I want to unfold.
I don’t want to stay folded anywhere,
because where I am folded, there I am a lie.

These words are part of the poem I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone, written by Rainer Maria Rilke, but they could have been written by Phillis Abry who was a member of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in World War II (WWII). It was during this period in her life that she was forced to remain folded. Phillis, like the other one million members of the LGBTQ community who served their country during the greatest conflict in history, defended the Four Freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear.

The irony of defending freedoms that they, themselves, were being denied, is a level of patriotism that is truly humbling. The restrictions that the LGBTQ community were forced to endure were breathtaking in both their severity and impact. Despite this, many members of the LGBTQ, such as Phillis, found a deeper sense of community while in uniform, albeit clandestine, than they had previously known. Like most service personnel, she fell in love and dreamed about the end of the war so that she could get on with the rest of her life. 

Phyllis Abry serving in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps

When WWII ended in 1945, Phillis was thrust back into a society where her sense of community was gone. While serving as a WAAC, she felt a bond not only to those in uniform with her (over 16 million Americans), but the sense of community that she found with others who were part of the LGBTQ community. Because of blatant discrimination against the LGBTQ community, Phillis was forced to deny who she was, once again, and was compelled to live a folded life.

In 2022, I ask all of us to consider what it must be like to live a life where you cannot fully be who you are. This is anachronistic to the true meaning of community and runs contrary to the better angels of our republic. A community is what we all aspire to, no matter what it looks like, for it creates a sense of safety and connectedness that nurtures the spirit and renews our faith in one another. I ask that we all do our part to enhance our community so that everyone can experience its benefits, no matter who they are.

Toward that end, I have asked my colleague, Kyla Mills, to join me this month to share a part of her journey and how she found the very essence of community at Leander High School. Kyla is a terrific leader and educator, and I am very fortunate to work with and learn from her.  Please see her contribution below:

Every person in the LGTBQ community has a story to tell.  Some people have stories that are easier to tell but most of us hold on to feelings of fear, worrying about what others may think or say. I grew up in a small town with my sister and parents. When I was a kid I loved school, participating in activities including sports, yearbook, NHS…you name it, I was a part of it. I never wanted to disappoint or embarrass my parents.  When I finally came out in college, I faced difficulties including conversations with my family and continued to struggle with what others may think, mostly because I didn’t want my sexuality to be viewed as the only part of who I am.  

Fast forward to adulthood, where I’ve been able to accomplish my career goals, experience many moments of acceptance and live life as my complete self.  I’m proud of who I am, but I still don’t always feel comfortable telling my story. As an educator, I’ve witnessed the consequences of being out, for both myself and others and I’ve endured negative comments myself.  

Luckily at Leander High School, I can be myself. I still worry about the reactions of others, but I am proud to work in an environment that is supportive of all. I am also very proud to help lead the LHS Equity Task Force, giving support and voice to ALL students. My focus will always be on the success of our kids, finding commonalities, and sharing common goals. The inclusion of all is important to me, and my hope is that all students feel free to be their authentic selves.  

If I have previously shared my story with you, thank you for making me feel safe to do so. If I haven’t, maybe it wasn’t the right time or moment yet. As educators, we should support our students and staff by helping them feel comfortable and safe enough to share their stories, no matter their differences. More importantly, we should take the time to find commonalities with one another because one identifier doesn’t represent the entirety of a person.  At the end of the day, I am a supporter of our youth and all the people I work with.

Leander ISD Chief of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion DeWayne Street and Leander High School Associate Principal Kyla Mills contributed this article. For more information on the district’s DEI initiatives, please visit www.leanderisd.org/equitydiversityinclusion.