Reading, Writing, & Religion

English Language Arts & Queer Christian Musings

A Theological Case for Marriage Equality

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On June 26, 2015, the United States made marriage equality legal in its Obergefell v. Hodges decision. Many churches still oppose same-sex relationships, let alone same-sex marriages. They base their belief on a handful of verses from the Old and New Testaments.

First, let us reflect on some of the relationships featured in the Bible. Opposite-sex relationships from the Old Testament include Adam and Eve, Abraham and his two wives Sarah and Hagar, Ruth and Boaz, and David and his multiple wives and concubines. In the New Testament we have Peter and his unnamed wife in the gospels as well as Priscilla and Aquila in the Book of Acts. Potential same-sex relationships from the Bible include Jonathan and David from the Old Testament and Jesus and his beloved disciple in the New Testament. A remarkable amount of people from the New Testament are either single or their marital status is never revealed. Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha along with most of the disciples and Paul are just some examples of single or ambiguously married people.

The New Testament portrays a union between two loving, committed people as an ideal marriage. When some Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce, he says, “So they [the married couple] are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matthew 19:6). When two people join together in a committed, loving relationship, they form one unit. The vows between the couple are powerful, but Jesus explains that God is the One who performs the magical union of two human hearts. Two people find each other, but God joins them together. This leads us to ask this question: Can a same-sex couple be blessed by God? When a same-sex couple falls in love, did God have a hand in their union? Or can a blessing and union only take place after a marriage, which has been off limits to same sex couples for most of recorded history?

When the Bible was written, an understanding of homosexuality as we know it today did not exist, according to Matthew Vines in God and the Gay Christian. Sexual orientation was not understood. Instead, people assumed everyone was capable of being attracted to men and women. They did not know that some men are wired to only be attracted to other men and some women are wired to only be attracted to other women.

Interestingly, Jesus never talks about same-sex attraction or same-sex couples in any of the gospels. It is Paul in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy who deems certain sexual acts unacceptable, coining the words malakoi and arsenokoitai to characterize them. These words have been difficult to translate because their context and history cannot be fully determined.

arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9

Word / PhrasesTranslationPublication Year
buggerersGeneva Bible1599
abusers of themselves with mankindKing James Version (KJV)1611
abusers of themselves with menAmerican Standard Version (ASV)1901
sexual pervertsRevised Standard Version (RSV)1952, 1971
homosexualsNew American Standard Bible (NASB)1960
men who have sex with menNew International Version (NIV)1978
sodomitesNew Revised Standard Version (NRSV)1989
anyone practicing homosexualityHolman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)1999
men who practice homosexualityEnglish Standard Version (ESV)2001

In the examples in the above table, notice how the oldest translation do not use the word homosexual, using broader phrases instead: buggerers, abusers of themselves with mankind / men, sexual perverts. Newer translations focus more on actions of gay people instead of identity, describing the so-called sin as “anyone practicing homosexuality,” [emphasis added] as opposed to someone being gay. This seems to imply the translators are more aware that gay people do exist—specifically, gay Christians—and are born that way, but still wish for them to remain celibate and alone for their entire lives, which seems cruel and unreasonable.

Historical and cultural context provide more insight into what malakoi and arsenokoitai probably meant: male masters taking advange of their male slaves, men using male temple prostitutes, and men indulging in sex with other men (sometimes with boys) beyond what they already had with women. None of these scenarios include what we know today as gay women and men in loving, committed relationships.

Which leads us back to the question at hand: Does God approve of same-sex marriage? Our Holy One created humankind. Our Holy One created love. Our Holy One blesses relationships between two people who join together in love, who care for one another as much if not more than they care for themselves. Who does same-sex love hurt? No one. Who hurts if same-sex marriage is banned? Millions. (According to an October 2019 USA Today article, roughly 11 million Americans are LGBTQ.)

Furthermore, Jesus relegates marriage to only a brief time on Earth. When in heaven, people will be children of God or like the angels. They will no longer be married. In Luke Chapter 20, verses 34 and 35, Jesus tells some Sadducees, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage;  but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Jesus’ cavalier attitude toward marriage indicates his acceptance that while on Earth, humans will fall in love and want to get married. In heaven, however, such a desire will no longer exist. Being with God will be enough.  Therefore, it stands to reason that Jesus would be accepting of the love between a same-sex couple and would not mind if they were married. They are humans just like straight couples.

It is better to err on the side of love than hate when deciding that marriage equality is blessed by God. The so-called clobber verses from the Old and New Testaments are from a time period and culture that did not fully understand LGBTQ people. Just as the Bible concludes without ever condemning slavery and we now all agree that slavery is wrong, the Bible also concludes without ever blessing marriage equality, even though that is the correct stance with the knowledge we have today. God loves the rainbow. God loves all people. God affirms the humanity of LGBTQ people, and our Holy One blesses same-sex unions.

As my pastor Reverend Lori Walke once said, we should use love to interpret scripture, not scripture to interpret love. Even so, I will conclude with one more verse in which the writer of Song of Solomon attempts to explain the power of love:

Many waters cannot quench love,

    neither can floods drown it.

If one offered for love

    all the wealth of one’s house,

    it would be utterly scorned. (8:7)

In this verse, love trumps everything else on Earth. The love between a same-sex couple is just as powerful, mysterious, valid, and consuming as the love between an opposite-sex couple. If a same-sex couple wishes to marry, they should have that right, afforded to them by their government but also blessed by God.

And just for funsies and a bit of blasphemy, here’s a passage of scripture that doesn’t exist but totally should:


The Gospel according to
Chapter 13: 1-6

1As Jesus and his disciples were passing through Galilee, religious leaders brought before them two men, a Galilean and a Samaritan.

2“These men live together as if they were husband and wife,” the leaders said. “Should we ban them from our city as the law requires?”

3Jesus turned to the men and asked, “Do you love God, your neighbors, and one another?”

4“Yes,” the men said.

5“I will perform your wedding ceremony if no one else will,” Jesus said.

6And the religious leaders and disciples were amazed at what they heard.

A Fibonacci Poem Lesson

I became the Director of Secondary English Language Arts for the Oklahoma State Department of Education in July 2018. My friends have often asked me, “Do you miss the classroom?” I certainly miss getting to teach students, and I recently had an opportunity to teach a lesson at my former school district of thirteen years.

