Launching: LGBT+ Visibility and Inclusion Leadership programme

Last week we announced we had been allocated funding by the Department for Education and Harris Federation to pilot a training course aimed to help increase LGBT+ teacher visibility and authenticity in schools. We are pleased to be able to share more details with you today.

CAST and LGBTed in partnership with Newick teaching school are working together to offer training for teachers identifying as LGBT+. Through a range of leadership skills workshop and personalised coaching and mentoring sessions we’re working to ensure that there is more diversity in school leadership.

The programme will be led by members of the LGBT+ school community including our very own Daniel Gray and Hannah Jepson.

For more details please email using the code VISLT.

Please note, the programme is fully funded for teachers at all stages of their career and working in state funded schools. If you are working in another educational setting such as a Further Education institution you are still welcomed to apply but will not be eligible for funded provision.

Don’t be LGBTQ+ before Christmas.

For the past ten years, Georgina Tomsett-Rowe has been teaching languages in a variety of schools in Spain and the UK. Currently based in Hertfordshire, Georgie has been inspired by the acceptance and openness she has seen emerging in the classroom over the past decade, and is delighted to be playing even the smallest of roles in shaking up the outdated attitudes towards sexuality still rife in the education system. 

‘Never discuss your private life’. Along with ‘don’t smile before Christmas’, this is one of the first commandments drilled into you in teacher training, but what happens when your private life is visibly tied up with your identity?

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality. The summer has been simultaneously shocking and celebratory, with a number of very public tributes to the individuals who campaigned tirelessly for this abolition and those who suffered under the consequences of the law.

Having sobbed our way through Peter Gale’s ‘Man in an Orange Shirt’, conversation turned to how invigorating it was to see these programmes so openly publicised. The current generation of school and university students are growing up in a world which, for the most part, celebrates diversity and acceptance. A world where openly gay characters are portrayed living mundane daily lives and ‘out’ members of the public appear, unclothed, on reality shows discussing naked suitors, with no one batting an eyelid. This couldn’t be further from our experiences growing up pre-internet, when the exposure to LGBTQ+ representation was through the scandalous 5 second lesbian kisses on Neighbours and Brookside, or sneaking down late at night to watch Queer as Folk and Bad Girls.

But whilst we are making enormous strides in our public attitudes, there remains one sector of society which is finding it hard to move on. Whilst individually, the majority of pupils approach life with an open mindset, as a collective group, our current student body are producing worrying statistics. According to a 2014 Stonewall report, of teachers surveyed, 86% acknowledged homophobic bullying, 89% say that they regularly hear homophobic comments and language and yet only 43% of these teachers say that they would intervene. Only a quarter of all schools provided clear policies on homophobic behaviour and in 65% of cases, even this is not properly enforced. How are we getting it so right in one area of society and yet so wrong in another?

To answer this, we must look to our own attitudes. I remember one of my peers asking our PGCE tutor about coming out in the classroom and the response stuck in my mind for years. ‘Don’t give the children anymore ammunition. They will never respect you again’. I was truly saddened by this response, not because of the negativity towards the LGBT issue, but because of the inherent suspicion and distrust she afforded the pupils. Now, at this stage I was not a misty-eyed dreamer, expecting to be adored for bestowing my pearls of wisdom upon eager young minds. I had had my eyes opened after teaching in an underprivileged and unenthusiastic school in northern Spain for a year and subsequently, working as a language assistant in two local state schools. I had seen horrendous examples of neglect, bullying, and gang related violence but never at any stage did I consider education to be a battle pitting teachers against students. I was shocked by her answer but I wasn’t surprised.

See, my PGCE tutor began her career in 1964 and when she entered the profession, homosexuality was illegal. Over the course of her career she saw the decriminalisation in 1967, worked under Section 28 (prohibiting open discourse about homosexual relationships) in 1988, witnessed the repeal of this law in 2003 and the establishment of Civil Partnerships in 2005. It is no wonder the response to the question seemed antiquated. To some extent we are all guilty of making assumptions based on our own experiences but if these attitudes are presented as lore, we are in danger of not allowing new teachers the momentum to move the profession forward. They say it takes three generations to change public sentiment, one to rewrite the rules, one to bluster through the change and one to have never known anything different. Yet schools and teaching can be inherently institutionalised and may be in danger of not moving on.

