This is my last annual NCTE convention as Council Historian, and I am pleased to offer this special Moment of History by Roxanne Henkin in honor of recent victories for marriage equity.
Please note my ongoing project related to my role as Council Historian, Lou LaBrant: An Annotated Bibliography.
A Moment in NCTE History-Annual Convention Minneapolis, 2015
Delivered at the Board of Directors Meeting 2015 National Council Teachers of English
At this moment in U.S. history, with the historic Supreme Court decision legalizing lesbian and gay marriage last June, we look back at the efforts of our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender members of NCTE and the work that was accomplished beginning with the creation of the Assembly on Gay and Lesbian Academic Issues Awareness.
Although the NCTE Lesbian and Gay Caucus began in 1974, it was transformed into an assembly in 1993 to give LGBT issues a greater visibility and voice in NCTE. The new organization, the NCTE Assembly on Gay and Lesbian Academic Issues Awareness was created to “promote communication and cooperation on issues involving gay and lesbian students, teachers, and materials in academic communities and to investigate these issues, encourage research, and disseminate information…” (Karsten).
Three proposals about LGB issues were submitted, accepted and presented during the 1994 NCTE Annual Convention in Orlando, Florida. In April 1995, the NCTE SLATE newsletter was devoted to lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues. Our chair, Mary Bixby was interviewed in this issue and explained that the decision to devote a SLATE Newsletter to ‘Issues of Sexual Orientation’ was a major landmark of support (Wolfe 2). Although NCTE had passed the 1992 resolution “not to hold national council meetings in municipalities that have accepted anti-gay legislation,” Bixby felt that real progress had been slow (Wolfe 2).
In 1995, William Spurlin and I became co-chairs of the NCTE Assembly on Gay and Lesbian Academic Issues Awareness. In June 1996, we sent a letter to the NCTE Executive Committee. We wrote that we were, “Concerned about the visibility of our members and issues within NCTE.” NCTE Executive Director Miles Myers agreed to give the letter to each new convention chair and created the NCTE Advisory Committee on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues in Academic Studies to serve as a resource to advise the Executive Committee and other groups and individuals in NCTE about LGBT issues and to make recommendations for specific actions. William Spurlin and I were appointed the first co-chairs of this new committee.
The Spring 2001 conference was slated for Birmingham, Alabama, which had sodomy laws, so the Advisory Committee asked that the convention be moved. Although the NCTE 1992 resolution decreed that NCTE would not meet in states that had anti-gay laws, the policy was not being followed in practice. NCTE still held the spring conference in Birmingham, but letters were sent to officials in Alabama, asking that the discriminatory laws in Alabama be changed. NCTE also authorized a special pin for NCTE members to wear during the conference to encourage talk about these discriminatory laws.
In 2007, NCTE passed a resolution strengthening teacher knowledge about LGBT issues. Two years later, in 2009, English Journal editor Ken Lindblom asked longtime Assembly members Paula Ressler and Becca Chase to guest edit what became an extraordinary issue of English Journal on LGBTQ issues.
At the November 2011 NCTE centennial Convention in Chicago the LBGTQ assembly celebrated 20 years of continuous work in NCTE. Now known as the NCTE Gay-Straight Educators’ Alliance, the T was added to welcome another underrepresented group, transgender teachers and students. We also welcomed our straight colleagues explicitly by including them in our name and acknowledging their critical role as allies.
This morning, at our 105th Annual Convention, we welcomed Alison Bechdel as a general session speaker. An out lesbian, Alison is a powerful and well-known writer and cartoonist. How thrilled we were to finally have one of our own as a general session speaker. Her session was well attended and well received. We need more of these in the future.
During this convention, we will have over 20 LGBT sessions presented throughout the program. On this transgender Day of Silence as we look back in history, NCTE has made great progress with LGBT issues over the past 24 years and we look forward to a future where all students and teachers, of all sexual orientations and gender identities support each other and are supported and able to thrive in both their academic and personal lives.
Karsten, Ernie. AGLAIA Brochure. Urbana: NCTE, 1994. Print.
Ressler, Paula, and Becca Chase, Guest eds. Theme: Sexual Identity and Gender Variance. English Journal 98.4 (2009). Print.
Spurlin, William, and Roxanne Henkin. Letter to NCTE Executive Committee. June 1996. TS.
Wolfe, D. “An Interview with Mary Bixby.” SLATE Newsletter 20 (1995): 1–4. Print.