Katy Carmincke invited me to be a guest teacher for her Creative Writing 2 students at Deer Creek High School. I taught some of these students in Creative Writing 1 two years ago. I immediately knew I would teach a poem of some kind. I landed on Sherman Alexie’s Fibonacci sequence poem “Requiem for a Pay Phone,” published in Shampoo in 2009. I liked this as a mentor text because of its surprising and strange organization of stanzas based on syllable growth and reduction. Take a read:

I wanted my lesson to be as student-driven as possible, so I developed a lesson with an inquiry approach. As far as handouts, I needed the original poem, and then I created another handout that included the poem with alternate line and stanza breaks, an explanation of the Fibonacci sequence, and some definitions for requiem and elegy.

The day of the lesson was a Friday. I arrived at the end of lunch, a couple minutes before the bell rang for class. Mrs. Carmincke introduced me to her students, and then I took over. The class was fifty minutes long.

I began the lesson by explaining that we would be studying a poem. First, I wanted students to simply listen to it, to focus on its content. (I didn’t want them to get distracted by the unique structure quite yet.) I read the poem aloud, and then asked students to turn and talk with a neighbor about what they noticed about the poem’s speaker and anything else about the poem. Then we shared out as a whole class. One student said, “So it’s gonna be one of those poems.” I nudged her to explain more. “You know, like it’s a romance thing. He likes her and doesn’t want her to get with other guys,” she said.

Then I passed out the original poem to students. Now they could see the Fibonacci structure, even if they didn’t know the formula quite yet. I wanted them to discover that on their own. Once everyone had a copy of the poem, I said we needed to hear the poem again. Since students had already heard me read, I felt confident that a student could now read it fairly well. I asked for a volunteer and got one. She was one of my former students who sometimes had a stutter, but she read the poem smoothly. Then I asked students to use their pencils, pencils, and/or highlighters to annotate the poem. “Mark anything that stands out to you, that you are curious about,” I said. Once they had had some time on their own, I asked them to compare their notes with a partner and to add any further annotations to the poem. Then we shared aloud as a whole class.

Students pointed out a number of things:

  • the way the stanzas get bigger and then smaller
  • the use of “all that” at the beginning and end of the poem
  • how the beginning and ending of the poem are the most powerful
  • the wonderful phrase “mosquito dark”
  • theories on who the speaker was–including wondering if he was a psychotic ex or if he was engaging in self sabotage
  • how the broken lines and stanzas reinforce an idea of cut-up thoughts
  • how the pay phone could be a symbol for a deep desire

Students had not gotten precise enough about the Fibonacci sequence yet, so I asked them to count the number of syllables in each stanza. I modeled a couple lines for them: “All–one. That–one. Autumn–two. I walked from–three. Now look at the bottom of the poem. Is there a pattern you see?” I asked. As students continued to count and label the stanza’s syllables, the room buzzed louder with energy and excitement. “At this point do you even need to count the syllables for the longest stanzas?” I asked. “All you need to do is some basic math: 13 plus 21 is…34.”

By this point, the class period was winding down. We had been interrupted by the intercom for the principal to announce the school’s teacher of the year. I had been so involved in the lesson that I had not been paying attention to time. We only had about fifteen minutes left. I had to abandon my plan to have students determine a definition for what a requiem was.

Now that students had investigated the Fibonacci sequences, I wanted to show them the poem in a different format. I had reformatted it to reflect a more traditional structure with relatively equal line lengths organized into five stanzas:

I passed out the second handout and asked students to compare and contrast the two different versions. Students agreed that the original poem by Alexie had more emotion and that his structure helped to create a more interesting and relatable speaker. I had had a guiding question prepared for this (How do the Fibonacci breaks affect/change/impact the poem?), but students basically got there on my own without any nudging.

Finally, I had students brainstorm some ways to use this poem as some inspiration for their own writing. I stressed to them they did not have to respond by writing a poem; they could write anything. I felt that an obvious answer would be to write a requiem for another inanimate object, but none of the students landed on that. Instead, they came up with these four ideas:

  1. Through prose, write the back story that informs this poem.
  2. Use a specific/unique form of structure to create emotion in a piece of writing.
  3. Write the scene of dialogue for the very last time the speaker called and learned to let go. (Students had decided this was a doomed relationship.)
  4. Write another Fibonacci sequence poem from the perspective of the person being called.

At some point toward the end of the lesson, as students continued to theorize about the obsessive and perhaps creepy nature of the poem’s speaker, I could not help but reveal to them that Sherman Alexie has admitted to harassing women. This news broke during the #MeToo movement, and I was absolutely devastated to hear the news. I wrote my master’s paper over Alexie. As a class, we talked about what it means to like an author or actor’s work versus the author or actor themself. Bill Cosby came up as an example.

We concluded the class with a group picture. I was struck with how very quickly the fifty minutes flew by. We didn’t even have time to write anything in response, which I really would have liked. If this were my classroom, we would have taken some time the following class period to write in response to “Requiem for a Pay Phone.” Alas, I had to bid farewell, but it was so wonderful to be back in the classroom, albeit for less than an hour.

Creative Writing 2 students at Deer Creek High School

The Monkey’s Paw Lesson

It’s October (or “spooky szn” in Internet speak), so English teachers might be selecting some suspenseful short stories and poems for their students to read and study. Edgar Allan Poe is typically analyzed around this time of year. When I taught sophomore English, my students and I read “The Pit and the Pendulum,” a terrifying account of the Spanish inquisition.

Somehow in my thirteen years in the classroom, I never read W. W. Jacob’s 1902 classic horror story “The Monkey’s Paw.” I recently worked with some English teachers to develop a lesson plan on it, so I thought it might be helpful to share my process with you.

First, I read and annotated the story. Actually, I found an audio version of the story on YouTube and treated the story like a book on tape from my childhood.

