Why, after nine years, I finally came out to my students.

This article tells the story of Daniel Gray, a teacher from South London in the UK, who came out to all of his students. Follow Daniel on Twitter at @thatgayteacher

I’ve done it. After nine years of teaching, I finally came out to my students. It shouldn’t be a big deal in this day and age but, unfortunately, it still is.

When I was a pupil myself, at a secondary school in Basingstoke in the Nineties, I had a horrible time. I was subjected to the most horrendous bullying on an almost-daily basis, from knuckle-scraping Neanderthal boys. This was before I even knew I was gay – they all seemed to know something I didn’t, and delighted in making my life hell. When it was raised with a teacher, during the time of Clause 28, I was told that, “it’s just something we have to put up with”.

I decided to become a teacher to right a few wrongs, to give young people the opportunities I didn’t have; to make them feel safe, respected and secure.

It took a long time, however, to be fully honest about who I am – partly because I was warned categorically in my training year never to come out.

“Don’t give the pupils any ammunition,” I was told. In hindsight, isn’t this kind of comment doing young people a disservice?

When a new head teacher arrived at my current school, I decided to broach the idea of commemorating LGBT History Month. He was all for it.

I wanted to increase visibility of LGBT+ people and issues in our school and “normalise” it. So now, all subjects being taught to all pupils will include LGBT+ issues for one lesson this month. In geography, students are being taught about LGBT+ safe spaces and why some cities have a higher queer population than others. In languages, students are being taught about Polari, while in maths they are learning about Alan Turing and his struggles and how these led to his suicide.

As part of this range of events, I thought it would be a good idea to come out to pupils in an assembly. It’s something I have wanted to do for some time — the final frontier, perhaps.

I hoped it would build an open and positive relationship with students. If we are going to increase visibility and acceptance of the LGBT+ community, then we must start with ourselves as role models.

I thought about how it would have helped me to have an LGBT+ figure to look up to and decided to go for it. While discussing all the things we are doing, I said: “As a gay man, I know how important it is to have positive role models.” No drama, no jazz hands. Done.

At first, most people didn’t react at all. Some shrugged, others smiled. I had felt nervous, anxious and sweaty beforehand, but so relieved afterwards. A few minutes later, one student, who I have never taught, came up to me and said, “Sir, your assembly just changed my life.” Then they walked away, not wanting to cause a scene.

That’s why I did it, right there. I know now I’ve probably made a difference to at least one life for ever and we can’t put a price on that. No amount of backlash – which so far has been minimal – can take that way.

Having taken nine years to pluck up the courage, I understand why most LGBT teachers don’t come out. But I would encourage all of them to do it for the sake of all those young people who need us. Maybe then it’ll stop being a big deal and will no longer make the news. It’ll finally just be accepted as part of life.

Here’s the link to the original BBC News article by Jennifer Scott: click

 

“Miss, are you gay?”

This blog was originally posted on http://thegutsygay.com/ in two parts – one and two. Follow TheGustyGay on twitter, instagram and Facebook. This article was also posted on TES.

The title of this blog is a question I dreaded being asked as a 22 year old teacher at the beginning of my career.  I was worried that being open about my sexuality would be frowned upon by other staff members or that being honest with students may lead to them not respecting me.  I had thought about what I would say if the question arose; “I would rather not talk about my private life”, “I am not sure how this is relevant to the lesson” or simply “no”.  Surely not “no”; that would be denying who I was, suggesting a sense of shame.  At this stage in my career I gave very little thought to discussing my sexuality with students, it wasn’t on my radar.  I lacked confidence, I needed to establish myself and I wanted nothing to jeopardise my credibility.

One day the dreaded question was asked: “Miss, I’ve heard a rumour you are gay”.  I panicked, I didn’t think, words just came out of my mouth, “I don’t know where you heard that, it isn’t true”.  Instantly I regretted it, it felt wrong.  Why had I denied it?  Who was I trying to protect?  Myself?  What was I so scared of?   My response to this question has regularly played on my mind since.  Seven years on, I still think of how I responded and I regret it wholeheartedly.  Young people deserve honesty and they require role models who are proud of who they are. I do not advocate teachers sharing too much with students about their private lives as there have to be clear boundaries.  However, my lie and denial did not send the correct message; it suggested a lack of pride in who I am.

In the four and a half years that I have been with my wife she has always been open regarding her relationship with me.  Previously, she had only been in relationships with men and, in every circumstance, has tackled questions about her ‘partner’ head on.  This is something I truly admire; her response normalises our relationship rather than hides it.  Not once has her honesty been met with anything other than support and acceptance.  Seeing her approach showed me that honesty was the best way to tackle questions regarding sexuality.  This was something I knew before but was not confident enough to follow through with. Whilst I have never been directly asked the exact question since, there have been opportunities for me to discuss my sexual orientation which I have not shied away from.

I did not deal with this question well in the early stages of my career.  Actually, I dealt with it appallingly.  I denied my sexuality and set a precedent for how I may tackle similar questions in the future.

Fast forward a few years and at no other time has a student asked me explicitly about my sexual orientation.  However, there have been circumstances where I have been able to discuss my partner with students, both past and present.  The most notable time was on last year’s ski trip in Italy.  Another teacher and I were talking one night with two students.  My colleague was talking about her boyfriend and one of the students said to me ‘Miss, are you with anybody?’.  I was able to confidently say, “Yes, well actually I am married”.  The conversation continued and I disclosed that I was married to a woman.  It was as though a weight had been lifted off my shoulders; it felt great to talk about my sexuality.  It was exactly how I wanted it to happen: natural and met with complete acceptance, as I should have assumed it would have been.

I wouldn’t say I am openly out with students; it isn’t something I feel the need to declare.  It is not something I feel the need to talk about freely, in the same way I wouldn’t expect any professional teacher to talk openly about their private life.   I have been questioning the need that people in the LGBT community have to come out and tell people about their sexuality, especially since watching the film ‘Jenny’s Wedding’ that I have previously blogged about.  In a truly equal society there should be no greater need for me to announce my sexuality anymore than my heterosexual neighbour.

What do you think about TheGutsyGay’s story? We’d love your comments.