Gayest & Greatest 2021

Gayest & Greatest 2021: People Part II

Pam Straker is a state-recognized PE teacher.

Pam Straker (photo by Cory Michael Frasier/CMF Studios)

Favorite Female LGBTQ Educator/Teacher

It’s been a good year for Pam Straker, a PE teacher at Red Bluff Elementary School in Pasadena. Before winning this year’s Gayest & Greatest Favorite Female LGBTQ Educator/Teacher award, she won the 2021 Texas Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance (TAHPERD)’s Elementary Physical Education Teacher of the Year award.  

Chosen from more than 3,000 educators statewide, TAHPERD acknowledged Straker’s dedication and leadership, both in the classroom and in the community. The award surprised Straker, who says she sometimes feels like a newcomer to the field even though she’s been teaching for more than eight years. 

Like all educators, Straker spent the last several months adjusting to online teaching during the pandemic. Working with pre-K to 4th-grade students, Straker found herself having to utilize new tools to reach her kids.  

“I jumped in head-first to learn virtual tools and platforms to reach our students at home,” she says. That included conducting workouts via Zoom, starting a PE Facebook group, and taping videos for a YouTube channel. The activities were designed to keep her students active, and to give their families accurate health information. 

“My job is to ensure learning in my students through developmental skills, social-emotional learning, and a lifelong love of health and wellness. I try to teach my students that we aren’t just here to play a game, but rather that we are learning skills for a lifetime,” Straker emphasizes.

And all of that is on top of the challenge of meeting the complex educational and emotional needs of elementary students. 

“Our school is in a low-socioeconomic area, and our families struggle in ways that some people may not ever be witness to,” she says. “But our school family is fantastic at reaching our students’ needs and trying to bridge the gaps that our students face. I consider myself lucky to be a part of such a great school and district.”

Working with such young students doesn’t give Straker the chance to directly address gender identity or sexual orientation in the classroom. Even if she were open about her sexuality at work, Straker would not welcome being known as “the gay teacher” to either her students or co-workers. 

“Being gay isn’t my identifier, it’s just part of who I am as a whole person. I want people to see me as a good person who cares for others and is funny and cheerful and positive. I can’t really say I’m a lesbian or gay or queer or nonbinary, because at times I am all of those or none of those. I’m just a person.”

Nevertheless, Straker is happy for her OutSmart G&G win. “Being recognized as a gay educator in OutSmart gives both of those words—gay and educator—a chance to shine together. It allows LGBTQ+ individuals to see that there are teachers who provide a safe place for our students. And it gives teachers courage to be who they are in a place that is, at times, hard-pressed to change.”

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Favorite Male LGBTQ Educator/Teacher

Brian Riedel
Finalists: Joan Cotton, Paul Fox Gonzales, Bryant Johnson-Wood, Sean Saunders

Favorite Female LGBTQ Educator/Teacher

Pam Straker (tie), Samantha Pisarski-May (tie)
Finalists: Kay Crayton, Michelle Palmer

Favorite Male Community Photographer

Dalton DeHart
Finalists: Gavin Calais, Sebastian Gutierrez, Steven Tilotta

Favorite Female Community Photographer

Wendy Taylor
Finalists: Andrea Simonton, Yvonne Tran

Favorite Female Community Photographer

Wendy Taylor
Finalists: Andrea Simonton, Yvonne Tran

Favorite Female Community Hero

Tammi Wallace
Finalists: Katharine Ligon, Julie Mabry, Toni Mascione, Heather J. Taylor, Fran Watson

Favorite Male Community Hero

JD Doyle
Finalists: Christopher Barry, Kennedy Loftin, Brandon Mack, Jason Rocha, Jovon Alfon B. Tyler

Favorite Nonbinary Community Hero

Verniss McFarland
Finalist: Mike Webb

Favorite Trans Male Community Hero

Emmett Schelling
Finalists: Dylan Forbis, Sebastian Gutierrez, Landon Richie, Lou Weaver

Favorite Trans Female Community Hero

Dee Dee Watters
Finalists: Kymber Devine, Phyllis Frye, Atlantis Narcisse, Alexis Nicole Whitney

Leading Female Fundraiser

Chree Boydstun
Finalists: Lisa Madry, Sarah Tompkins-Gutierrez, Sallie Woodell

Leading Trans Female Fundraiser

Atlantis Narcisse

For a full list of winners, go here.

This article appears in the October 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Olivia Flores Alvarez

Olivia Flores Alvarez is a frequent contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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