I started my teaching in a well-known public boarding school and soon began a relationship with another female member of staff. I heeded my tutor’s advice and, whilst one would always aim to be discrete in such an intimate environment, vowed never to allow this relationship become public knowledge amongst the pupils. My decision was confirmed by comments from a long-serving member of the Common Room that ‘people like you shouldn’t be trusted to work in the boarding houses’ and a close acquaintance asserting that I would ‘single handedly destroy the reputation of the school’. This led to 9 months of looking over my shoulder and cringing whenever a student mentioned anything LGBTQ+ related. I was never 100% comfortable hiding away, but believed it was the only option.

My attitude, however, changed over the course of one evening. One of the 6th form girls came to me in floods of tears between platitudes and armfuls of tissues, she managed to choke out ‘Miss, I think I’m gay and I don’t know who else to tell. I thought you might understand because… you know…’. My heart stopped. She knew. I felt the floor fall away beneath me but my instincts kicked in, I had to put her pieces back together before I could concentrate on mine. By the time we finished, she was bouncing out of the room talking excitedly about her Oxbridge offer. I however, had never felt so sick and immediately went to explain the situation to the housemistress, an insane but wonderful French woman. Far from the conversation I expected, she wittered on about how ‘delighted she was that this girl could come and talk to me’ and ‘how wonderful it was for the pupils to have a visible, gay role model’. Both tears and the scales fell from my eyes.

Far from protecting myself, I was perpetuating the myth that sexuality is something to feel ashamed and afraid of and was helping drive it back underground. I was standing in front of these pupils every day, encouraging them to be proud of their individuality, but refusing to heed my own advice. If we want our pupils to celebrate their diversity, should we not be leading by example? I promised myself that, from then on, I would be honest and open if and when the matter arose. When we married in 2013, one of the mothers made the cake, colleagues attended and pupils conveyed their happiness and congratulations. Why had I been afraid?

Since then I have experienced, almost exclusively, acceptance. The only negative moment was during a maternity cover at an all-boys Catholic school when the headmaster called me to his office to say they weren’t going to extend my contract as ‘my lifestyle didn’t suit their ethos’. I was, naturally, upset and furious and I wanted to spend months seething and plotting revenge. But I didn’t. That would be letting him win. He had the power over my contract but I refused to give him the power to poison my mood. Ultimately, I now didn’t want to work for this institution and the only person who would be hurt by my blistering temper would have been my wife. So I had a large gin, held my head high and ensured that I was particularly subversive in my final months to help create support networks for those who didn’t fit the mould.

Subsequently, any school I have worked for has encouraged me to be open about my sexuality, embracing the importance of visibility. When I was younger Section 28 was in force and, aside from the locker room speculations about the PE teacher, there were no visible role models in real life. Every year I have a couple of students come out to me and this reinforces my belief that we need to support teachers in being open, with no fear of recrimination. We cannot live in the past, allowing antiquated attitudes and our own prejudices to be handed down from generation to generation. We must help move society towards a place where someone’s sexuality is as mundane as their hair colour.

We are incredibly fortunate to be living in the modern world where many of the barriers have been broken down by those who went before us but, in all good conscience, I cannot say that every member of the LGBTQ+ community lives without fear. Yes, we can now celebrate same-sex marriages, proudly go into adoption and fertility treatment, and live our humdrum lives arguing about whose turn it is to make the tea; but to say that we all live without fear of retribution is to silence thousands of voices. We still read of too many cases of violence being perpetrated against members of the LGBTQ+ community, too many stories of young people taking their own lives through fear of social discrimination, too many examples of individuals being turned away from their families. How do we help close the gap between general public sentiment, and the experiences of thousands in their own homes? Acceptance of homosexuality needs to step out of the television screen and into reality but, to make a stand, we need use the resources available to us. Teachers are one our most powerful weapons in the fight against homophobia and we need to give them our full support to ensure that our arsenals are well stocked.


