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 Kelsey Peronto for sharing this inspiring story of your work and journey!
Why do you work in education?
I work in education because young people inspire me, and they deserve to be supported and bolstered in their self-discovery. My background is working with young folks who have experienced trauma, and I’m driven to help change systems to better meet their needs. Young people are imaginative, expansive, sensitive, kind, creative, clever, and opinionated–these gifts can get squashed out of them in systems that aren’t designed with their whole selves in mind.
The education system belongs to young people, and it should be FOR them. ALL of them. We’re not there yet, and there are a lot of compassionate people working hard to create a world where all young people feel that they authentically matter and belong, exactly as they are. As long as this work is needed, I want to be doing it.
Did you have a queer elder to look up to as a youth?
I didn’t really have a queer elder to look up to as a youth. I grew up in a suburb where status was really important – while I had a really happy childhood and a lot of belonging within my family, it wasn’t an environment that encouraged a lot of diverse self-expression.
I have a memory of a teacher of mine ridiculing another staff member at my high school because she perceived them to be gay–I suspect there were many queer elders who didn’t have the safety to be out then, and lots of queer kids who felt ashamed, lonely, or invisible with few grown-ups to look up to.
I’m sure there were plenty of youth like me, too, who didn’t even realize they were queer until adulthood. I was a baby perfectionist who loved the rules and making people happy–it just never even crossed my mind as a possible shape my life could take until my world opened up a lot and I grew into my own authentic self (at 33, folks–it’s never too late!).
What does it mean to you to be a queer elder in a school space?
Honestly, this is a really challenging question for me. The young people I work with today feel so much braver and wiser than I ever felt at their age, and still feel now. I came into my queerness as an adult, and identifying a fundamental truth about yourself in adulthood is a strange and jarring experience. I’ve spent more of my life thinking that I’m straight rather than realizing I’m gay – it was always part of me, but it was like it didn’t matter until it REALLY mattered.
Stepping into my queerness is the greatest gift I ever gave myself, and the happiness it brings me is something everyone deserves. So with all that in mind, when I think of the young people I love and the ones I love working with, I hope they experience safety, optimism, humor, and affirmation with me. I hope they see that they can evolve and change and live in a way they didn’t expect. I hope they feel the immense joy and peace that I carry with me now and see that as a possibility for themselves, whatever shape their lives may take.
As a queer elder, I feel a responsibility to push school spaces beyond ‘acceptance’ and ‘tolerance’ and toward genuine belonging, autonomy, and liberation for students in all of their intersectional identities –queer, Black, indigenous, immigrant, transgender, disabled, religious, and everywhere in between.
What’s one thing you did to celebrate Pride month this year?
I spent quality time with my queer family, including a rainy Pride BBQ in my best friend’s backyard, an OL Reign game with my parents and my partner’s parents, and daily snuggles with my partner and our two dogs (my favorite way to celebrate every month of the year).