Despite confusion and disagreement over the role and purpose of education, few can deny that the creation of an inclusive environment, where all feel equally valued and respected for who they are, is a significant goal. When schools and other educational establishments are functioning as healthy environments, people feel safe and secure in being themselves, and feel able to talk freely about issues that affect them, whether child, teacher or parent.
Yet is that the experience of all the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) teachers and pupils in our schools? Not yet, although this may simply reflect the work that wider society must do on acceptance and inclusion (see this BBC article by way of example). But are we seeing things shifting for the better in schools?
Daniel Gray, a secondary and tertiary teacher, who famously came out at his school in an assembly he was taking for 1000 pupils during LGBT History month, thinks we might be.
“Coming out at work was the best thing I ever did,” Daniel explains. “It has made a real difference to the cultural references we have in school. I didn’t make a big deal about telling everyone. There were no jazz hands! I just said that ‘As a gay man, I know how important it is to have positive role models’. The support I had from colleagues and pupils afterwards was great. One pupil even said I had changed his life. Everyone got behind LGBT History Month and made it visible in every subject area. And although we haven’t yet eliminated homophobic language and bullying, we do handle it better when it does occur.”
The reaction Daniel received has shown that his decision to be out at school has had a hugely positive impact on pupils. “It is sad to think that there are many gay teachers who won’t come out at work because they don’t know that there is support available. I had been teaching for nine years before I came out and I wish I hadn’t taken so long. But Schools Out, Out Teacher, LGBTed (launching in January), and all of the teacher unions offer support and I feel safe and comfortable in the knowledge that I am protected by laws (such as the Equality Act 2010) and supportive colleagues. So much is down to the quality of the leadership team. You need them to respond with warmth and humanity.”
Knowing that support is there if you are considering coming out at school is essential. Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) language and bullying are “widespread” in UK primary and secondary schools, and it poses a major block to schools being welcoming, cohesive places. As organisations, we simply need to accept that this is far more than an equality issue. This is about human dignity, and about the right to live your life authentically and without imposed shame. In schools, perhaps more than anywhere, respect for the individual must be safeguarded and promoted.
“After the assembly,” Daniel recalls, “posters appeared around the school on the classroom doors of my colleagues saying ‘I’m Christian (or Muslim, or heterosexual and so on) and I support LGBT. What’s your excuse?’ and this visible support can change lives for the better.”
As Out Teacher states, LGBT educators can be the role-models they needed when they were at school. Let’s do all we can to ensure that can happen.
Find out more…
– Stonewall Primary pages
– Stonewall Secondary pages
– Schools Out UK
– Out Teacher
– Education Support Partnership
– #LGBTed, which launches in January, on Twitter
– All teacher unions are able to offer support to LGBT teachers who are considering being out at work
Author: Elizabeth Holmes
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.