Here is a great article i came across.
by : susan dominus
In Harlem a week ago, a 32-year-old math teacher handed out slips of paper inviting the entire seventh grade of Columbia Secondary School to his upcoming ceremony, where, the names on the invitation made clear, he’d be celebrating his commitment to another man. The teacher, Chance Nalley, rarely wastes an instructional opportunity but said that, in this particular instance, he wasn’t trying to make an educational statement.
“They kept asking if they were invited,” he said of his students at Columbia, a selective public school that specializes in math, science and engineering. “Originally, I said no. But when I found a venue that turned out to be big enough I said, ‘O.K., you can come.’ I invited their parents, too.”
A famously strict teacher — his boss says he is regarded by students with a mixture of “love and fear” — Mr. Nalley kept his sexual orientation to himself at the previous public school where he taught, the Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy in the Bronx. “They respected my authority, and I’d have hated for their prejudices to interfere with my working relationship with them,” he explained.
But Columbia Secondary, which operates in a partnership between the Department of Education and Columbia University, is a much smaller school, whose mission statement includes a commitment to diversity (more than half the students are black or Hispanic, 45 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches).
With his principal’s support, Mr. Nalley, who started at the school when it opened in 2007, felt comfortable coming out to students during a diversity workshop that fall.
“A lot of the students were shocked at the time,” said the principal, Jose Maldonado-Rivera, “shocked that he said it, and shocked that it was true. For many students, it was a huge eye-opener — it was the last thing they would have thought about Chance.”
Two parents told the principal that they didn’t want Mr. Nalley teaching their children. Dr. Maldonado-Rivera explained that since the school had only one math teacher at the time, if they wanted their children to take math, they didn’t have a choice. The children stayed, and since then, neither Dr. Maldonado-Rivera nor Mr. Nalley has heard a word from them.
More recently, two other parents sent e-mail messages to Dr. Maldonado-Rivera to complain about Mr. Nalley’s invitation. Dr. Maldonado-Rivera explained to them that he saw the school as an extended family and that the invitation was in that spirit. And that was the end of the controversy, such as it was.
There have, however, been some questions. One student asked about the legality of two men marrying. Mr. Nalley explained that New York State does not, in fact, allow it, but that he was thinking of the ceremony as a wedding celebration, if not a legal contract. When another student asked why gay marriage was not legal in New York, Mr. Nalley responded, “I really don’t know.”
He is expecting about two-thirds of the school’s 96 seventh graders at the ceremony, on April 4 at St. Paul’s Chapel on Columbia University’s campus (he had to hire an extra security guard because so many children were coming). Four seventh graders, approached at random on Friday, said they planned to be there.
Were they surprised to learn he was gay?
“He’s not gay,” said Japhet Guzman, 12.
“No,” agreed a lanky 13-year-old who walked with a bit of a tough-guy swagger, “he’s not gay. He’s bisexual. Why don’t you ask him?” (Mr. Nalley confirmed this.)
Within hours of that diversity workshop last fall, the kids said, the whole school had heard the news about Mr. Nalley.
“I was really surprised,” recalled the 13-year old boy. “It didn’t change anything about what we thought about him, though.”
Raven Franklyn, another student, added, “It showed he trusts us.”
And they apparently trust him: Mr. Nalley said six students have come out to him this year.
Every once in a while, Mr. Nalley does catch an earful of the homophobia that’s obviously rampant in seventh-grade boys trying to prove their machismo. For example, he said, seventh grade is the age when kids start saying everything is “so gay.”
“When I hear that, I just say to them, ‘What exactly do you mean by that?’ ” said Mr. Nalley.
After that, he doesn’t hear it again.