Navigating the heteronormative public education system: lesbian and gay educators' experiences in educational leadership

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The experiences of lesbian and gay (LG) administrators in school and district-level positions are different than their heterosexual counterparts, not just because their social lenses are different, but because the

The experiences of lesbian and gay (LG) administrators in school and district-level positions are different than their heterosexual counterparts, not just because their social lenses are different, but because the policies and climates of the communities where they work has a significant impact on their relationships with stakeholder groups in the schools/offices. In this qualitative study I document and analyze the stories of LG educators, how they navigate their professional relationships, how they evolve as leaders, and their understanding of how their choices to be out or not have influenced their careers and professional relationships. The study also explores how performativity and sexuality relate to the professional relationships of the participants. Finally, the leaders' stories provide insight into the experiences of marginalized groups of professionals whose stories are often absent from the professional and research literatures on school administration. These eight school and district administrators live in the Southwestern and Northwest, many of them are out at work and a few are not. They range in age from mid-20s to late 50s, and their experiences as educational leaders spans from just one year to over 25 years. The participants sat for two to three interviews each over the course of approximately four months. The names of the participants, institutions, and specific communities have been changed to maintain confidentiality. I found that all the participants' relationships with stakeholders groups and individuals were impacted to varying degrees by fear - specifically the fear that results from the heteronormative rules, biases, and expectations of the public school system. The heteronormativity of the public education system is often a reflection of its community's belief system, as well as a reflection of the larger, more unconscious heteronormative belief system that shapes schools and educational leadership, a leader's professional capacity, and the relationships that are critical to being an effective leader. Essentially, the heteronormative fear reflected in the policies and practices of a community, an educational institution, and its members has a dramatic effect on the decisions and relationships that educational leaders have with key stakeholder groups on both an unconscious and conscious level.