Debra Fowler, an English teacher at Lowell High School in Lowell, Mass., at the time, was hesitant to come out to her students. "For a great number of years, I believed that if my students knew I was gay, it would somehow compromise our purpose together, or make them uncomfortable," she said.
That all changed after she set out to produce a documentary film about her school's refugee students. In an interview with NBC Out, Fowler recalled an interaction with a student who helped work on the film, a student named Conner, who confided in her that he was tired of the prejudice against gay people.
"I said, 'Conner, do you know I'm gay?'" Fowler recalled. The film they ended up creating was titled "Through Gay Eyes," a film about LGBTQ students and teachers of various ages and ethnicities.
"I had the lightning bolt of realization," Fowler said. "I had been disrespecting my students' capacity for understanding. I had been disrespecting their needs and expectations for me to tell the truth."
As a result of the film, Fowler was spotlighted through the school committee, and she took that opportunity to put out petitions to include LGBTQ voices and history in the school curriculum. This was the beginning of History UnErased.
Together with her business partner, Miriam Morgenstern, a social studies teacher at Lowell High School, Fowler set out to create an organization that would prepare educators to incorporate LGBTQ-inclusive history and academic content into their curricula.
"We recognize that, despite undeniable advancements, the statistics related to LGBTQ youth homelessness, suicide and drop out rates are worsening," she said. "As a young person, I grew up with a lot of shame. I know just one lesson in elementary school or high school can help someone."
Today, she collaborates with expert historians, archivists and organizations, including the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution, to develop education initiatives designed to help teachers introduce LGBTQ history into their lessons.
"We know that all students, every student will benefit from a more collective historical narrative," Fowler said.
Fun Fact: I enlisted in the Army and was a Korean linguist.
Pride Means: "Standing up for personal rights in defense and education, that's what pride means to me today. Securing personal rights for everyone through education."
Debra Fowler was nominated to NBC Out's #Pride30 list by transgender model and advocate Carmen Carrera.