I could have predicted which objectives I could teach with this short story, but that is risky. It’s best to read the story first to determine which objectives to teach with it. The school was using a StudySync version of the story, which I discovered was different from the original text, which I accessed from CommonLit. As I read / listened to the story, I had a number of thoughts and questions, including:

  • The setting really is a dark and stormy night.
  • Does the son always beat the father at chess?
  • Sergeant-major Morris has three drinks before he tells the monkey’s paw story. I wonder if he has PTSD from his time in the army.
  • What were Morris’s three wishes? Why didn’t anyone in the White family ask him about his wishes?
  • The son (Herbert) does not believe the monkey’s paw can grant his father’s wish.
  • Why did Mrs. White so eagerly let a stranger into their home?
  • Maw and Meggins must be the name of the factory where Herbert works.
  • Why didn’t Mr. and Mrs. White cry when they learned Herbert died?
  • I would totally burn the monkey’s paw after Herbert’s death.
  • Does Mrs. White blame her husband for Herbert’s death?
  • How old was Herbert?
  • The story ends somewhat ambiguously.

By using the CommonLit version, I not only had access to the full text, but I also had access to vocabulary, twelve guiding questions, eight assessment questions, and three discussion questions.

  • There were fifty terms defined, but I picked one that was most crucial that I would introduce to students: talisman.
  • Of the eight assessment questions, two of them (#3 & #4) helped me to notice a shift in the story’s mood/tone. I began to wonder how I could make that more concrete for middle school students.
  • I liked the discussion questions okay, but I thought of another one I liked better and seemed more relevant to students and the story: How do we know when we can trust someone?
    • Should the Whites have trusted Morris’s story about the monkey’s paw?
    • Should Mrs. White have trusted Mr. White to make a wish?
    • Should Herbert have trusted in the power of the monkey’s paw?
    • Should Herbert have trusted his employer to provide a safe working environment?
    • Should Mrs. White have trusted Mr. White to make a better wish?


Since I was partnering with seventh grade English teachers, I referenced the OAS for ELA and identified some objectives that could be taught with the story. Since two of the objectives contained multiple concepts, I further narrowed the focus of the lesson to focus on plot, theme, and tone.

  • 7.3.R.3: Students will analyze how key literary elements contribute to the meaning of the literary work:
    • setting
    • plot
    • characters (i.e., protagonist, antagonist)
    • characterization
    • theme
    • conflict (i.e., internal and external)
  • 7.3.R.4: Students will evaluate literary devices to support interpretations of literary texts:
    • simile
    • metaphor
    • personification
    • onomatopoeia
    • hyperbole
    • imagery
    • symbolism
    • tone
    • irony*

*Students will find textual evidence when provided with examples.


Then I hopped online to see what other resources I could find on “The Monkey’s Paw.” 

Slate has a version of the story with some engaging illustrations that could be displayed while reading the story.

YouTube has the two segments from The Simpsons version of “The Monkey’s Paw,” which was part of its Treehouse of Horror II episode back on Halloween 1991:

YouTube also has a thirty-minute movie adaptation (2011):

I was struck by how different the ending of the movie adaptation was compared to the original text. I decide to incorporate one more objective into the lesson:

  • 7.7.R.1: Students will compare and contrast the effectiveness of techniques used in a variety of written, oral, visual, digital, non-verbal, and interactive texts to generate and answer literal, interpretive, and applied questions to create new understandings.

The K20 Center has two lesson plans:

With all of these thoughts and resources swimming through my mind, I began to brainstorm a rough outline of how I would teach this story in a seventh grade classroom over the course of three days.

Day 1

I would begin by sharing a fable from Aesop, “The Old Man & Death.” I would display it on my screen / TV or write it on the board.

The Old Man & Death

An Old Man, bent double with age and toil, was gathering sticks in a forest. At last he grew so tired and hopeless that he threw down the bundle of sticks, and cried out: “I cannot bear this life any longer. Death come and take me!” As he spoke, Death appeared and said to him: “What do you want Old Man? I heard you call me.” “Please, sir,” replied the Old Man, “would you kindly help me lift this load of sticks on to my shoulder?”

I would invite students to work with a partner to think about what the fable’s moral or lesson was. Hopefully, students would infer that that we don’t always want or get what we wish. This foreshadows the short story and one of its themes. Also, fables are on the list of genres students are to study as found on page 89 of the standards booklet.

Then we would begin reading the story. The goal would be to finish reading Part 1 by the end of class. I would provide some context about the setting (England, early 20th century), British crown rule of India, and chess. Since the text is fairly formal and elevated, I would either read it aloud myself or play the audio for students. I would occasionally pause the story to check for understanding, and I would also pause to have students turn and talk to one another about the plot and characters–to make inferences and predictions. Also, I would create a chart to keep track of the wishes when we came to that part of the story. 

We would conclude the first day by writing down a prediction as to how the story would end. After students finished their predictions, we would share some aloud. Then I would have students go back into the text to find some textual evidence to back up their predictions.

Day 2

Depending on the ability level of students, I could have them read Parts 2 and 3 on their own. Of course, I could also continue to read aloud to them or play the audio. Students almost always prefer for me to read to them. As we finished the story, we could complete the chart from yesterday. We could also have a discussion about what Mr. White’s final wish was.

To process a major plot point of the story (7.3.R.3), I would engage students in a modified version of the Four Corners activity from the K20 Center. Around the room before class, I would hang pieces of paper that read:

  • Sergeant-Major Morris
  • Mr. White
  • Herbert
  • Maw and Meggins

Then I would ask students, “Who is most to blame for Herbert’s death?” Students would reflect on their answer for a minute or so before I told them to vote with their feet and stand by the piece of paper that aligned with their choice. Once in their groups, students would discuss with one another why they voted the way they did. They would also need to decide on the best reason shared in the group. After a couple minutes of sharing, I would ask a spokesperson from each group to explain one of their group’s reasons. Then students would return back to their seats.

To teach students about tone (7.3.R.4), I would focus on the shift I mentioned earlier, which takes place at the end of Part 1 (ominous) and the start of Part 2 (cheerful). To begin, I would pass out some words from that passage to students. I could have the words on index cards or just plain computer paper strips. Working with a partner, students would perform a Card Sort to categorize the words into two different groups. I would have students share aloud what they noticed and how they categorized the two groups. Then I would invite students back into the text to see the words in better context. I would ask them what they noticed and wondered about the differences in the tones of these passages. Students could record their notices and wonders in their notebooks. I might consider asking these questions if my students did not ask something similar:

  • What is the effect of this change in tone?
  • How does the cheerful tone at the start of Part 2 fit with the rest of the story?
  • What would happen to the story if the tones were switched?

Day 3

These final two activities may not take an entire class period, but they are an important way to wrap up the story and make connections to another standard.

Reflecting back on the story, students would write for five minutes to answer this thematic question (7.3.R.3): How do we know when we can trust someone? I would want students to reference at least one character from the story in their answer, but they could also use their own life experience. I would give students time to share with a partner and then invite 2-3 students to share with the whole class. To extend this activity, I could model how to write a claim about “The Monkey’s Paw,” which answers this question about trust. This would address 7.3.W.3, an objective I did not initially plan to teach with this story.

The final activity involves a multimodal text (7.7.R.1). I would show the last three minutes of the movie adaptation, starting at the 25:00 mark. Then I would ask students to compare and contrast the two endings: the movie version and the text version. They could use a Venn Diagram to take notes on how the plot (7.3.R.3) is similar and different. After sharing aloud some responses, we could move into a discussion about the adaptation’s choices. Possible questions include:

  • Why was the movie’s ending more concrete than the text’s ending?
  • What do the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. White add to the movie’s adaptation?
  • What is gained by the ambiguity of the original text’s ending?
  • Which ending was better? Why?

You can also access my Google Slideshow here.

Straights Only

I’ve had three reminders recently that we live in a very heteronormative world. Straight is the default, and that’s what media usually privileges. We see it in movies and hear it in songs: boys like girls, and girls like boys. Of course, we gays have the occasional movie like Love, Simon (sweet) and Boy Erased (sad), and more and more young adult fiction features queer characters. But despite those examples, straight is the default, and sometimes that’s just exhausting to encounter over and over again.

On one of my drives to work this week, I was listening to a local radio station. The DJs were talking about how Jason Momoa had shaved off his beard for a new movie role. I have only seen him as a host for Saturday Night Live.

Bearded Jason Momoa
Beardless Jason Momoa

The DJs were arguing over which version of Jason they preferred. Did the beard add to his looks? Now the DJs were a man and a woman, and they were both discussing Jason’s beard or lack thereof, but in the end, the woman DJ said, “Tell us on social media what you think, ladies!” I had been enjoying the conversation until then. I was actually thinking it was pretty cool that the (straight) male DJ had engaged in conversation about a man’s looks. But hearing the woman DJ include only women in the online discussion was a reminder to me that as a gay man, I’m different. I’m in the minority. It feels nice to be included, and let me tell you, I’m sure lots of gay men (especially bearded ones like me) have opinions about Jason Momoa’s facial hair.

Another heteronormative reminder happened last night at a concert. I went with a friend to hear My So Called Band plays some 90s covers at Tower Theater. We stood down front like true fans. When my friend visited the bathroom, the band was singing “I Try” by Macy Gray, a song I vividly remember her performing on SNL in the 90s and wondering what I even just heard. Somehow all these years later, I remembered most of the words.

Directly behind me was a trio of twenty-somethings: a bearded guy and two blonde girls. Just like me, they were singing along at the tops of their lungs. I’m not sure what gave them the courage, but one of them tapped me on my shoulder to get me to join them. We started doing hand motions to the lyrics while singing along and were having a great time. The guy and I talked about the song a little bit (which is how I found out his age). Then he leaned into me and said, “What a babe!” nodding his head toward the female singer.

My So Called Band

I made a split-second decision and decided not to out myself to this stranger. I can’t remember if I just nodded or said “Uh-huh.” The moment passed quickly, but part of me was disappointed that I had closeted myself. It really didn’t feel worth it to tell this (handsome) bearded twenty-something that he, not Carly Gwin, was more my type. The prospect of that conversation made me giggle on the inside.

Finally, this morning I heard a new song on the radio on my drive back home from Daylight Donuts. (Chocolate long john FTW!) The song, “Earth” by Lil Dicky, celebrated Earth and featured lots of celebrity cameos. The song was still playing when I got home, so I looked up the music video on YouTube.

Love the Earth, Straights!

This catchy song has some silly lyrics, but as soon as the third verse started with “I’m a man,” my heteronormative alarm sounded. This song is currently #1 trending on YouTube, so I was prepared for more straight stereotypes. Lil Dicky is dressed in a loincloth like Tarzan or Adam for most of the video, but in this verse, he dons some clothes to cover up his erection upon seeing a woman:

“And, yeah, we like to wear clothes, girls still look beautiful
And it covers up our human dick (Woo)”

A song purportedly about saving the planet also somehow felt the need to remind everyone that men are attracted to women.

All these messages from popular culture and everyday conversation reinforce the notion that everyone is straight, which is not true. Heteronormativity means that queer / LGBTQ+ stories and identities are ignored, dismissed, or forgotten.

Now that I’ve talked about these three moments, I wonder if you realize you have recently seen or heard a story, song, TV show, or movie that privileges straight people. And if you’re talking with a stranger, don’t assume they are cisgender or heterosexual. This Teen Vogue article has some great advice on how to check yourself.

GGGG: Dangerous Thinking

Since I came out in 2017, I have read a number of books that attempt to reconcile the clobber verses of the Bible (New Testament & Old Testament) with the reality of gay Christians. Some of these books are more successful than others.* One made good points, but didn’t have the nicest of prose.** In attempt to have a dialogue with my father, I even read a book that took an opposite stance.*** This book was written by an evangelical who at least acknowledged the existence of gay people but still clung to the clobber verses. Few solutions, if any, were offered, other than to pray the gay away (which doesn’t work) and embrace a lifetime of singleness. Enter a new book: Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry, published in 2018. (A book I sometimes accidentally called Gay God, Good Girl!) This time, the author is a professed former lesbian who became a Christian and ultimately married a man and had children with him.

I read this book wanting to know if Jackie’s story was any different from some of the others I had already heard. Jackie’s childhood was marked by two men who hurt her: her deadbeat father who abandoned her and a teenage relative who abused her. Consequently, she didn’t trust men. The rest of her childhood and adolescence is somewhat unclear. She mentions having feelings for girls at a young age, and she says she never liked girly things. When her mom asks her if she is gay when she is around 18, Jackie admits she is. She finds a girlfriend who introduces her to marijuana but also love. While Jackie seems to know about the Bible and some of the clobber verses, she apparently did not go to church much and was not a Christian. Late one night, she has a spiritual experience, feeling a mixture of God and guilt, and decides she must break up with her girlfriend and pursue a conservative path of Christianity.

