2024 Equality Champion Danielle Earle!

By Amy Moran, Ph.D. and Kate Okeson 

Danielle Earle has been an educator for 13 years, currently working at Orange High School as a digital media and filmmaking teacher and after-school club advisor with board affiliations with several LGBTQIA+ organizations.  

“Being a leader and an advocate for all of our students, especially the LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC community,” she says, “is what makes our job so special. Having the ability to change lives for the better and to guide our students to discover their true passion as well as reach their full potential is why I love it.”  

Earle takes pride in supporting her students, helping them focus on their interests while developing their talents. She engages with the powerful nature of LGBTQIA+ representation through pedagogical practices. In her digital media and filmmaking program, featured films, film projects, and instruction promote diversity and inclusion, especially for LGBTQ+ History Month, Pride Month, Trans Day of Remembrance, and World AIDS Day.  

During the pandemic, Earle and her students produced an LGBTQ+ Black History documentary series that was accepted into the Garden State Film Festival and received a lot of praise from their school district. The series will also be showcased at the NJEA Convention in November. Last year, they had a LGBTQ+ themed short film submitted to the SKILLS USA competition. 

Queer visibility in film 

Queer visibility in film and media has increased significantly on familiar streaming platforms, offering the much-needed representation queer youth need to survive and thrive, and Earle capitalizes on that access in her classes. During Black History Month, Earle highlighted LGBTQIA+ filmmakers, musicians, and fashion icons, such as Dee Rees, Cherly Dunye, and Lena Waithe. She uses film and media studies to lift up student voices in her school by showcasing films and popular series, such as “Heartstopper.”  

“The wonderful thing about teens today,” Earle says, “is how welcoming they are of LGBTQIA+ content. Yes, you might get some students that might be opposed to it initially, but eventually their perspective towards queer content changes because they realize there is nothing different between straight/cisgender storylines in cinema and those found in queer-inclusive movies. That’s the beauty of American Cinema: we can have different opinions about a movie, but at the end of the day our love for filmmaking is a bond that unites us.”  

And when it comes to equality, it’s about being respectful and honoring each other’s authentic life experiences.  

Danielle Earle with one of her filmmaking students, Katrina Davis, on Graduation Day in 2019.

National trends and educator opportunities 

Earle notices national trends in educating queer youth and their straight/cisgender peers—such as how respecting students’ and colleagues’ personal gender pronouns is becoming commonplace—but we have a lot further to go as a profession to authentically and consistently support LGBTQIA+ youth.  

Earle acknowledges the national crisis we’re in as it relates to equality for trans youth in the public schools and how hate crimes and anti-queer legislation directed at reducing human rights are on the rise against LGBTQIA+ communities. Based on how education is power for both students and educators, Earle encourages all districts to host professional development workshops that share best practices with teachers of all content areas for supporting LGBTQIA+ students. 

Earle emphasizes that one of the best things we can do as educators is to help ensure that the schools we work in have GSAs and to deepen our involvement with our union. It can start by joining a committee or attending workshops within your district, through your county, or through NJEA. Changes in the right direction can happen if we get more deeply involved within our unions.  

“As long as you have a seat at the table,” she says, “you can be able to use your voice to advocate for positive change.” 

Share your thoughts and ideas with us at rainbowconnectionnjea@gmail.com. 

Amy Moran, Ph.D. and Kate Okeson (both she/her) are out queer educators, leaders and activists working to make education affirming and inclusive for all of their students and colleagues. Moran has taught middle school for 29 years and was a high school GSA adviser for 16 years. Okeson is a 26-year art educator, GSA adviser for 14 years, local association president, and co-founder/program director of Make it Better for Youth.