Exclusive: First GSA in India Speaks to Feminist Teacher, Ileana Jiménez

Students from Breaking Barriers, India's first student-led campaign to address LGBT issues in schools (photo courtesy: Shivanee Sen).

Students from Breaking Barriers, India’s first student-led campaign to address LGBT issues in schools marching in the Delhi Pride Parade in November 2013 (photo courtesy: Shivanee Sen).

“I’m trying to build a culture of compassion, understanding, and of service. I’m trying to build a culture of questioning the status quo.”

Inspiring words by Shivanee Sen, a young teacher I recently met at the Tagore International School in Delhi, where Sen is mentoring the first student-led campaign in India to address LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex) issues. In the U.S., Sen’s student group would be called a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance), but in India, it’s more like a revolution.

In just a little under six months, Sen has mobilized an energetic group of over 50 students to address issues of gender and sexuality in education and politics. What they have done in a short amount of time is more than what most established GSA’s in the U.S. do in years.

Called Breaking Barriers, Sen started her groundbreaking group during a conversation with her high school students about gender. Her initial goal was to inspire students to care about intersex individuals as well as the hijras, a community of transgender women, who are marginalized both socially and economically. What started as a discussion topic has turned into a national campaign that has gained the attention of the Indian media across the country.

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Exclusive Interview with Sarah Moon, Editor of The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to Their Younger Selves

The Letter Q is edited by Sarah Moon (image credit: Arthur A. Levine Books)

One of my favorite lines in Sarah Moon’s The Letter Q, which features letters written by queer writers to their younger selves, is one by Eileen Myles: “‘Cause right now you are in the dancing years of your life and if you like dancing at all—and I know you do—you should be doing it for yourself, feverishly and exhaustively.”

Moon’s collection, published this past spring by Arthur A. Levine, an imprint of Scholastic, aims to ensure that our queer students’ dancing years are just that, ones used for laughing, living, and loving instead of being bullied and harassed. Bringing together an impressive cadre of writers, from contemporary graphic to classic novelists, from writers of color to transgender authors, Moon sidesteps away from creating a literary pastiche of the It Gets Better Project and instead curates a collection that affirms the complexity and beauty of queer youth life and love.

As an educator who values bringing texts to the classroom that show our students the plurality of race, class, and gender, I was afraid these letters might be a bit white-washed, male, and cis-gender. However, the opposite is true. Gay white literary luminaries such as Michael CunninghamDavid LevithanTerrence McNally, and Paul Rudnick contributed, but Moon does not highlight any of her authors in particular; instead, each letter stands alone as an epistolary shot to the heart.

Authors such as LaShonda Katrice BarnettJewelle GomezJasika NicoleRakesh SatyalTony ValenzuelaLinda VillarosaJacqueline Woodson, and others share their stories of growing up queer and brown. Other writers acknowledge the fluidity of gender in childhood and the impact it made on their adult identities.Still others confess the emerging sexual desires of their teen years. These particular letters are sweet valentines to the precious adolescent fantasies that later scaffolded flourishing relationships.

A Spanish teacher at the progressive St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn, Moon has seen the insides of prison classrooms at Riker’s as well as those in private schools in Connecticut. A survivor of bullying in middle and high school, Moon has published a book that we can add not just to our school libraries and curricula but also to our growing list of favorite texts that remind us of both the fragility and sadness, humor and creativity of our own younger, queer selves. Sometimes a book like Moon’s is exactly what we need to make sure we take care of our young people to make it better now.

The following interview via email gives us a glimpse of Moon as editor, teacher, and preserver of not a few dancing years. Continue reading

Feminist Teacher Celebrates First Year Blogging

This weekend I’m celebrating the first year of founding and blogging at Feminist Teacher. When I created this blog, my goal was to carve out a space to share my work as a feminist high school teacher and for fellow feminist educators to find a space to talk about the role of feminism in schools. As part of celebrating my first year blogging, I’m taking a look back at 2010 and my work as a feminist educator-activist: