Discussing his sexuality with a group of 12-year-olds wasn’t something this Indianapolis teacher particularly wanted to do in his first year of teaching.
So Jack Hesser, a second-year science teacher in Indianapolis, decided to dance around the subject, dropping little crumbs. But then the slurs started creeping in. “That’s so gay.” “You’re so gay.” “Don’t be a queer.”
Instead of lecturing, Hesser used that opportunity to teach about the history of the gay community, and why words and phrases like the ones his students were using were offensive, Hesser said at a story slam sponsored by Chalkbeat, Teachers Lounge Indy, WFYI Public Media and the Indianapolis Public Library.
Then a student shouted out: “You’re just saying that because you’re a faggot.”
Hesser was speechless.
He spoke to the student, and her parents, and neither conversation went well. The language in class kept getting more volatile, then in a heated debate one day, several students started saying “faggot.”
That’s where he cracked and decided to open up to his class.
“That word offends me because I’m a part of that community,” Hesser said he told them. “It bothers me because it’s not an abstract friend of a family member — it’s me. That’s why it bothers me.”
Within a few weeks, the whole seventh grade knew about Hesser’s sexuality. It got better, for the most part.
Then he got a phone call that, again, left him speechless. It was a parent, calling to say her son didn’t feel comfortable in Hesser’s classroom. She wanted to switch her son to another science teacher, but it ended up not being realistic.
“I don’t think you’re fit to be around children,” she ended up telling Hesser.
Now in his second year of teaching, Hesser is struggling with the same thing all over again. Does he tell his class about his sexuality? He remembers being on the verge of tears after that parent phone call. He didn’t want to have to deal with that again.
When a student on the tennis team Hesser coaches brought up that another student said he “acts gay,” but that it’s OK because they knew he wasn’t gay, Hesser didn’t know how to reply.
He walked the students through what it meant to act gay and told them that in 2017, it was OK to be gay. But he didn’t reveal his sexuality. He was still afraid of potential push-back.
Looking back on that, Hesser said he wishes he had came out to those students. Balancing his job and his sexuality is still something he struggles with.
“I wish this story had a better closing, but it’s something I’m still struggling with and having conversations about,” Hesser said. “Is there a best way to do this? At what point do you make the decision to be brave? Because that’s what it takes.”
Watch Hesser’s full story here: