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It gets better: 'What are we going to do right now?'

A few months before Jamey Rodemeyer killed himself, he posted a video on YouTube -- a message of hope for gay and lesbian kids, talking about how it gets better. Here it is, in case you haven't already seen it -- and even if you have (it's worth watching again):

We know now that, despite Jamey's assertion at that time, somehow, it didn't get better for him. It got far worse.

The question now is how to make sure it does get better for countless other kids.

In today's story, we hear from gay and lesbian teachers about what the school climate is like for them.

Some of them are out at school, with no problem. Others would never dream of living that way. One teacher told me that from the day he was hired in his district (more than a decade ago), he has lived in daily fear that a student or parent would find out he's gay.

This is hardly a new issue.

Many teachers and administrators have told me that they think coming out at school would likely be a career-killer. One lesbian principal, now retired, told me she would bring a male "date" with her to every school and district function -- and leave her longtime female partner at home.

In another district, a gay administrator -- who is out to some people in school circles -- at one point put his name in the ring for a superintendency, but did not get the job. The buzz in the boardroom was that no district would hire a gay superintendent.

The climate, of course, is more welcoming for gay and lesbian teachers and administrators in some schools than in others.

But in the aftermath of Jamey Rodemeyer's suicide, with all the attention being paid to student bullying, it's hard not to wonder how schools could be safe places for gay students if gay teachers are not comfortable there.

The school climate is shared by everyone in it: adults as well as kids.

In the past few weeks, there's been plenty of attention focused on how to combat bullying in the schools. For example, Williamsville Superintendent Scott Martzloff met with 150 parents and others in the community a couple weeks ago to tackle that issue:

Martzloff spoke passionately about the district's desire to figure out what happened and take steps "so that it never happens to another child ever again."

Much to his credit, he opened a dialogue with the community. Somehow, though, during this meeting sparked by the suicide of a teen who was bullied for his sexual orientation, there seemed to be hardly a mention of the specific core problem Jamey dealt with: hostility over his sexual orientation.

It's great that schools -- in Williamsville and elsewhere -- are talking about ways to stop bullying. But that seems a little like giving cough syrup to a chronic smoker with emphysema. Unless the underlying issue is addressed, the symptoms will never stop appearing.

Philip A. Jarosz, a math teacher at Kenmore West, sang to me the praises of his school's atmosphere for all people, including those who are gay or lesbian. He talked about the importance of building a culture that respects all kinds of people.

"I think there's a certain bravery to it, a bravery that says we are going to stand up for this and we are going to stand up against whatever intolerance there is -- end of story, whatever that may be: religion, race, sexual identity, gender," he said.

Like Jarosz, Amber Buday, a GED teacher in Buffalo, is out at school.

Some gay and lesbian students specifically ask to be in her class because they know they will find safety there. That is one small piece of a landscape that must be much larger, she says.

"Here's the thing: It does get better. But someone needs to make it better for you right now," she said. "It gets better the minute you come talk to me -- because I'm not 14, and I'm not going to let it slide. We can't ask these kids to just hold out for five years. So what are we going to do right now?"

It's not a rhetorical question.

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/SchoolZoneBlog    [email protected]

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee | [email protected]


Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes | [email protected]


Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone | [email protected]


Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB | [email protected]

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