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Coming Out in 1994 Nearly Cost Rodney Wilson His Teaching Job. Has Missouri Learned Anything? 

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To Wilson, studying history and understanding what others have done for us on our behalf is the best way to do that. He points to the line about planting trees, saying gay rights activists in the '30s and '40s were planting trees, long before anyone would see the leaves. Passing on a seedling to the next generation, he's watching the work unfold with today's activists.

"We're watching the tree grow even taller and stronger with the roots more embedded in the Earth so that young people today — hopefully, and I think so — have it significantly better than young people of my generation did," Wilson says. "And then the young people today are going to move everything forward. I have a lot of confidence in them, because they see a lot of things and know a lot of things now that it took my generation, you know, 40 years of living on the Earth to understand. And the young people today, many of them already have that knowledge and information. So they're going to advance things even more. And I hope that LGBTQ History Month can be part of that process of enlightening us, all of us, about the history and then giving us the strength that comes from that knowledge."

click to enlarge Back in 1994, Wilson predicted a “shift toward justice.” In some ways, he was right, but old battles continue. - COURTESY RODNEY WILSON
  • Back in 1994, Wilson predicted a “shift toward justice.” In some ways, he was right, but old battles continue.

Looking back on the years, Wilson only has maybe a couple of regrets — one being that while he has two master's degrees, maybe he should have also gotten his doctorate. But he doesn't regret coming out. He's happy he did.

Jamie Windhorst, another one of his students at Mehlville in the '90s, remembers her teacher fondly. After high school, Windhorst married a man and had a child. When she later came out and reconnected with Wilson, she knew he would understand the freedom she felt.

"It's just a support system that you don't think that you're going to stay 'friends' with a teacher the rest of your life or, you know, realize the impact that they have at the time or that they continue to impact a life," Windhorst says. "I feel like as a society we've come a long way, but if it wasn't for people like Rodney, I certainly wouldn't be where I am today. And I think that we do have a much further way to go. But because of him and his continued education and just what he keeps giving to the LGBTQ community, it's just continues to be a safer, more educated place."

Reece finds inspiration in the way Wilson instructed her class — the way he didn't just sit there and lecture but involved students in the process through recreating social justice movements' posters or reading and connecting current events to historical ones. Workes calls him a role model — someone who is a natural teacher and has "never wavered" from it.

Wilson, now teaching at Mineral Area College and the cosponsor of the school's Gender and Sexuality Alliance, has a few years before retirement. He continues to take pride in LGBTQ History Month. And he takes pride in the way he allowed himself to be authentic with his students years ago.

"As we get older, we do begin to look back at our lives to try to see what difference did I make or what is that which I might be remembered for," he says. "And I am happy that I had those experiences at Mehlville High School as an openly gay teacher. It took a little while in my life, but I'm happy that I did find a place of complete integration in my own being and acceptance. And yeah, I'm happy to have gotten to a good place. And I hope most of all that I did something that nudged or advanced the ability of others to become integrated in their own personality and accept who they are and share that at an even earlier age than I did."

Follow Jenna on Twitter at @writesjenna. Email the author at
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