Representing the Rainbow

Former MN teacher Jackson Gzehoviak has not only made a big impact on the queer students, but changed the way inclusivity is managed in classrooms.

By Aiden Lewald, Design Editor

In a state where red dominates the blue, it is hard for LGBTQ students to find a safe place. While the more liberal hubs of Lincoln and Omaha have larger queer populations, Nebraskan queer communities aren’t always accessible to queer youth. 

For generations, young queer people have been deprived of representation where they need it most, in schools. With teachers that have the same lifestyle as them, students feel seen and valued as they spend an hour each day with them. Even in the predominantly conservative state of Nebraska, there has been a teacher willing to create and safeguard the safe space they never got as a teenager.

 Jackson Gzehoviak is a gay and non-binary teacher at Millard North. They have worked as a social studies teacher at MN for only three years, but they have spent several years in the MN community, having graduated in 2012.

For students, having a teacher who understands their experiences regarding grappling with their sexuality and gender identity is affirming. Gzehoviak is well known for bringing up queer issues during class discussions and highlighting the in-depth and renowned history of these individuals when related to a topic. 

Senior Luke McDermott is a bisexual student at Millard North who has Gzehoviak as a teacher for two years. Starting at the end of junior year and all of senior year. 

“I feel like a lot of times, especially for a lot of kids in Nebraska, they’re in schools where all of their authority figures might not understand their experiences,” McDermott  said. 

Being a positive, queer role model is important for Gzehoviak, especially since there were no teachers with a similar background when they were a highschooler. 

In 2008, Gzheoviak was only a freshman, and the word “gay” was something not often said within the school. Even though his freshman year math teacher was said to be a lesbian, it was never discussed. In fact, Gzehvoiak said they had no idea she was queer until after they had graduated in 2012.
“We were still in a space where— and to some extent we still are— it can be dangerous to be open about your identity,” Gzehoviak said. 

For them, the lack of queer representation was extremely formative. They even created an International Baccalaureate  presentation on the fact that students need more teachers who are similar to them. 

This lack of queer representation during Gzehoviak’s time in school had made them feel like their voice was not heard or appreciated. Even well-rounded educators had made them feel small through only reading content centered around cisgender heterosexual individuals, and to a certain point, continuing to enforce tradtional classroom management such as grouping by gender.

Gzehoviak strives to fill the gap they felt as a highschooler. Not only are they a teacher, Gzehoviak is also an assistant coach for MN’s nationally recognized forensics team. During their time as a student, they had been a part of the team since their sophomore year, and after graduating from Harvard in 2016, they returned  to be the team’s assistant coach. 

“Visibility is key, just seeing someone that looks like them, that is like them in a position of authority as a leader,” speech head coach and teacher Sabrina Denney Bull said. 

Denney Bull has always been an open-minded coach, letting competitors speak on the topics they are passionate about and allowing them to express their identities through their pieces. However, having a coach as an ally is different than having a coach that is queer.

“Any assistant coach brings another skill set, another set of eyes,” Denney Bull said.  “I’m sure that they’ve known a poet, or a reading, or a piece of [literature], or even just had a topic idea that maybe I wouldn’t have, just because of [a] different perspective, different interests, [a] different way of looking at things.” 

Both in Gzehoviak’s classroom and coaching career, they continue to bring innovative ideas that create the normalization of queer topics in both the scholastic and speech commmunties. 

This is Gzehoviak’s last year at MN, as they have a new adventure awaiting them at the University of California at Los Angeles. They are getting their Ph.D. in Urban Schooling. Still, their impact on MN will remain for generations to come.

“We’re able to be open about ourselves, and I think that kind of goes beyond sexuality as well,” McDermott said. 

With the continued normalization of queer topics, students have found a safe space in Gzehoviak’s classroom and presence.