“When I made the decision to become a teacher, I jumped into the nearest metaphorical closet. The message to me in 1999 was there is no space to be an out teacher. That doesn’t exist.”
That’s how Clark Hoelscher (MEd ’04, PhD ’14) describes the teaching landscape of a little more than two decades ago. The experiences of LGBTQ students at that time also left something to be desired. “It was very clear to me that there were large numbers of students that schools did not work for,” Hoelscher says. “I wanted to do something that would give me the opportunity to work in the community to make schools amazing learning spaces for all of our students.”
And thanks to Hoelscher’s work, that vision is becoming reality.
They taught in Minneapolis for a year before enrolling in the MEd program at CEHD. “The program at the U was compelling because it was impactful,” they say, although something seemed to be missing.
At the time, Hoelscher was an organizer of the bisexual community in the Twin Cities, which was work entirely separate from their teaching career. “I never imagined those two paths would come together,” they say. “It sounds unbelievable now, but I sat through my initial license and my master’s classes and we never talked about LGBTQ students. Parts of my identity didn’t exist.”
After teaching for five years, they enrolled as a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. “My plan was to focus on equity around race and class in science classrooms,” Hoelscher says. They remember reading an assigned article about LGBTQ students’ experiences in schools. “I had not seen such severe student outcomes. The thought crossed my mind that maybe there was something I could contribute to in addressing this. I shifted the focus of my academic work,” they say. Hoelscher’s dissertation, “LGBTQ Inclusion in Educator Preparation: Getting Ready for Gender and Sexual Diversity in Secondary School Settings,” was completed in 2014.
“Afterwards, I chose to return directly to local schools as a transformative leader for racial and gender equity rather than seek an academic position,” they say. Presently, Hoelscher is a program specialist for the Out For Equity program in the Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS), leading school-based LGBTQ programs and working in partnership with LGBTQ youth-serving agencies to build leadership opportunities.
Hoelscher also serves on the National Education Advisory Council for GLSEN, a leader in providing advocacy and support for LGBTQ youth. In 2019, they were awarded a CEHD Rising Alumni Award for tireless educational and community work.
They give CEHD particular credit for its Teacher Education Redesign Initiative (TERI), a program designed to improve teacher effectiveness. Hoelscher was in the first cohort of the program. “The TERI curriculum for licensure candidates intentionally included gender identity and sexual orientation diversity at a critical time,” Hoelscher says. “I have utilized the experiences and learning I had as a TERI Fellow to engage school leaders, community partners, families, and students for change—the results have been significant.”
Hoelscher’s efforts have included working with leaders in SPPS to adopt and implement the first Gender Inclusion Policy in the region, co-establishing the first school district-based LGBTQ parent advisory council, working to include gender identity questions on the Minnesota Student Survey, and contributing to the Minnesota Department of Education’s Toolkit for Ensuring Safe and Supportive Schools for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students.
“LGBTQ supportive policies, programming like student Gender and Sexuality Alliances, and LGBTQ-affirming curriculum work. Outcomes for LGBTQ students can and have improved. When we remove barriers and affirm students, they grow, learn, and thrive,” they say.