Brett Bigham was born on June 24, 1964, in Sparks, Nevada. Throughout childhood, Brett was a frequent target for his older brother’s violence, and he continuously found ways to diffuse his brother’s anger. In 1972, Brett’s family moved to Anchorage, Alaska. There, his father started a taxi business and hired drivers no one else would hire. His mother hand-made the drivers personalized gifts every Christmas. Her kindness taught him a lifelong lesson: “Even when things are terrible, you can still do good.”
Shortly after graduating college, Brett moved to Palm Springs to look after a friend sick with HIV. There, Brett started substituting in classes for students with behavioral issues. With years of experience deescalating his brother, he excelled at and loved the work. A year later, he moved to Oregon to earn his teaching credentials, ultimately running a special education classroom. He threw proms for graduating special education students, which were covered in the Portland Oregonian newspaper.
Meanwhile, Brett made picture guidebooks for students with step by step instructions for activities such as riding the tram. A student who had been unable to peacefully leave the home for years managed to fly to Hawaii and back thanks to Brett’s guidebooks. Brett put the guidebooks online, and his work garnered so much attention he won the Oregon State Teacher of the Year award in 2014.
After winning, Brett began his Year of Service to advocate for an educational cause of choice. Right after his first speech, his district supervisor threatened he would be shot if he publicly said he was gay. Brett had been openly gay since early childhood. She then sent him rules prohibiting him from communicating in any way without the district’s explicit permission. Brett tried to resign, only for the district to threaten to revoke his teaching license. Two weeks later, Brett was welcomed to the White House honoring ceremony with President Obama and VP luncheon with Vice President Joe Biden.
Weeks after that, marriage equality was legalized in Oregon. Brett and his husband, Mike, headed to city hall and were greeted by the national press. Despite their surprise at the attention, Brett and Mike got married on live TV. Shortly after, Brett asked Portland’s Rose Festival to run an event for special needs kids. The organization agreed, and invited Brett and Mike to attend as VIP honorees. They were photographed in multiple newspapers as an openly gay couple being celebrated in the festival’s parade.
Meanwhile, Brett’s difficulties with district administration ramped up. They went so far as banning him from entering his classroom. When Brett rightfully wrote up state and federal complaints, the district illegally fired him. Brett only remained fired for 2 weeks: the state launched an investigation into the district leadership’s behavior, and soon the majority of the school administration was fired instead.
After the drama, Brett took some time off teaching and wrote newspaper education columns and taught as a substitute teacher. However, due to the scandal, no schools in his city would interview him for new teaching jobs. Undaunted, Brett wrote 170 guidebooks for students and traveled to Bangladesh to train teachers opening special education classrooms.
Now, Brett teaches kindergarteners through 5th graders with extreme behaviors. His inboxes are filled with LGBTQ+ kids reaching out for support. Brett is determined to stay in education because he knows that “my being here proves that there’s someone who’s got your back.”