Casey Bent-Callahan(He/Him/His) is one of the teacher advisors of Shorewood High School’s Black Student Union, as well as the school’s math instructional coach.
When you came out the first time, what made you feel safe to do so?
I came out in the spring, of 1981. It was a very different time then, and it was really risky to do so. I came out while living in southern West Virginia which is very much in the “Bible Belt”. There were no community centers for gay (it was only gay back then, not LGBTQ+) youth, so I met other queer folks in unhealthy ways like the one gay bar we had in town. But, I only came out to those who I felt would still love me and not spread my business all over our small town. Unfortunately, I didn’t always make the best choice and got burned…leading to some distrust I have in friends, even today.
How do you ally yourself with others who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community?
I live my life as openly as I can in all aspects of my life and have since about 1990. Prior to that, I could have ben kicked out of my university program and fired from my job for being gay. Therefore, I was out to those in the club and other friends prior to that, but until a law was passed so that I couldn’t be fired from my teaching job in 1990, I kept a low profile politically.
How do you educate people about the LGBTQ+ community?
Again, I am out to everyone in every aspect of life and I’m very comfortable with folks asking respectful questions.
How do you educate people about intersectionality in the LGBTQ+ community?
I was a race and equity lead for Shoreline District for 3 years prior to this one. My new job as Instructional Coach doesn’t allow me to also be race and equity lead, but I am in Shorewood’s Equity team. I do workshops and professional development with classes (such as ASB) and more so with teachers. I have been broadening my knowledge base around race issues in recent issues and speaking to the intersectionality of race and LGBTQ issues.
What resources would you recommend for LGBTQ+ youth who have questions?
Camp Ten Trees, GLSEN, Lambert House, Ingersoll (for gender identity issues) and many more via websites. Fortunately, we live in Seattle where there are a lot of resources for youth.
What did you think your life was going to be like after high school?
I had no idea. I had addiction problems from the time I was 15 to 27, but have been clean and sober 28 years now. I don’t think I imagined myself ever being in education for 33 years. I started as an elementary teacher but always wanted to teach high school math but didn’t think I was smart enough back then. I have had the honor of teaching high school/middle school math for 15 of those 32 years and now I feel honored to have been chosen as an Instructional Coach to teachers. Yeah, I didn’t imagine any of that. As far as LGBTQ issues went…I thought it would never get better than it was…being an isolated teenager living in my parents’ house. I would have never dreamed of being open about my being trans…I knew I was different but the words weren’t even out there yet. I’m so grateful that I can be my full authentic self now.
What tips would you have for people questioning their gender identity?
TAKE YOUR TIME! There is no rush to transition. Enjoy all the spaces above and beyond the gender binary. Two years ago, I was really upset that I couldn’t go on testosterone and fully transition. Now, I’m at peace as a very non-binary trans masculine guy. But, I will say this, if the issues facing someone as a trans person are such that they will self harm if they can’t transition (medically or psychologically) then I think they should do what they need to do. It’s different for everybody.
What tips would you have for people questioning their sexual orientation?
Same as above…but I will say that I knew very early on that I was primarily attracted to women. That has now expanded to just about anybody who is not a cis male. Again, be flexible with it as it will probably change, but maybe not. I would tell them to be gentle with themselves no matter how they are feeling about any sexual orientation.
How do you stay resilient in the face of negativity and stereotyping?
I stand up for what I believe to be true. As a queer who has never passed for “woman”or “straight”, I’ve developed a pretty strong resolve after many years of persecution. I love living up here because up until I moved up here 9 years ago, I was harassed verbally and sometimes physically on a regular basis regarding my gender expression and sexual orientation.
What is your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ representation?
The rainbow flag…it’s a universal message to anyone that a certain house, store, corporation, church, etc welcomes us. And it’s inclusive.
What are your hopes for the future of the LGBTQ+ community?
My main hope is that someday our US government will pass a comprehensive civil rights bill for ALL of us so that we could all be protected in every state. I have friends that live in different states that must be on the “down low”so that they don’t get fired, evicted, etc just for being LGBTQ. It’s one of the main reasons I moved here, so that I can be free from that worry, but it should be everywhere in the US.
Is there any advice you would give to the LGBTQ+ teens of today?
Today, during the Covid crisis…STAY HOME! For the sake of you, your family, and community, please stay home. In general, know that whatever horrible things you may be going through because of unsupportive family, it will get better. In my case, it meant me having to completely distance myself from all family members, but my life is so much better and free now that I’m away. No matter how bad it gets, reach out to supportive friends, online resources, and know that this current situation will not always be your reality