This past summer, Jeffrey Tomlinson was one of the featured performers at OUTspoken! ( Sidetrack's monthly LGBTQ storytelling event ) and his story centered around the day he came out to his students in the spring 2007 while teaching at Kelly Miller Middle School in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
Tomlinson grew up in the politically conservative central Illinois town of Kewanee; to escape the boredom there ( his mom was the mayor ), he attended North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. However, after realizing he was gay he dropped out of college, moved out of his parents' house and landed in Boystown so he could be around other gay people.
Tomlinson noted that his dad was supportive right away; however, it took his mom some time to accept that he was gay and that's why he moved out and went to Boystown.
"I didn't really form my own opinions as a kid and basically believed everything my dad did," said Tomlinson. "When I came out I realized I wasn't at the top of the food chain anymore so when I moved to Boulder to finish college [he graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a bachelor's degree in political science] I took some courses that helped me examine privilege and learn about social issues. During my Senior year I was the only white guy in a 'Writing for Social Change' class. We had to pick something to write about and someone suggested that I write about the achievement gap. I did research and found that Denver high schools with a majority white student population had beautiful science labs, AP classes, IB programs and parents who could raise money to hire extra teachers, whereas, down the street the high schools with Black and Latino students didn't have any of those resources.
"Right before I graduated from college, I realized that I needed to do something about what I found while writing that paper. Gay rights are important to me but the achievement gap issue was something I needed to be involved with and help solve. That's when I decided to apply for Teach for America and how I ended up teaching at Kelly Miller."
While teaching at Kelly Miller, Tomlinson received his masters of arts in teaching from American University. Two years later, he moved to Denver and taught middle-school language arts at KIPP Colorado Schools before moving to the Dominican Republic to teach the same subject at Carol Morgan School. After moving back to the states, Tomlinson spent two years as an instructional coach for Uplift Education in Dallas before returning to Chicago.
Currently, Tomlinson is the dean of instruction at Noble's Rowe-Clark Math & Science Academy specializing in coaching, developing and supporting 16 ELA and humanities teachers.
"I became a dean so I could support teachers," said Tomlinson. "It took me eight years to get really good at what I did and I didn't really have any support along the way except the feedback that my students gave me which was more valuable than anything else. My goal is to help retain teachers and offer them the support that I didn't get when I was a classroom teacher."
Throughout his teaching career, Tomlinson has never made his sexual orientation a secret from his students, faculty and administrators even when it would jeopardize his position at that school. Tomlinson noted that he comes out when the situation presents itself and that can happen at any time during the school year.
The best experience Tomlinson's had as an out teacher/administrator is in his current job where he has the full support of his principal and serves as the Gay-Straight Alliance faculty advisor.
Recalling his OUTspoken! appearance, Tomlinson explained that his coming out happened during a class discussions about "The Laramie Project" ( the students, not Tomlinson, picked the book ) after some students used anti-LGBT language.
"When I came out to them they went wild. It was the weirdest experience I've had as a teacher," said Tomlinson. "They were screaming and throwing things in the air and some of them left the room to pace up and down the hallway to process what I told them. They finally calmed down and were fine with me being gay. They told me later that they got their anti-gay information from their parents and churches, however, as a result of me coming out some of my students told me that when they heard other students say 'that's so gay' they told them it wasn't cool to say that. They also asked me what the correct terminology was so they wouldn't use homophobic language."
Tomlinson noted that performing at OUTspoken! was a phenomenal experience.
"I loved it," said Tomlinson. "I've been to so many of them and waited so long to tell my story. People were so warm, kind and accepting. To be able to talk about something that's happened in my life and hopefully help other teachers come out to their students or have an understanding that youth are very accepting, warm hearted and wonderful made the experience so worthwhile.
"I encourage everyone to come to OUTspoken! It's an encouraging, refreshing, real community experience in a neighborhood that doesn't always feel so welcoming and accepting of all members of the LGBT community. It's a great venue to hear stories that celebrate our past and future."