Jackie is honest that her feelings for women did not go away. She still finds them attractive, but she remakes her physical appearance to be more feminine. Once a tomboy who dressed in tight sports bras and baggy jeans, she tries wearing a normal bra and clothes to highlight her curves. Jackie now dubs her feelings for women a temptation. She finds a woman on YouTube from Los Angeles and decides she wants to be discipled by her, and amazingly this stranger agrees! Jackie starts writing and performing poetry about her journey.

It’s in LA that she meets her future husband, Preston. He too is a poet, and their relationship starts as a friendship. Since he is nice to her, she decides she was wrong about men. She finds herself being to drawn to his personality, but she is repulsed by his facial hair and his largeness. She misses hugging women who are more her size. Still, she stays with Preston and tries to make their relationship work, even moving to Chicago to be with him. It’s never quite clear how open Jackie was with him about her lesbian past, and Jackie never seems to realize there is a chance she could simply be bisexual.

Whenever I have heard an evangelical say that gays / lesbians can change their ways and marry someone from the opposite sex, I sigh. I am 100% gay. I can recognize female beauty, and I can be friends with women, but I am not programmed to have romantic feelings for them, no matter how hard I try. So any time an evangelical trots out an example of someone like Jackie or Mike Goeke, I categorize those people as bisexual, not someone who was able to stop being gay.

But based on what Jackie writes, it seems she might actually be a genuine lesbian. She married a man, sure, and she has two children with him, yes, but a ring on the finger does not make someone straight. Sexual orientation is based on the interior, not the exterior. So no matter how much makeup Jackie wears or how many frilly dresses she buys, she cannot change her feelings for women. In chapter 13, Jackie says, “Loving women was an easy thing for me. I didn’t have to work to give them me. They could have it all–my unhidden tears, my untold stories, my freest self” (136). This reminds me of when I first came out. I had tried dating women and put off kissing them as long as possible. When it did happen, I didn’t enjoy it. I recoiled. I wondered why every couple on TV and film seemed to enjoy kissing. But then I started dating men. And when I kissed a man for the first time, a light bulb went off. It felt good and natural and wonderful. Oh! Now I understand kissing, I thought. Jackie experiences pain and frustration in trying to form a relationship with Preston. Her inability to live authentically is a recipe for disaster that other queer Christians might attempt to follow.

Part Three of the book shifts away from Jackie’s story as she attempts (and fails) to provide guidance for LGBTQ Christians. She falls into the same line of thinking of most evangelicals. First of all instead of calling people gay or queer, she says they have same-sex attraction (SSA). This tactic steals the identities of countless people who choose to identify as lesbian or gay. Evangelicals weaponize language when they use the term SSA. It removes a sexual identity that many people proudly claim and replaces it with something that is sterile and sounds like a disease or affliction. In their line of (wrong) thinking, you can’t stop being gay, but you can control or deny your same-sex attraction. At least Jackie also uses the phrase “opposite sex attraction,” something I have joked about before but have never seen in a book.

Second, Jackie thinks the gay can be prayed away. It can’t. Conversion therapy has been shown to be not only ineffective but also damaging. A person’s sexual orientation cannot be changed, and her retelling of the story from the Bible about Jesus giving a blind man his sight does not prove that gays can become straight.

Third, Jackie says that since Jesus endured the cross and all that came with it, gay Christians should endure their feelings and not act on them for their entire lives. This line of thinking is incredible to me. Humans were created for relationship. No one should have to live a life of solitude. Everyone should have a chance at romance. Nevertheless, Jackie writes:

Obedience for those who are [gay] deals in the terrifying because it means to deny the body of what often feels as natural as smiling. . . . It’s a real affection experienced by real people. So when commanded not to act out on these affections, even when they pulse through the body loud enough to make a sound, it takes an unearthly commitment to self-denial.

Gay Girl, Good Good, page 170

I tried this approach until I was 34. I knew I had feelings for guys when I was in high school, maybe even junior high, but I never allowed myself to act on them. I thought they were a phase, that they would go away with time. I just needed to meet the right woman, I reasoned. That never happened. As the years passed, and more and more of my friends got married, I found myself feeling lonelier and lonelier. I told myself I would come out during my Jesus year when I was 33, but I couldn’t find the courage. When I turned 34, I felt hopeless, like I had missed my chance to come out. For years, I had spent my free time by hanging out with friends, playing video games, and watching TV. I spent a lot of evenings and weekends sponsoring student council events. I filled up my life to keep myself from being so lonely, but I finally decided I couldn’t do that anymore. I wanted a chance at love, and I knew if I were to find it, it would be with a man and not a woman. I came out. And my life has been so much better ever since I started living authentically. I wish I could go back in time and come out sooner. I wish I could tell teenage me that I didn’t have to deny my feelings, that they would never go away, to just embrace them and my true self.

So for Jackie to tell gay Christians to deny their feelings is very much in line with evangelical beliefs, but I also know how toxic and wrong such thinking is. Gay Girl, Good God is a memoir grounded in dangerous thinking
and muddled by fragmentary prose, rehashing the same tired evangelical arguments that gays and lesbians must change their sexual orientation in order to find love in this world.

*Gushee, David. Changing Our Mind. © 2017.
*Jennings, Jr., Theodore W. The Man Jesus Loved. Nonfiction. © 2009.
*Vines, Matthew. God and the Gay Christian. © 2014.

**McQueen, Scott. Reasonable Doubt: a Case for LGBT Inclusion in the Institutions of Marriage and Church. © 2018.

***Hubbard, Peter. Love Into Light: the Gospel, the Homosexual, and the Church. © 2013.

Response to Marcia, Marcia, Millennials!

I used to subscribe to the Baptist Messenger (BM), the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s weekly newsletter, back when I was a member of a Southern Baptist Church. Even after I left the SBC for the UCC, I continued to get this newsletter, so I could read my dad’s weekly column in his church’s wrap that surrounded the BM. Earlier this year, the BM discontinued the wrap service to all Oklahoma churches, and they also scaled back from weekly issues to biweekly ones. I helped my dad figure out some ways to get his weekly column out to the world since the wrap service was discontinued. It no longer made sense to subscribe to the BM, and my dad assured me he would get me removed from the mailing list. I still keep receiving issues, though, and I can’t help but read the editor’s column, “Sword & Trowel.” Like a moth to a flame, I find myself drawn to a conservative, evangelical man’s opinions about the world, almost certain he will write something I find offensive or misguided.

