Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ralph M. Perry

Perry (b. 1952) was an elementary school teacher whose skill in teaching first and second graders  to read earned him the Rhode Island Teacher of the Year Award in 1995. The next year he received the Milken Educator Award, while he was a reading teacher at the JFK Elementary School in Middletown, RI. These national education awards are considered the “Oscars” of teaching and come with an unrestricted $25,000 cash award.

But the reason I’m featuring Ralph Perry on this blog is because he revealed his homosexuality in 1995, when the Rhode Island legislature was about to vote on a bill to ban job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Newspapers picked up the story and quoted Perry:

“My success and reputation in my field are not enough. Despite my recognition as a good teacher, I can legally be fired tomorrow for testifying here tonight. This is not right. We in the gay and lesbian community of Rhode Island hear many, many stories of discrimination, especially in employment and housing, but most people won't come forward for fear of receiving publicity and being identified.”

His courage and stature as an educator helped assure passage of the legislation in April, 1995. The House of Representatives vote was 57-41, and the billed breezed through the Senate; ultimately Republican Governor Lincoln C. Almond signed it, making Rhode Island the ninth state to extend civil rights to citizens on the basis of sexual orientation.

"Teaching a child how to read opens the door for all future possibilities and is indeed my proudest accomplishment," said Ralph Perry, who was responsible for spearheading the implementation of a system-wide First Grade Reading Assessment program designed to provide necessary information for future instructional reform. A frequent leader of professional development workshops, Perry helped other teachers improve their understanding of multi-cultural education, technology implementation and Internet use. In an effort to involve working parents in their children's reading progress, he developed a highly successful take-home reading program.

Perry retired five years ago after a distinguished 28-year teaching career.

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