“Ian McKellen Would Be Proud” Of Teacher Coming Out To Students On The First Day Of Class.

by Adam Sandel

My name is Adam Sandel and I’m originally from Hopkins, Minnesota.

When I moved to San Francisco in 2001 when I was officially coming out as a gay man, I didn’t know anyone but I just wanted to figure out a way to get to know what was going on in the community. I ended up becoming an arts writer for the Bay Area Reporter, which is our major gay newspaper, which gave me a chance to interview celebrities and see a lot of things and find out who is doing what. One of the people who I had the pleasure of interviewing was Ian McKellen. He had just had the big hit with the Lord of the Rings and he was brought out as the Grand Marshall for the Pride Parade that year.

I asked him why he thought it was important for public figures to come out. And he said that whenever there are people that people look up to or admire for any reason, when they come out it really helps the people that are struggling with it. And I thought that was a really meaningful way to look at it.

Flash forward a few months and, I’m a playwright and lyricist, and my songwriting partner and I had just written a show, and he said, “Let’s write a song for the Gay Games.”

Because the Gay Games, which is the big international athletic festival which also includes an art festival, was being done that year in Sydney, Australia. So I wrote the lyrics for a song and he wrote the music, for a song called, “Watch Me Shine.”

So suddenly I had a song and a play that were being done for the Gay Games in Sydney, so I decided I had to be there, I’ve got to get out for that. But I teach college at three community colleges so that meant that I had to explain to my three different deans, my employers, why I needed to leave for 10 days in the middle of the term. So basically I had to explain, what it was, that it was the Gay Games, and I basically had to come out to them. Well they were thrilled. And I thought I would leave it alone with my students, I just didn’t want to go there. I was out to friends, etc.

But then, one of the schools that I taught is in Livermore, which is a very conservative, rural area, it’s only 45 minutes from San Francisco. And I said to them, “Well, I’m going to be…you’re going to have a substitute for the next couple weeks.”

And they said, “Oh, why?”

“Well, I have a song and a play that’s being done at this festival.”

“Oh, what festival?”

And they were all excited and they kept drawing it out of me. I said, “Well, it’s called the Gay Games.”

And they were like, “Oh. Okay. Alright.”

So I’m like, I’m thinking, “Are we done with this?”

And then one of the students said, “Can we hear it? Can we hear the song?”

And I’m like, “Okay, alright.”

So I had it on the computer and I played the song for them, and I’m sitting there and all the kids in the baseball caps in Livermore are listening to my song “Watch Me Shine” and when it finished they applauded. And I thought, “Oh, okay. That was kind of weird, that was a little tough, but Ian McKellen would be proud of me.”

And when I realized that there was no negative response from the students about me saying I’m gay, now I come out the first day of class to all my classes. We do it with a game, which is a critically thinking game where I write four statements about myself on the board, three of them are true, one of them is false. And the statements that I use are, I have three daughters, I appeared in a commercial for athletic shoes, I’m gay, and I was born in Michigan. And they usually get caught up with the one between the three daughters and I’m gay, but I was married and I do have three daughters. They usually think one of them, those have to be wrong. A whole bunch of them don’t believe I was in a commercial for athletic shoes because they think I’m not Michael Jordan, I actually did it, in UCLA I was an extra, in a track scene. But as I just told you earlier, I’m from Minnesota.

So it’s a way of A) making it a fun game and it’s a great ice breaker, but once again I keep thinking of Ian McKellen because I know that there are students who may be struggling who are gay or lesbian or bi and aren’t out, and it puts them at ease, it says we can talk about anything on the first day. And a couple have come out in the process of our discussions, so making them feel comfortable by example, that’s something that I really learned but I had to do it first.

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