In the March 21 BM issue, Brian Hobbs shares some facts and opinions about Generation Z in his “Marcia, Marcia, millenials!” column. Hobbs mainly just copied and pasted direct quotes from this Facts & Trends article from September 2017, including this one about Generation Z:

They’re more accepting of sexual fluidity. Gen Z supports gay marriage and transgender rights. For them, such things are part of everyday life. It would be rare for a Z to not have a friend from the LGBT community. “

The implication here is that gay marriage and transgender rights are not part of everyday life for evangelicals who oppose these things. I don’t see the SBC moving to an affirming stance on LBGTQ+ people in my lifetime. What I do see happening is people from the SBC learning more about queer people from media, friends, and family. There are lots of queer characters in television and movies. The popularity of Queer Eye, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Schitt’s Creek cannot be denied. Plenty of evangelicals have family members who are queer, out or closeted, whether those evangelicals are open about it or not. I would argue that Boomers and Gen X and Millennials also have a very high chance of having a friend from the LGBT community. It’s just that that friend might be closeted or in a mixed-orientation marriage.

Hobbs did not have enough room to share the rest of the Facts & Trends quote on Gen Z and sexuality, which goes on to say:

Additionally, a 2016 survey of gender and sexuality by J. Walter Thompson Company, a New York-based marketing firm, found only 48 percent of those 13 to 20 years old described themselves as “completely heterosexual,” compared to 65 percent of those 21 to 34.

In his book, White describes the Gen Z attitude as “an increasing sexual fluidity that refuses either the homosexual or heterosexual label. The idea is that both labels are repressive.”

To me, it seems these people are not sexually fluid, but are rather bisexual or pansexual. I have met bisexual men and women. Our culture doesn’t get a lot depictions in media of bisexual people, but I have read from multiple sources that bisexual people are the biggest group in the queer/LGBTQ+ family. I learned earlier this year on Twitter that even Mr. Rogers confessed to finding both women and men attractive! Just because a person says they aren’t completely straight or gay does not make them “fluid.” It makes them bi. Or pan. (Right?)

At the end of his column, Hobbs reflects on the seven facts about Generation Z he shared. He writes:

“[G]rowing up in a culture that embraces the LGBT worldview, as well as full exposure to pornography, will undermine the biblical sexual ethic and wreck lives. As Christians, though, we know that the world’s sexual ethic makes empty promises, and God’s plan is the only authentic and fulfilling way. “

I correctly predicted that Hobbs would attack LGBT people in yet another column. As a gay Christian, I worry about the hurt caused by writing like this. I worry about the LGBT teenagers and adults who are members of evangelical churches like the SBC.

Let’s unpack what Hobbs wrote. First of all, I would like to know what he means by “the LGBT worldview.” Is this one in which LGBT people are free from bigotry and hate? One in which they are free to love and marry who they choose? One in which they are granted civil rights? Moreover, if there is an LGBT worldview, it seems there might be a straight worldview. What is that like? One in which every person on earth is straight? And only straight people are given civil rights?

Hobbs links LGBT people with pornography in his first sentence. LGBT people do not choose to be LGBT. It is their identity. Pornography has to be chosen to watch. There’s way more straight porn in the world than there is queer porn. Also, what does Hobbs mean by “full exposure to pornography”?

Hobbs also uses the phrase “biblical sexual ethic,” which is problematic because there are plenty of scenarios from the Bible (like David and his concubines and Lot sleeping with his two daughters) that are not one man + one woman.

Hobbs posits this untrue formula: LGBT worldview + pornography = wrecked lives. I’ll tell you what kept me in the closet until I was 34. Crockery like this. The SBC made me feel that I had to keep my gay identity a secret. That I was unworthy to be my true self. I’ve now been out for two years, and I’m still figuring out the dating world. I feel free and happy to be who I am, and I’m glad I have a church home at Mayflower Congregational UCC that is affirming. The SBC did not wreck my life, but it did delay my love life.

Hobbs concludes by saying God’s plan is good and the world’s sexual ethic is bad. Who is Hobbs to speak for God? Who is Hobbs to say what God approves? What exactly is God’s plan exactly for sexuality? I have now read numerous books on this topic, and I am comfortable living as both a Christian and a gay man. I claim them both as my identities.

Time to Shout

Yesterday after work I drove to Tulsa to hear Laurie Halse Anderson speak about her new book, Shout, a memoir and manifesto in verse. I actually got a seat on the front row! It was definitely a book nerd moment. Kimberly Johnson, the Tulsa City-County Library CEO, conducted the interview.

Early on in their conversation, Johnson mentioned that Halse Anderson was a recipient of the Anne Zarrow Award. The award, presented by the Tulsa Library Trust, has been around since 1991 and was awarded to Halse Anderson in 2017. The award’s purpose “is to give formal recognition, on behalf of the Tulsa County community, to nationally acclaimed authors who have made a significant contribution to the field of literature for children and young adults.” The Zarrow website even has lesson plans and resources for the three most recently honored authors: Rita Williams-Garcia, Pam Muńoz Ryan, and Laurie Halse Anderson.

Halse Anderson reads a poem from Shout.

Lots of the conversation was about sexual violence, the basis for Shout (and Speak). It’s a delicate topic, but Halse Anderson acknowledged that America uses sex to sell dish soap. It’s time for Americans to learn to talk about sex. Besides, she said, boys as young as eleven and twelve are learning about sexuality through pornography, sometimes scenes that do not depict consent. She suggested we watch the TED Talk from Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement.

“We have a responsibility to be honest with kids.”

Laurie Halse Anderson

She told us about RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. They have lots of statistics, including this sobering one: “Every 92 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 9 minutes, that victim is a child.” Halse Anderson was clear that men can be victims too. There is an even a website for them called 1in6. (1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted this year!)

