Commentary

I Still Smile

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Over The Rainbow: April 28


Years ago, I met a man.

I was in a child care management position in a neighboring state, responsible for hiring teachers and aides to work with young children. In that position I had the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting and intriguing people.

Most of those that I interviewed and hired were young adults in their second or third year of college, eager for relevant child care experience to put on a future child development resume. Other applicants were older. Many of the older applicants had some not so evident, almost hidden, quirks. Quirks that led them to my office to apply for a job: a job that would tax them to their mental limits every day and promise them a whooping $7 an hour to start. I’m not saying they were crazy, just driven, either by their intense love of children, their need for a steady job or because they were, well, let me take that back, crazy.

Mr. Steve came into my office for an interview, answering an ad for a preschool teacher’s position. He was very well prepared for my questions. He had relevant child care experience, a background in education, was well spoken and he was breathing. (That breathing part is a joke in child care. You would understand the joke if you ever had three college teachers call in 15 minutes before 7 a.m. on a Friday morning to tell you they are throwing up or that their grandmother’s dying in Texas. You so wish at that moment for anyone who is breathing, to step in and volunteer to cover their classrooms for the day so you don’t have to.)

I liked Mr. Steve immediately. He was an older fellow, but still young enough to relate to all ages of the kids at the center. I figured he was in need of a steady job, and it was evident from his stories that he loved children. I called him back the next day and hired him. He was put in charge of a preschool classroom and the students adored him.

Back then, a director could apply for a background check on new employees and it was perfectly fine and legal to put them to work while you waited two or three weeks for the results to come in the mail. During those weeks after I applied for the background check, I shadowed Mr. Steve in the classroom, just as I would any new teacher. I grew to admire his gentleness and consideration of the feelings of the children he worked with. I listened as parents praised his abilities in the classroom.

His particular gentleness started me to personally ponder if Mr. Steve might be a young gay man. Being a lesbian in a leadership position at a Christian preschool, I was a little pleased to think that I might have unknowingly hired a gay man. Let me enlighten you further: This was more than five years ago in one of the most sought after Christian preschools in the area in the heart of the Bible belt.

I thought to myself that perhaps I was breaking the glass ceiling in child care at a local level! But little did I know, what I’d already done … until Mr. Steve’s background check came in three weeks later.

I picked up my mail and casually opened the envelope from the State Police. As I pulled out the letter, I noticed some excess writing on the response.

“Oh, no,” I thought. “I don’t want to read this.”

If a background is clear, the letter will say something like “no offenses found for this applicant.”

If Mr. Steve’s background check listed any complications, any felony charges — even breaking and entering as a teenager — he was in trouble. Worse yet, if there was anything even remotely related to sexual misconduct, I would be forced consult with my supervisor at Child Protective Services, and if the offense warranted it, send Mr. Steve home immediately without a job to come back to tomorrow. I held my breath and took a closer look at the fine print.

It turned out that Mr. Steve was born Ms. Stephanie.

“Oh my God,” I thought. I had not only broken through the glass ceiling in hiring Mr. Steve, I had gone through the attic, straight through the roof and had become a real danger to low-flying planes in the area. In addition to this Christian preschool hiring a director who was a lesbian, they also now employed a most excellent, most loved, male teacher who happened to be transgendered.

I still smile about you, Mr. Steve. Thank you for applying.

Love,

Lillian

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