by Brenda Ortega
MEA Voice Editor
(Part 4 of our five-part series on how anti-LGBTQ political attacks are harming educators and students)
When veteran educator and local MEA leader Cathy Murray married her wife in December 2015, six months after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, she was surprised to learn several others from her conservative small-town school district also had formalized relationships.
“It was very telling to me that everyone was living the secret, closeted life up to that point to protect themselves,” she said.
Murray, who has taught high school psychology in Port Huron for 25 years, recalls early in her career – before she was open about her personal life – driving to a store out of town to buy the book One Teacher in 10: LGBT Educators Share Their Stories, which helped her feel less alone.
“Then I remember meeting my first colleague who was part of the LGBTQ community, and it felt so good to know that someone else was experiencing the same things. It was empowering.”
Murray and wife Alina – a nurse – share two children they conceived via fertility treatments: Cecelia, 5, and Eleanor, 1. Last year their oldest completed kindergarten and loved every part of school and every subject, said Murray, who is president of the local teacher’s union.
“I watched all of the joy she had coming home and being able to do things her teacher taught her, and I’m proud of the education she’s receiving, proud to live in the community that I work in,” she said.
When Cecelia told her teacher that she had two moms, the educator did a great job of reinforcing a message the girl’s parents have impressed upon her – that all families are different, Murray said.
That positive experience illustrates the importance of work being done by MEA’s three-year-old LGBTQ Caucus, she added. Book studies and lists of books and resources for educators have been created to share with members interested in creating a more inclusive classroom.
It also explains the depth of Murray’s emotion talking about recent cultural shifts that have emboldened anti-LGBTQ forces in the U.S. to push for hard-won rights to be taken away and try to sweep kindness and acceptance back out of the classroom.
“I’m sorry—I’m emotional,” she said, wiping away tears. “It just makes me worry about young educators who are in the LGBTQ community, or younger people who are thinking about becoming educators, because why would they want to if this is how they could potentially be treated?
“We could use their talents, and not only that, but we know the LGBTQ community – because of hate – has been more affected by suicide. Why would we do that? Why would we bring this on to people? I don’t know.”
Claims that LGBTQ educators are “indoctrinating” or “grooming” students to change them into something they’re not are flat lies, yet that is the kind of hateful rhetoric being used to justify attacks against LGBTQ people, Murray said.
“Finally in America, we were given a chance to openly love and fully be ourselves and now – in such a short time period – large groups of people want to take that away. It’s scary, it’s maddening, and it’s wrong.”
Murray and her wife hope to raise strong, independent daughters who can follow their dreams without anyone stopping them – and she wishes the same for all of the amazing LGBTQ educators and students in our schools, she said.
“It really is time to vote your conscience and make a difference at the ballot box,” she said. “Whether it’s local school board races, the state Legislature, the governor’s office, or the state School Board and Supreme Court. Good people have to stand up to the hate or we’re allowing it to happen.”
Already eligible to retire, Murray said she could leave the classroom, “but I love what I do and know we all make a difference with the lives of kids every day.”
Editor’s Note: This story is one part of a larger picture showing detrimental effects of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and actions on students and educators. Read all five stories in our series, The Toll of Attacks on LGBTQ Rights:
- Chilling effects from ‘Don’t Say Gay’
- Echoes from history of the worst kind
- Award-winning teacher faces threats
- Loving families won’t return to shadows
- ‘Our power comes from our stories’