We are students of ERHS. Many of us have been here since we were practically babies, and have had the privilege of a safe environment to flourish. As children, we needed to be taught, cared for, and most of all accepted. A lot of acceptance has come up around us over recent years which has led to us being a more open generation. Thankfully, our school district mirrors the acceptance of its students. LAUSD is known to be a huge advocate for the LGBTQ+ and its members. When you search up LAUSD and LGBTQ+ you find articles upon articles on LAUSD offering assistance to students and staff.
The support can even be seen on our campus with the LGBTQ+ club, SAGA, and on many other campuses all around the world. Yes, there is a rather large amount of hate still circulating, yet our love and support for each other constantly drowns out that negativity. We as students of LAUSD have grown into an exceedingly tolerant generation, yet our teachers and staff had to wait for such an environment for themselves to flourish.
Have we ever sat down and truly listened to the stories of members of the LGBTQ+ community that have been there for us? Our teachers are some of the most amazing people that we’ll ever encounter. So I decided to do just that and have a talk with two of my favorites.
The first was Mr. Jacobson. He is the type of teacher that can make you comfortable with a single joke. You can always hear Mr. Jacobson praising Dr. Pepper or joking about “smoking crack”, which always gets his students laughing in class with the happiest, and slightly concerned, smiles. Here is what he has to say about being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. “My name is Eric Jacobson and I started working at ERHS as a tennis coach in ‘96 and as a full-time teacher in ‘98.” Mr. Jacobson, teacher of AP Psych and our school’s tennis coach, is known as one of our open staff members here at ERHS, but it wasn’t always like that. When he first started working here, he was closeted, mostly because he felt that being gay had nothing to do with teaching.
“It’s no one’s business to know what I am or what anyone else is. We’re just here to teach and learn,” he says. “But then I changed my mind about that. First of all, I could be a role model for other students who may be afraid of coming out. And also it's just a part of who I am. Why do I have to hide? It’s like the color of your skin or your ethnicity or anything else.”
When it came to changing from closeted to open, it wasn’t a hassle for him. He didn’t really come out; he just didn’t hide it anymore and the word got around. Students and co-workers began to realize and understand his orientation. Upon asking his students, it took me by surprise to find that he only started coming out to students last year. This reporter felt very honored to be a part of the first class to whom Mr. Jacobson came out.
When I asked Mr. Jacobson about how the times have changed since he started teaching he said there used to be a lot more slurs and put-downs calling people things like gay or fag.
“These are heinous words,” he said, looking down at his hands.
“When you're comfortable when you’re ready,” he continued, “It's going to be different for every person, but when that happens, be out because then more people feel safe coming out as well.”
Nancy Kissam is ERHS’ theatre and stage design teacher and theatre director and has been working at ERHS for six years. She came to ERHS open and has been open with her students for 10 years. When I asked what made her feel comfortable to come out to her students and co-workers, she said it was her environment.
“I used to teach middle school and I didn’t feel comfortable or safe coming out to inner-city middle school students, so when I started teaching that’s when I came out.” With a more mature setting, she felt more able to express her true self.
Once again, ERHS staff were very supportive of their LGBTQ+ members. The low amount of repression on campus shines a beautiful light on how times have changed and how we’ve become such an accepting society.
“It's even still a little awkward coming out because you never know how people are going to react. More often than not, it’s not a big deal. So what I feel is different is that I’m out since when I first started teaching with LAUSD,” Kissam says.
When I asked about possible challenges she faced as an educator and LGBTQ+ member, she said it was encouraging students to feel comfortable.
“I’d really like them to join SAGA (ERHS’ LGBTQ+ club) because it strengthens our club and makes us more visible and prominent on our campus.” She adds that some students may be fearful of word getting back to their families that they joined SAGA, which shouldn’t be a worry because SAGA is a confidential club that doesn’t share any information whatsoever to anyone unless the student is comfortable with that.
“It’s their safe space,” says Kissam.
The challenge of becoming more visible on campus is so big because with more exposure there is less stigma around sexuality which leads to more people feeling comfortable attending SAGA meetings and expressing themselves.
“If you feel comfortable, be vocal or just be present with yourselves and who you are because I think it just makes more people feel comfortable. It'd be great to have more of that exposure on campus,” Ms. Kissam said, finishing the interview with a warm conclusion.
ERHS is a very welcoming and accepting campus with amazing educators who are willing to share their experiences and to allow others to feel comfortable and heard. To all LGBTQ+ members, or anyone reading this in general, please know we are here to listen when you want to speak and will always be with open arms. You are loved, you are cared for, you are accepted. :D