Conversations I have with LGBTQ+ people of my generation about their time at school tend to expose depressingly similar experiences; negative language, intimidation by students, and unsupportive staff.
Section 28 was repealed during the month I started secondary school, however it cast a shadow over my time there and continues to do so today. Young queer people continue to be denied representation and respect, and incidents of homophobic and transphobic bullying can go unchecked where staff are unsure on how to help.
This is why the positive work being done by a host of campaigns and organisations – #LGBTed, LGBT History Month, Stonewall, Diversity Role Models and indeed School Diversity Week to name but a few – is so vital. The existence of these structures themselves seems to highlight the importance of collaboration when role-modelling for young people.
The term “role model” brings to mind the image of an individual who carries a huge weight of responsibility on their shoulders.
I believe coming out as gay at work has enabled me to support students more meaningfully, and to feel more confident, happy and authentic. But the most productive work has always been done not by me as an individual, but in collaboration with my fantastic colleagues.
Working with pastoral and teaching staff, we have established an LGBTQ+ group for students which is about to celebrate its first birthday. Collaborating with teacher allies, we have led assemblies where staff and students have spoken out on the importance of equality. I have worked with supportive colleagues to deliver training to staff who have gone on to promote solidarity, representation and diversity across the curriculum and beyond.
All told, I do believe that staff being open about their identities as queer teachers and allies can be hugely powerful, and I am aware that not all teachers work alongside colleagues who are as proactive as mine.
Yet I think that, where possible, the most powerful thing we can do is to think beyond what we can do as individuals, and establish teams of role models. In this way, we can do more for our students, and demonstrate, by the sheer force of numbers, the level of solidarity there can be for LGBTQ+ youth. This spirit of solidarity would have helped me so much when I was in a student in secondary school. I think it can – and will – help our young people in schools today.