One more thing we’ve got in common

Having recently completed the Ambition School Leadership: Future Leaders programme, Chris Richards was appointed Deputy Headteacher at Villiers High School in Ealing at Easter, 2017. Chris oversees the quality of teaching and learning and is also raising standards leader for the school line managing all core subjects. Chris trained as a Modern Languages teacher in 2007 at the Swansea Institute for Higher Education and has a Masters degree in Educational Leadership and Management. This is his story: 

Having completed my first five years of teaching in South Essex, I was ready for some diversity and moved to a South London school in 2012. In my previous school, I was “out” to my colleagues, but it wasn’t really something the LGBT+ staff ever discussed with students other than in PSHEE lessons and they certainly didn’t refer to themselves. This was quite different to the experience of many heterosexual colleagues who had photos of their significant other or children on their desks and openly discussed them in class.

I was really happy to find an ethnically diverse student and staff body on arriving in London and really enjoyed getting to know them better. I was initially a little apprehensive about coming out to colleagues, but it soon became apparent I was in good company and there was an active LGBT working party which arranged opportunities for students to march in London gay pride, did outreach work with local primary schools and, most excitingly, celebrated LGBT History Month ( A year or so before I’d arrived, they arranged an assembly where a number of colleagues talked about their experiences of being gay. I thought this was incredibly important and, the year I arrived, they decided to repeat the concept and many of us recorded a short interview about our experiences of coming out. Standing in assembly when this was played, I can remember my heart being in my mouth just before my section of the recording and couldn’t look at the students in the audience while I heard my words echoing around the hall. There seemed to be no negative reactions during the whole of the assembly however, and one of the most touching moments in my teaching career was when some of my year 11 boys came to find me afterwards telling me how great it was that I’d done that; that they hadn’t known but, as far as they were concerned, nothing had changed. This was indicative of a really harmonious community despite its ethnic, religious and social diversity. Over the five years at the school, we did several similar assemblies and even recorded a music video on the theme of “I am what I am” for the outgoing Principal as she’d been so accepting of all students and teachers. This didn’t mean that we had eradicated homophobia, however, but regular staff training and working with students who had expressed homophobic attitudes helped ensure the school community was well educated on the issues.

It was with a degree of sadness that I left this job to move on to a school in West London where I’d been appointed deputy head teacher.  Would the staff and students be as accepting? Would the parents be accepting? How would the community react? I made sure to drop “husband” into conversation with staff at regular intervals and remember a conversation early on about “Orange is the new black” with one of the students who expressed how similar I was to one of the male characters and she said “but he’s gay, so…” and I replied “oh, that’s one more thing we’ve got in common then!”. What seemed like hours later (though it was probably milliseconds) she said “Oh, that’s cool!” and we’ve continued to talk about the latest Netflix arrivals since! This certainly gave me a bit of confidence that the students would be accepting.

What the new school lacks currently though is visibility; my old school was plastered in the Stonewall “Some people are gay” posters and teachers had stickers on their desks etc. I decided to take a chance and, at the end of term, charged with the task of talking about the spirit of adventure in an assembly, I mentioned, among other things, getting married to my best friend last year and put up a picture of us on our wedding day. Once again, as I came to the slide, I could feel my heart beating ninety to the dozen, but knew there was no going back. I got to the end of the assembly and received rapturous applause. Students have continued to behave as normal towards me, but the positive comments received from a huge number of staff members have been incredibly encouraging. One staff member, also a parent of a student in the assembly, has said how much it meant to her son to hear that and I guess that’s why I decided to “take the risk”. Whilst inwardly, it may feel like a massive challenge to “bear your soul” to a room full of people, it’s incredibly important to do it. Young people need to see that LGBT+ people exist; they live, love, study and work with them; LGBT+ people contribute; we share a lot in common. I wish I’d had teachers who were “out” when I was growing up; to have seen that it was “okay to be gay” would have meant an awful lot to me as a confused teenager. I’m looking forward to making LGBT+ lives more visible in my current school and feel heartened by the reactions I’ve received so far.