Illustration by Jillian Tamaki

When it came time for audience Q & A, I explained I was a former creative writing teacher who always started class with ten minutes of silent reading because good writers are also good readers. I wanted to know some of LHA’s favorite books. She said Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 gave her inspiration for writing Speak. She enjoyed the humor in Watsons and described it as the best YA book of that decade. She also praised Roxane Gay’s memoir Hunger and anything by Louise Erdrich. Kimberly Johnson told the audience that Laurie had recently written a By the Book column for The New York Times in which she goes into further detail about some of her favorite books and authors.

Halse Anderson explained that students need to read books about characters who are like them. “We can make our table bigger,” she said, explaining that expanding diversity in YA literature in regards to race, religion, LGBTQ characters, and more is becoming a reality. To help reach that goal, she explained there is an organization called Project LIT, founded by Nashville teacher Jared Amato. Project LIT is a “national, grassroots LITeracy movement, a network of dedicated teachers and students who are committed to increasing access to culturally relevant books and promoting a love of reading in their schools and communities.” [source]

As an added bonus, I learned that Halse Anderson’s father was a United Methodist Church minister. She’s a PK (preacher’s kid) just like me! I had no idea, and I’ve been reading her books for years.

Two preachers’ kids

Girls, Boys, & Reading

man and woman reading books

Photo by Zun Zun on

This morning I read an article in the August 27, 2018, issue of The New Yorker called “Ladies’ Choice” about the history and staying power of Little Women. Joan Acocella explains the rationale for Little Women‘s creation on page 76:

If there were tales written specifically for boys–adventure tales–why shouldn’t there also be stories about girls’ concerns, written for them? Girls liked reading more than boys did. (This is still true.)

I almost spewed my coffee. This parenthetical aside got me frustrated enough that I wrote my first letter to the editor. I emailed it earlier this morning. I wrote:

Joan Acocella in her analysis of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women asserted that girls formerly and currently like reading more than boys. Most enthusiastic teachers of reading would claim a student, girl or boy, who does not like reading just has not found the right book yet. Moreover, categorizing any book as being exclusively for boys or girls reinforces dangerous stereotypes and dissuades some students from the picking up the very book they may need at the moment.

I could have gone into more detail, but I didn’t want to be long-winded. I guess that’s why I have a blog! I can write as much as I want.

Two reading myths need to be dispelled.

  1. Girls like to read. Boys don’t.
  2. There are girl books and boy books.

In my thirteen years of teaching English, I encountered many students of both genders who liked to read. From my early years of teaching, I can still think of three boys–Leighton, Tyler, and Aaron–who were voracious readers. Leighton read Lonesome Dove (864 pages!) as an eighth grader. Tyler read the Inheritance cycle like it was nothing. Aaron could buzz through any book he found or I recommended.

I also knew a healthy amount who did not–from both genders–despite my best efforts to convert them into readers.

Perhaps it is true that more girls than boys choose reading as a hobby. It’s quiet and requires focus and maturity, traits that girls tend to have more of than boys at a younger age. Reading also tends to be feminized in popular culture, although there is a tumblr called Hot Dudes Reading. And if we’re talking test scores, girls regularly outperform the boys almost every time. In every country tested for the PISA in 2015, girls scored higher than boys on the reading section:

Screenshot (173)

Source: OECD (2018), Reading performance (PISA) (indicator). doi: 10.1787/79913c69-en (Accessed on 25 August 2018)

I was a little boy who loved books. My parents read to me as a child before I started school and continued to do so once I began my educational career at Harmony Public School in Atoka County. My second grade teacher, Miss Rice, read Charlotte’s Web aloud to us, and I was so moved by the ending, I cried. I knew then the power that books held. I soon began devouring series like Little House on the Prairie, Ramona Quimby, The Boxcar Children, and Encyclopedia Brown. So maybe I get a little defensive about boys not liking to read because I did.

The idea that certain books are for boys and certain books are for girls is very dangerous. It reinforces stereotypes and makes students feel unsafe in exploring themselves and worlds, real or imagined. A good book is a good book. Who are we to decide a book is only good for one gender? That’s why I would encourage teachers and librarians to not categorize books as “chick lit” or “lad lit/boy books” in their school or classroom libraries. This sends a message to students that something is wrong with them if they want to read a book from the opposing gender. If Nora wants to read a book about two boys who get lost on a camping adventure, let her. If Jackson wants to read a book about a girl who has a secret crush on one her classmates, let him.

Pernille Ripp has already written an excellent blog post, taking down the idea of boy books and girl books. In her conclusion, she writes:

So I am wondering if we for once and for all, can we all agree that there is no such thing as a girl or a boy book?  That kids need to be exposed to characters that inspire them, no matter their gender.  That kids need to be exposed to characters that will expand their worldviews and invite them into new worlds that they knew little of before, no matter their gender.

Reading is for everyone: girls and boys, women and men, and those caught in the middle–little women and little men–the teenagers in middle schools and high schools across our country.

A Pharisee Takes the Cake Away


As the son of a Southern Baptist preacher, I get my father’s church’s newsletter, which is wrapped around The Baptist Messenger, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s weekly newspaper. My father writes a weekly column for his church called “Rejoice!,” something he has been doing for over thirty years. Dad usually writes a story about his dog and then applies a biblical principle to Freckles. I enjoy Dad’s columns.

As a queer Christian (gay, to be specific), I usually read with dread and sometimes anger the weekly column “Conventional Thinking” in The Baptist Messenger by the editor, Brian Hobbs. Like me, Brian is a man in his thirties, and I used to attend the same church he did. I never talked to him, but I recognized him from his picture in the newspaper. I sat alone in the balcony, and Brian sat with his wife and children. Brian usually writes about a current cultural event like the recent medical marijuana bill or the #MeToo movement in the Southern Baptist Convention.

This week, Brian returned to one of his favorite topics: homosexuals. Southern Baptists are entrenched in their view that homosexuality is a sin. They use a handful of verses from the Bible to condemn a group of people and then move along with their spiritual lives.

