As progressive as Metro Atlanta is, Black LGBTQ students should be more supported. Supporting them starts with Black LGBTQ teachers being embraced and supported. Brian Coleman is a Black male teacher in Chicago who shared his story to the Chicago Unheard. Black LGBTQ students and teachers in Atlanta need empowerment and advocacy too.
I’m a Black Gay Man, and Supporting LGBTQ+ Kids Is Important to Me
Chicago Unheard: As the parent of a transgender daughter, I can tell you that Jones has a very strong reputation in the community for supporting LGBTQ+ students. How did it get there? How did you help?
Brian Coleman: That brings tears to my eyes, to be honest. It means a lot to me that Jones is known to be a welcoming space. It’s a very important piece of what brought me to this work.
When I started here there was a GSA [Gay-Straight Alliance]. I will never forget one of the first conversations I had here, with a student who said, “But I’m not gay or straight, so how is this an organization for me?”
That was a beautiful moment of learning for me and I realized we needed a rebrand to make a change. I immediately became the sponsor of the organization we had known as our GSA. We’ve been through some different names based on what spoke to students. About two years ago we rebranded to Jones Pride. I think that’s something students can get behind.
I came into Jones expecting students to want more of an advocacy organization. What I found was students wanted a safe and affirming space to talk about issues important to them. It was a good fit. In addition to our [Jones Pride] group, I ran a counseling group for students (Exploring Gender and Sexuality) where students could get structured support for the coming-out process. Over time a lot of that morphed into Jones Pride.
A lot of my work has also been helping rebrand counseling. I’m a Black gay man, I’m a big personality and from Day One I said, “Supporting gay and gender non-conforming kids is important to me.” Students come up and tell me, “I heard about you before I got here.” I have facilitated many conversations between students and their counselors here. I don’t think prior to me participating in the counseling function did students think, “Oh, these are issues I could explore with my counselor.”
Staff struggle to know how to talk in an open and affirming way about choices and decisions students are making related to gender and sexuality. Those are many conversations I’ve had with our staff. Comprehensive sex education is a program we are still trying to get established across our school communities.
Chicago Unheard: Tell me more about the changes to the sex education curriculum at Jones. Is there interest in sharing what you’ve developed with other Chicago high schools?
Brian Coleman: When I arrived, comprehensive sexual health education was offered to freshmen and given through outside providers. Students would say, “What about us—gender and sexual minority students?”
Jones Pride members talked with the sophomore student government association. They took it to administration and the P.E. department. Then the adults came to me and said, “Mr. Coleman, can you help us figure this out?” That’s not something I can say no to. The sophomore student government association wanted content on gender and sexual identity development, healthy relationships and laws related to sexual violence.
CPS and the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance have created this incredible K-12 curriculum for schools to be using. I got trained on the full curriculum and found relevant options for the sophomores—healthy relationships, sexual violence. I said, “I can support this, but this has to be schoolwide, and I need more staff. Mr. Coleman will not be teaching comprehensive sex education to the entire sophomore class.” I put out a call to staff, and eight people were willing to get trained and help teach. Over a few days, 470 or so sophomores received three hours straight of curriculum provided by a duo of teachers. This year we’re revising the model to build a partnership between last year’s team and the P.E. department.
People in education want to do right by students. When you hear from students, “This is how you can support us,” it’s much easier to gain traction for new programming.
Chicago Unheard tells the untold stories of struggle and success in Chicago Public Schools. We are a space for parents, students, teachers and everyone with a stake in improving public schools to share their experiences and weigh in on policy, politics and practice in Chicago’s public schools.
Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.