Coming out twice

As LGBT+ people, we are permanently coming out – It’s rarely a one-off. Whenever we meet someone new, there is that potentially awkward moment when you don’t know how they will react if you slip it into conversation. Here’s Jacqueline Collins’ positive story of coming out twice at school. 

Teachers don’t have to share their personal life but I am the type of teacher who doesn’t mind sharing parts of my life – therefore hiding an important part of who I am felt like I was somehow cheating the young people I work with. The first time I came out happened through chance more than planning, however.

On a school trip to London, I had bought a watch for my partner and on showing the other teachers, the beady eyes of my S3 girls clocked this and said ‘Aaaw is that for your girlf…..I mean fiancé? In that split second I made the decision to roll with what she was going to say and said ‘yeah, it’s for my girlfriend’ before quickly moving the conversation on. I noticed a few glances between the girls but no issues. I did however begin to worry about what would happen when we got back to school! Back at school there were no issues and two weeks later the girls very sweetly and discreetly asked ‘did she like her watch?’ I said ‘yes she loved it!’ For a straight teacher this would be no big deal I imagine but it was this acceptance from the girls that a year later gave me the courage to embark on a journey that has been both humbling for me and empowering for our LGBT+ pupils.

I decided to start an LGBT+  allies group and the first lunch-time we did this was my second coming out! In conversation I explained what the group was about and told the pupils who had turned up that my reason for starting this is because I want every young person to feel part of our school community… a feeling that I didn’t have as a gay teacher when I first started my career. This subtle coming out meant that I was no longer looking over my shoulder and worried that a pupil would find out and somehow use my sexuality against me. I owned it and I was proud! From this, I could not be prouder of the pupils and staff at my school! Our LGBT+ pupils feel more accepted and we have empowered our allies to know that they have a significant role to play in this journey. Our LGBT+ allies group run campaigns, fundraise and play a vital role in promoting and celebrating equality and diversity within our school.

Jumping the final hurdle in my own gay journey was scary and not without its challenges. I can honestly say however that my experience has been a positive one. Being able to fully be myself has made me a better teacher and losing that final little bit of ‘gay shame’ has given me the confidence to lead change within my school.

We can never underestimate the power of acceptance but we must never lose sight of the difficulties LGBT+ teachers face. Fear and shame are powerful and at times debilitating emotions that are hard to lose. Without the the support of both the staff and pupils at my school I would not have had the courage to come out. I feel lucky to work where I do because many teachers do not feel able to take this step due to a lack of support. It has taken me a long time but I am proud to be a gay teacher and I am proud to be a role model for young people.

As they navigate the many difficulties in life and through the minefield that is adolescence, it is my hope that they can believe that being LGBT+ is an important part of who they are. But sexuality and gender need not define them and it certainly does not need to hold them back in any way. I teach all young people to be respectful, be proud, be ambitious and be the very best version of themselves that they possibly can be. Doing this with rainbows, I believe, just makes everybody’s world a little more colourful!

Are you a lesbian, Miss?

In today’s story, Sue Sanders from SchoolsOut – founders of LGBT History Month – shares a published piece from many years ago on why it’s so important to have ‘out’ LGBT role models in schools, words that still resonate so much today. 

The Soft Subject

Chris Woodley tells of his experiences as a gay teenager at school and as an openly gay teacher at work in his new self-penned Edinburgh Fringe Festival play. 


I came out at fourteen years old. Having been blessed with forward thinking parents, my greatest battle was at school. I was educated in Bromley during the eighties and nineties when homosexuality was banned from discussion in schools. This was due to Margaret Thatcher introducing Section 28, which prevented teachers promoting homosexuality as something equal to a heterosexual relationship. This left me with a constant battle. The battle was daily. It was school. Five years in an all-boys school. Possibly the worst five years of my life. I was spat at, sworn at, shoved around, belittled, bullied and abused on a regular basis, like so many others. The school did very little.


