June is Pride month and we asked several of our Sound Discipline colleagues in the LGBTQIA+ communities to share the stories of their experience as educators and what it means to them to be a queer role model in schools.
Thank you Reid Kuennen, Sound Discipline Facilitator & Instructional Designer, for sharing this inspiring story of your work and journey!
Why do you work in education?
For me, youth work began with having not had the best experience with traditional school. I got to be a part of after school programs where there was a lot more creativity, freedom, and youth voice to create spaces we wanted. I met adult youth workers who equalized power with us, wanted to know us, and wanted to help us know ourselves and each other. What I got out of those experiences made me feel like I wanted to help other kids feel like that.
This feeling was the most powerful as a kid in summer camp. When I was 16, I began to train to be a mentor/counselor and that turned into lifelong youth work. The way I have engaged in youth work/education has evolved over the years. And now, doing the work to systemically transform school communities is my way of serving young people.
Did you have a queer elder to look up to as a youth?
There were rumors that two of my elementary school teachers were queer. So, while they couldn’t be out and speak about their identities (it was a very real fear at that time that teachers could lose their licenses for being queer), I still consider them queer elders/mentors.
3 summers ago I got to lead a Sound Discipline training in my childhood school district. I met incredible, dedicated teachers there that made me see that a lot has changed. I wound up asking if they knew those two teachers from my elementary school. Not only did they know and love these (now retired) educators, they shared that they are indeed queer, married and out now!
This was a profoundly corrective experience for me to see how much has changed and to genuinely claim them as mentors/elders. But it was also a moment of grief for me knowing that I had so many other teachers who got to speak openly about their lives and partners in a way that my queer teachers could not. What would it have been like if little Reid had gotten to see more examples of what life could be like? What would it have been like for them to not have to hide a huge part of themselves?
What does it mean to you to be a queer elder in a school space?
Although Washington State and the Seattle area are relatively friendly LGBTQIA+ areas, I still have to do a “safety-check algorithm” each time I mention my partner or ask folks to use they/them pronouns for me. So, we “come out” every day, and it’s never without a wonder about if I’m safe here. Overall, I generally feel safe, and it also still feels like a big deal to be a queer educator.
In my role at Sound Discipline, I’m proud to be an example to other educators and young people as well. I can be another out person in school spaces and create safety, normalcy, and celebration. I get to show up and be seen by young folks who are learning about themselves, each other and the plethora of options and ways of being that are in the world.
What’s one thing you did to celebrate Pride month this year?
My sweetie and I went to Long Beach, Washington to celebrate Summer Solstice. We got to go to Long Beach Pride, and march the streets with about 60 other queer, trans, and allied folks, which was amazing. We had a sign that said, “Just happy to be here (and queer)”. A local high school band played I’m Comin’ Out on loop. It was beautiful.