David Gaita, First Grade Teacher Came Out to Class
Before gay marriage was legal anywhere in the U.S., before gay and lesbian characters were regulars on television sit-coms and dramas, Burr Elementary school teacher David Gaita came out to his first-grade class.
Gaita did not know that he was going to make national headlines when he walked into his classroom on May 17, 2000. While teaching a lesson on biographies, Gaita answered a student’s question directly, telling the children that if he had a boyfriend, he would be a man. A conversation ensued, at the first-grade level, about what it meant to be gay.
Gaita sent a letter to parents advising them of the discussion, and Principal Cynthia Bencal informed the rest of the school families. Some parents were angry that they had not been warned beforehand in order to prepare for discussions with their children, but most supported Gaita.
The story hit the Boston Globe and almost immediately, made national headlines. Superintendent of schools Jeffrey Young spoke with the radio, television and print media, always expressing support for Gaita. Mayor David Cohen was equally supportive.
The reaction wasn’t all positive, though. One local radio station conducted a phone-in poll about whether Gaita should be fired. Gaita received death threats and hate letters from around the country, and, locally, vandals slashed the tires on his car.
The first graders kept learning and stopped using the term “gay” offensively, according to Gaita, who continues to teach first grade at Burr. (Photo courtesy of David Gaita.)
What Dave did that day was brave. And what’s amazing is that for the incoming class of first graders, any teacher in any state can do what Dave did.