educators (www.nassp.org/lgbtq-students-and-educators).
Take your support of LGBTQ+ individuals outside your school’s walls by urging your representatives and senators and to support the Equality Act (HR 5/S 788), which prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, and employment.
For more information on the LGBTQ+ School Leaders Network and other ways to get involved, reach out to NASSP’s advocacy staff: Amanda Karhuse, director of advocacy, [email protected] and Greg Waples, senior manager of advocacy, [email protected].
Kody Colvin (he/him/his) is the principal of Hawthorne Elementary School, in Salt Lake City, UT. Dustin Miller, PhD, (he/him/his) is director of the doctor of education degree program in educational administration and a clinical assistant professor at The Ohio State University in Columbus.