I’ve learned a lot from good teachers over the years, but on a Saturday night in early April I got an unforgettable real-world lesson.

I was at the annual OPALGA gala-Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association, for our new Chicago readers-with colleagues from Wednesday Journal, flagship of the nine community weekly newspapers we publish (three in the suburbs, six in the city).

There to see our publisher, Dan Haley, receive one of the evening’s two leadership awards for Wednesday Journal’s respectful and thorough 28-year coverage of gay stories in Oak Park, we all shared a table with OPALGA members, most of whom happened to be retired teachers.

When we got to the part of the evening I thought I wouldn’t need Kleenex for-the music was pealing-my dance card was full but my heart was heavy.

My dance partners for the evening were all teachers: dear, gracious gentlemen, each one smiling brighter than the next.

“They’re awesome,” I said to one of the two tablemates who was neither a journalist nor a teacher.

“They’re teachers,” he said. “They wait to come out when they retire-they have to-and then they never stop dancing.”

All that night and ever since, that awareness has rocked me. For all the progress I see with youth programs for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people at such local treasures as the Center on Halsted, in Boystown, and at the OPALGA Center, in Oak Park, I keep hurting for the opportunity cost in the lives of people like retired teachers and everyone else torn between identity and survival.

Sunday’s parade will be my first in Chicago. I’ll be the one with the cutest pocketbook-a pot of gold with a rainbow handle (couldn’t show it on our shopping page because I found the last one)-and an extra spin for every retired teacher I see.

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