With Our Support and Acceptance, LGBTQ Youth Will Thrive
Jody Huckaby, the Executive Director of PFLAG National, addressed the NEA Board of Directors’ LGBTQ Observance, February 7, 2014. (PFLAG stands for Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.) In an NEA interview, Mr. Huckaby talks about the vital role educators can play in helping lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning students gain acceptance from their families and school peers.
NEA: In a recent Human Rights Campaign survey, 33 percent of LGBTQ youth say that they are not accepted by their families. What does that tell you?
Huckaby: It tells me we have a lot of work to do. You can’t overemphasize the importance of family in a young person’s life—and to not be accepted by your family, that’s terrible.
NEA: Do you know this from personal experience?
Huckaby: Well, I grew up in a small town (Eunice) in southwestern Louisiana, in a large, very devout Catholic family. I attended Catholic schools. I came out to my parents when I was in college, and it was very difficult for both me and them.
NEA: What was your parents’ reaction?
Huckaby: They started out rejecting the idea that I was gay. Then, they moved to tolerance, and then acceptance, and in time, they celebrated it. So did my siblings by the way.
NEA: Did your parents’ journey inspire you?
Huckaby: It definitely did. In fact, my parents’ personal journey was one of the big reasons I went to work with PFLAG. My mother read the “Dear Abby” column in the Eunice News religiously throughout her life. One day, she a read a letter in the column from a mother who had just learned her daughter was a lesbian. The mother asked Dear Abby how she was supposed to deal with this news. Dear Abby advised the woman to love her child like she did the day before. The second piece of advice she gave was to go find PFLAG and get more information.
NEA: Don’t you think the LGBTQ equality movement has made great strides since Stonewall in 1969, especially in recent years?
Huckaby: Certainly, we have. But you know, long after equality under the law is achieved for gays and lesbians, PFLAG will be working with the parents, families, friends and allies for LGBTQ youth to be accepted, respected, and even celebrated.
NEA: Do you think educators have a role to play in LGBTQ youth gaining acceptance from their families and peers?
Huckaby: Educators are crucial. Just by showing in their own words and actions that they value everyone equally, educators can make a huge difference. Also, educators can reach out to the bullied student and make them feel like they are not alone. And educators can work with parents to create schools in which everyone is accepted and respected.
NEA: Did an educator make a difference in your life?
Huckaby: Yes. My journalism teacher in high school. I never discussed with her that I was gay—I wasn’t ready yet to discuss that with anyone—but I could just tell by how she talked about people in the school, her family and the community that she was accepting of people regardless of their differences. That was tremendously reassuring for me.
NEA: And speaking of differences, you grew in a time and place when race was a hot issue. How did that affect you?
Huckaby: Race was the dominant issue. My own father helped set up a separate school in our community for white children so they didn’t have to attend an integrated school. But he eventually resigned from the board of that school because he had come to believe in racial equality. I admired him greatly for that.
NEA: Do you see growth such as that in your PFLAG education sessions with the parents of LGBTQ children?
Huckaby: Yes. Emotions ranging from silence to tears to laughter are expressed during these sessions. But real growth occurs. It’s heartening and energizing.
NEA: You sound like an optimist.
Huckaby: Absolutely. You have to be optimistic given the progress we’ve seen over the last five years. Some would say, ‘We shouldn’t have to be doing this work anymore,’ but that fact is progress has been achieved and there’s work still to do.
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