At first glance, the answer to the question above is obvious. A teacher’s sexuality belongs to a private realm, and has no bearing on his ability to teach. There have been no known instances, for example, where one’s sexual orientation has impaired one’s ability to prepare lessons or manage a classroom.
Yet, imagine a straw poll conducted by a newspaper, with the same question directed at what the local press likes to term the ‘man-in-the-street’. Imagine if the question is raised after prominent media coverage of a male teacher who has been accused of molesting his male students. Imagine also, the leading phraseology: the question reads ‘Should a gay teacher be allowed to teach in schools?’ instead of, say, ‘Should our schools discriminate against a teacher who happens to be gay?’
Would it be surprising to find a majority replying in the negative? Apart from the imperfections of the survey methodology itself (skewed sample, small sample size), one of the main problems in addressing the issue is semantics. What exactly do we mean by a ‘gay teacher’? Or rather, what do people think of when they hear that phrase?
The issue here is one of moral panic. There are certain obstinate stereotypes that will obviously colour one’s interpretation of the term. What are some of the fears associated with the presence of gay teachers in schools?
Firstly, there is the issue of predation. Teachers are authority figures, and positions of authority can sometimes be abused. In some of the more high-profile cases mentioned in the press, one involved a water-polo adviser, while another was a school counselor. The former offered physiotherapeutic massages, which gradually bordered on molest, while the latter took advantage of counseling sessions to do much more than verbal counseling.
Secondly, teachers are figures of influence. And here we find ourselves colliding head-on with those who believe that homosexuality is a matter of choice. The concern is that an openly gay teacher might be able to convert his students to ‘a homosexual lifestyle’.
By either refraining from condemning homosexuality (‘there is nothing wrong with being gay’), or even advocating it (‘being gay means being special’), they might be able to direct the process of sexual identity-formation among impressionable youths.
Sexual predation not exclusive to gay teachers
Undeniably, the kinds of paranoia I have listed quite often stem from a position of ignorance at best, and hypocrisy at worst. Sexual predation is not exclusive to gay teachers; there are many pedophiles who happen to be straight. If it is a very real concern, then there should be a policy where straight male teachers are banned from all-girls’ schools.
As for the idea that gay teachers will spend their time in the classroom evangelizing and recruiting students, it is flawed on two counts: unlike religious zealots, gay teachers (or even generally gay people, for that matter) rarely possess the fervour to prescribe their lifestyles to others.
Also, no matter how malleable the adolescent mind, it is quite impossible to condition one’s sexual orientation.
If sexual desire is really the product of imitative behaviour, then how do homosexuals emerge from societies which constantly valorize the heterosexual ideal?