But I want to slow down for a second. When I was raised as an evangelical / Southern Baptist, I was taught that the Bible was 100% true, so I could trust anything that is said. Things got complicated as I grew older and realized I was gay. I still viewed myself as a Christian, but I felt I couldn’t exist as a gay man at the same time because the Bible said homosexuality was a sin. However, in 2018, we know and accept some things that the writers of the Bible do not. The sun, not the Earth, is the center of our solar system. The Bible concludes without ever condemning slavery, but we all take it for granted now that slavery is wrong. And people’s sexual orientation cannot be changed. That’s why groups like Exodus International no longer exist. That’s why many states have started to ban ex-gay therapy. Not only does it not work, it can be very harmful. Some Christians have even attempted or committed suicide because of their queer / LGBT orientation.

Which leads me to this question for Brian Hobbs: What should queer people do? Live in celibacy for their entire lives? Praying away the gay doesn’t work. Trying to date someone of the opposite sex doesn’t work. (Although I know of some people who have tried this and ended up in mixed-orientation marriages. Some stay. Some leave.) It seems to me that queer people should be able to pursue a relationship with someone. Otherwise, you are sentencing a person to a lifetime of solitude simply for existing with a sexual orientation that emerged and cannot be changed. It’s easy for a straight man like Brian to celebrate gays not getting to buy a wedding cake, but I would really like to know how he expects actual gay people to navigate the world. Has Mr. Hobbs ever met a gay person? A gay couple? A gay Christian? A gay Christian couple? Would he approve of a celibate gay relationship, those who follow Side B of the gay Christian debate?

In Brian’s article, he praises the Supreme Court for siding with the “devout Christian” cake artist who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. I wonder if the cake artist interviews all of his customers to find out if they have sinned before he bakes them a cake. If someone is remarrying after a divorce, will he still make them a cake? [Matthew 5:32] I have a hunch he only targets same-sex couples. Everyone else is free from his judgment as long as they are an opposite-sex couple. (Does he ask all his customers if they are bisexual? An opposite-sex couple may actually include one or both members having a bisexual orientation, but because they have the appearance of looking straight, that’s probably enough for the cake artist.) This Supreme Court decision makes it seem like discrimination against queer people is okay. “You should tolerate my intolerance,” the baker argues, and America’s Supreme Court said, “Okay.” How disappointing.

It would be one thing if a gay couple sued a church for refusing to marry them. I get that. A church is a religious institution, and they should get to abide by their beliefs. Religious liberty should apply then. But cake? Wedding cake is not religious. A bakery is not religious. Church services are not held in bakeries. Last I checked, Jesus never spoke about the mystical properties of wedding cake. Nothing magical or religious happens when a couple shares or eats their wedding cake. It is flour and sugar and eggs. Wedding cake is not a sacrament. It should not be covered by religious liberty, which in some cases seems more like bigotry.

Brian Hobbs claims that the Masterpiece Cake Shop decision was “right, for [cake artist] Phillips and for all Americans” [emphasis added]. Clearly, this isn’t true. A segment of society exists that is queer that now has the right to marry. Queer people / LGBT people / Homosexuals exist. Treating us like second-class citizens will not make us disappear. Condemning this group of people sounds like something a Pharisee would do, not Jesus. In my heart of hearts, I believe Jesus would make a cake for a same-sex couple. He would attend a same-sex wedding. The Pharisees were caught up in the minutiae of laws. Jesus applied the spirit of the law, and He did so with love.

Brian Hobbs titled his column “Liberty takes the cake.” By doing so, he makes a joke, a pun out of the fact that the religious liberty argument was held up in the Supreme Court and is therefore something to be celebrated, but also quite literally, the cake artist got to take a wedding cake away from a gay couple who just wanted the standard dessert used by thousands of Americans to celebrate a momentous day. That Hobbs would mock this gay couple reveals his view that queer people are less-than, that they are not deserving of kindness, that God is on the side of the cake artist and not the queer couple. Brian Hobbs is a Southern Baptist, and he is also a Pharisee.

A column like Hobbs’s affirms my decision to leave the Southern Baptist church for the United Church of Christ, a progressive and affirming denomination welcoming of all people, including queer ones. If you live in the Oklahoma City area, you should check out Mayflower Congregational UCC, where no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.

Inclusive Dialogue Partners

No high school creative writing textbook exists as far as I know. That means for the past eight years, I’ve had to create my own curriculum, scavenge it online, borrow it from colleagues on Twitter, etc. One lesson I have to teach my students is how to write dialogue. Some tend to avoid it in their fiction pieces completely if they don’t know how to punctuate it. Even after having read lots of books, some students don’t seem to know the rules, so I teach those to my students. I also give them four different versions of a scene from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and they have to decide which one was published. It really freaks them out to learn that McCarthy doesn’t use quotation marks for dialogue or apostrophes for contractions with the word not. Ha!

I’m not sure where I got the dialogue activity I’m about to discuss. It might have been from a workshop from an Oklahoma Writing Project conference. Maybe I invented it myself. But after students have learned the rules of punctuating / formatting dialogue, they need a chance to practice it. I provide a list of pairs, and students work together to write a scene with some dialogue.

  1. cop and speeding teen
  2. parent and teen with broken curfew
  3. boyfriend and girlfriend break up
  4. shy boy asking girl to dance
  5. a friend confronts a gossiping friend
  6. exes assigned as lab partners
  7. coach chews out a football player
  8. jock asks a girl to dance who hates him
  9. annoying boss and teen worker
  10. teacher and texting teen who gets caught

See any trends in that list of choices? Look again, especially at 3, 4, and 8. They all deal with straight couples.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been learning more about how to be mindful of any LGBT students I might have in class. I’ve mainly educated myself by reading articles from Teaching Tolerance, including this one: “Why Heteronormativy is Harmful.”

Heteronormative is defined as “of, relating to, or based on the attitude that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality.” This definition comes from a great article from Teen Vogue about the dangers of heteronormativity, which I also suggest reading.

So when I got out my old, tried and true dialogue pairs writing activity and looked at it, I kind of gasped. I was perpetuating heteronormativy. If I was really going to take the advice of these articles, not only would I make the couples neutral, I would take it a step further and include an LGBT couple of some kind. Teaching in Oklahoma, I decided not to push the limits, but I did need to revise the three couples.

Heteronormative Chart

The writing activity still engaged my students with my newly revised couples, and I felt better not perpetuating heteronormativity. Throughout this school year, I’ll be more careful about the language I use when speaking and in the handouts and activities I provide. I want any students who are LGBT to feel like my classroom is an inclusive and safe environment for them.

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