Having studied theatre and then education, in 2005, two years after Section 28 was repealed, I went back to Bromley to work as a Drama Teacher in a secondary school. This time I was to be the teacher in the classroom, not the student. I was the only openly gay teacher at my school. Within a year, I witnessed the impact being out made to my life and also that of the students. More gay students came out in school, I directed plays on sexuality, I challenged homophobic bullying – I felt empowered. The road was not always easy but I knew it was about visibility and promoting dialogue. Theatre prompted discussion; discussion prompted change.


The idea of writing Next Lesson came to me in 2009 when working as a teacher in Cambridge, where I was itching to write and act again. I was fascinated by how much had changed for gay students in schools since I was a teenager and I questioned how comfortable teachers in schools today are when discussing sexuality, following Section 28.


I felt so strongly that in 2012 I quit my job and moved back to London to write my first full length play Next Lesson. The play explores the all too human consequences that Section 28 had for a South London school community – its staff, its students and their parents. The show has since gone on to have a sold out run in London and a staged reading in New York.


This August I will be taking my second show The Soft Subject (A Love Story) to The Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The show is an autobiographical love story about teaching drama, heartbreak and The Little Mermaid. As part of the show I teach a lesson about falling in love, my experiences of working as an out and openly gay teacher. Think chick-flick meets stand-up comedy meets Disney with a Spice Girls soundtrack. As always, I will continue to be an out and proud teacher.


The Soft Subject (A Love Story) will be on at Assembly Hall, Baillie Room, Mound Place, Edinburgh, EH1 2LU at 4.25pm 3rd – 28th August. Please find more details at @HyphenTC @AssemblyFest @ImChrisWoodley #TheSoftSubject


Please visit our friends at Schools Out

Our friends at Schools Out (founders of LGBT History Month) do amazing work!

This includes providing both a formal and informal support network for all people who want to raise the issue of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and heterosexism in education; campaigning on lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans issues as they affect education; researching, debating and stimulating curriculum development on LGBT issues; working towards unison between teacher and lecturer unions and other professional stakeholders in education, and promoting equality, safety and visibility in education for LGBT people and all the protected characteristics.

Once you’ve finished here, please check out their pages:

The Careful Poet: My experience as a transgender pre-service teacher

Being a pre-service teacher is rewarding but never easy; being a transgender pre-service teacher adds another dimension to the challenge. While the students can stare in confusion and be understood, it’s the cooperating teacher who can show blatant disrespect and discrimination without any repercussions. This video shares the story of my first time teaching as an out transmasculine person, and how that experience has affected my confidence as an education student and my attitude toward how teachers should be protecting their LGBTQ+ students.

When it becomes just ordinary

I’m not the first out teacher at my school, and I’m unlikely to be the last, but on this sweltering

classroom day in June something profound happened that was so small that it bowled me over with

hope and happiness.


I’ve been teaching for 7 years now and I always wanted to help students realise

that they aren’t ‘wired’ or ‘freaks’ when it came to their sexual orientation. I made a promise to

myself that I wouldn’t go in all parade floats and glitter cannons, although the latter is always a good

announcer, but I would not lie if a student out right asked me if I was gay, or married to a man.


Let’s set the scene. Geography individual projects on the Middle East. Starting the lesson with a

recap on how to structure an investigative report to my Year 9 class. General side track conversation

at the end of the starter refresh on the classes weekend and mine. Was asked about mine and I was

answering when one of the students piped up,

“You’re married sir?”

How he’s noticed only now after 2 years of teaching him I don’t know, but I answered.

“Yes, I am.”

“So, there’s a Mrs’?”

Without missing a beat, I reply “Nope.”

Another student replies, along with many of the students nodding, “Oh can we meet him?”

“Maybe.” I reply, releasing that I’ve just come out to my class and they just deemed it as nothing out

of the ordinary and that being married can be to either gender and it’s nothing ‘strange’ in that.

That moment gave me in that small passing conversation, the hope that this world, that can

sometimes dwell on the negative, has made progress and that we don’t always see that till it

becomes ordinary.


Jonny Dobbs-Grove