An LGBTQ+ Film Screening and Lecture Oct. 19 at Southeast Missouri State University will feature the showing of a documentary titled “Taboo Teaching: A Profile of Missouri Teacher Rodney Wilson” followed by a presentation from Wilson himself.
Wilson will discuss his experience as an openly gay teacher at the event titled “Taboo Teaching: How One Teacher from Small Town Missouri Made a Difference.” The event is scheduled for 10 a.m.-noon in the University Center Indian Room.
Wilson, a native of Potosi, Missouri, graduated from Southeast in May 1990 with a Bachelor of Science in Education, secondary education, social studies option. He taught at Mehlville High School in suburban St. Louis from 1990 to 1997, garnering attention when he became the first openly gay teacher in Missouri.
Wilson came out as gay to his high school students during a lesson about the Holocaust, explaining that homosexuals like himself were gassed in concentration camps because of their sexual orientation. His coming out story inspired national news coverage and sparked a conversation about gay rights in schools. Since then, Wilson has helped to make October the official LGBTQ+ History Month.
“LGBTQ+ History Month is an occasion to spotlight the history, achievements and setbacks of LGBTQ+ persons throughout history,” said Wilson.
Wilson chose October to be LGBTQ+ History Month because LGBTQ+ marches on Washington were held during that month in 1979 and 1987. Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day. Additionally, the October observance allows LGBTQ+ history to be recognized in schools throughout the month.
The film screening was organized by Dr. Kevin Hampton, chair of the Southeast Department of Music, and Randyn Heisserer-Miller, acquisitions coordinator for Kent Library and co-chair of Southeast’s LGBTQ+ Employee Alliance.
“The idea for this event came about from my role outside of the University as president of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays Cape Girardeau,” Heisserer-Miller said. “We all thought it was a great idea to bring him to Cape Girardeau and to campus to help educate the community and share his story as a Missourian.”
The goal of the event is to inform the community about LGBTQ+ history in hopes that the knowledge will increase tolerance and foster inclusivity.
“We hope that by bringing alumnus Rodney Wilson to campus we can raise awareness of LGBTQ+ history. Without an understanding of history, we cannot learn and be better as a society and community. The students, staff and faculty of Southeast play an important role in cultivating awareness and acceptance,” said Heisserer-Miller.
Change happens, he says, when our society learns more about the struggles the LGBTQ+ community has faced and overcome.
“When you look at Rodney’s story and the obstacles he faced, you can clearly see the change that has occurred in our culture from the mid-’90s to today,” he said. “There has been a significant amount of progress toward LGBTQ+ acceptance, but we still have a lot of educating to do. My hope is that this event helps to open doors for people who might be new to the topic or have not been introduced to the history of LGBTQ+ people.”
The Oct. 19 film screening and lecture is free and open to the public. Southeast Missouri State University’s Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, LGBTQ+ Employee Alliance and the LGBTQ+ Resource Center are hosting this event along with PFLAG Cape Girardeau and Cape PRIDE.