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.
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Having studied theatre and then education, in 2005, two years after Section 28 was repealed, I went back to Bromley to work as a Drama Teacher in a secondary school.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 https://www.assemblyfestival.com/whats-on/the-soft-subject-a-love-story/book-now @HyphenTC @AssemblyFest @ImChrisWoodley #TheSoftSubject
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:
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
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
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.
Reviewing Stonewall’s latest list of the 100 best employers for lesbian, gay and bisexual staffrecently, I was struck by the fact that although there were a few local authorities and universities, there was no academy chain or federation of schools included.
This led me to think on about the experiences of teachers and school leaders who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), and the challenges that this throws up for our members, as individuals and as employers.
I’m fully aware that many LGBT people don’t feel able to be open about their sexual orientation at work for fear of discrimination, bullying or harassment, and that the issue is even more difficult in schools where concerns about the response of pupils and parents can deter staff from being open.
LGBT teachers from across the country gathered in Birmingham for the NASUWT’s LGBT Consultation Conference to discuss the challenges facing them as teachers, the impact of the Government’s policies on children and young people and to engage in professional development workshops.
The Conference heard that:
- more than 60% of LGBT teachers said they have experienced discrimination on the basis of their sexual identity in the course of their teaching careers;
- over three quarters of LGBT teachers said they had experienced bullying and harassment during their teaching careers;
- 60% of LGBT teachers said their school has no policy which explicitly opposes homophobia, biphobia and transphobia;
- two thirds of LGBT teachers said it was not safe for LGBT teachers to be out at work.