Schools need to create an environment to help LGBT teachers come out, writes @russellhobby for @tes

School leaders need to support their LGBT staff if they decide to be open, including backing them if parents decide to complain, writes the leader of a heads’ union

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.

Read the rest of the article on TES – https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/heads-must-have-courage-their-convictions-resist-external-pressures

Homophobic bullying still a problem for LGBT teachers | @NASUWT

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.

Read more

See more about NASUWT’s work for their LGBTI members.

Mr Cargill, the teacher (who is gay) | @chicargill

This story originally appeared on Jerome Cargill’s blog – find him at @chicargill

Earlier this week a story aired about me on Seven Sharp, a current affairs news programme in New Zealand. It profiled me as a gay teacher working with colleagues that are also open about their sexualities and how we are supporting students with their own identities. This story is a checkpoint – not a journey or a destination. It captures that a lot of work has gone into where we have arrived, but also it is clear that there is much more work to do.

My own journey started a long way away from how I was presented in this piece. I may have come out as a 18 year old to positive responses and plenty of support, but at Teacher’s College I was knocked back. One doesn’t come out once. Every time I meet a new person I’m faced with a choice: do I say something that reveals my sexuality? Sometimes I don’t because of safety or because I don’t feel it’s worth it. But most of the time it comes up naturally enough and it’s hardly a problem. When training to be a teacher, I was faced with this decision on an entirely different level in deciding how to come out in a classroom.

As an training teacher I chose to focus on my practice and not get caught up by this. I chose not to lie, but to avoid (something that I now acknowledge is actually another form of lying). In one particular class I was being observed teaching I made a comment, or maybe a gesture, which lead to my associate teacher pulling me aside and angrily denouncing how I had flaunted my sexuality in front of the class. I was told I was being deliberately provocative and my personal life was none of the students’ business.

While this incident could have inspired me to resist such oppression and vow to never let someone stop me from being who I am, it actually did the opposite. I shrunk as a result; I hid. I entered my first teaching job with no intention of coming out – but kept telling myself I wouldn’t be lying because I just wouldn’t be addressing it.

And then I found my inspirational colleagues. They were out and proud and students knew this. Once they knew about me I began building back that confidence and gaining more strength to let me be me. This was complex given the first few years of teaching for anyone are extremely challenging as to be effective a lot of skills need to be mastered in a very short space of time.

I mr cargilllearnt about ‘othering’. When I applied for leave for the North American Out Games in Vancouver, I wrote my leave request letter to the Board of Trustees and intended to talk to the student representative about what they were going to learn about me. My colleague pointed out that outing myself to that student for that purpose was emphasising a difference that denormalised my sexuality; I was ‘othering’ my identity and making it less valid.

When I became a Dean, a student in my cohort came out to me. I don’t know whether he sensed an ally, or whether I was just in the right place at the right time, but this triggered a tidal wave of action that led to the Seven Sharp story. Some students knew, but while I was talking about diversity issues in class, I wasn’t openly discussing how they affected me. Some students clearly knew, but I hadn’t created environments where they felt like they could talk about it with me. I was still vulnerable and this had to change.

With the support of my colleagues we formally established a diversity group that met once a week with students identified through our supportive Guidance Counselor. We were small at first, but the opportunity for the students to discuss the issues they were facing together without stigmas was invaluable. Many of those students faced complex issues including not being safe at home, bullying from peers, navigating their churches as well as the difficult journey of coming to terms with their identity and being a teenager.

The next critical step was to advertise. I stepped on stage for a school assembly with my colleague, Kirsty, and we presented a message that affirmed every student’s identity. We used pictures of celebrities the students knew and told them that LGBTI+ people are all over the world, in their communities, maybe in their families, that they are in this school and “two of them are bringing this message to you today”.

This was a personally a huge step for me as I finally shook the demons that had forced me to put a foot back into the closet. It felt unbelievably liberating, like I had busted through a wall that intolerance had built, but that I had been partly responsible for.

The next phase happened very quickly. The numbers in our support group grew. The conversations in the student body about these issues became more frequent and more normalised. I joined the PPTA Rainbow Taskforce, and have begun delivering whole staff professional development sessions to schools around New Zealand on creating safe environments for all students. I also became an Executive Advisor for InsideOUT, who are a group of inspiring young people responsible for projects big and small that contribute to making Aotearoa a safer place for young people of all sexual orientations and genders. I started Rainbow Teachers NZto promote discussions and share stories. I also had the opportunity to present all this work at ILGA Oceania Human Rights Conference.

The Seven Sharp story arose when TVNZ reporter Hadyn Jonescontacted me after his story on Robbie Manson, a gay rower, got such a positive response. He emailed me with a pertinent question:

Where are all the gay teachers? Basic maths would suggest there must be hundreds if not thousands out there but I have never heard from one.  I’m guessing they must be a real beacon and example to teenagers grappling with their sexuality (as if the teenage years weren’t baffling enough). I could understand hesitancy in some of the conservative schools around New Zealand but it’s 2016 and it’s time.

The wheels began turning and the story became a reality. But it is only a checkpoint. The story acknowledges there is so much more to do because this is not representative of most New Zealand schools. In fact, there is a lot not said in the story that I feel is important:

  1. Lesbian and gay exclusively is not diversity. Bisexual, trans*, intersex and others face similar, and often worse, struggles in our schools.
  2. Supporting LGBTI+ students is not the responsibility exclusively of LGBTI+ teachers. All teachers should be teachers of diversity, and all teachers need to come out in support of every single LGBTI+ student.
  3. Where I am today would not be possible without the strength and mana of Kirsty Farrant, David Pegram and so many other teachers and campaigners before me. I am so privileged to be working in the position I am today because of these people.

And finally, the way the story was handled by the presenters, Mike Hoskings and Toni Street, just emphasised how important this work is. Hoskings comments that inferred gay teachers have an association with deviant and sexually inappropriate behaviour was wildly off the point. It potentially did harm by undermining the messages of the story.

My hope is that this story is seen by students and staff across New Zealand, and that we can start making genuine change. There are so many positive pockets of best practice. But it’s time that this best practice becomes the norm. The policies that sit in behind what schools do need to ensure that LGBTI+ students are supported for the good of all students. Only then can we turn around the embarrassing statistics that simply show what we are doing at the moment is just not good enough.

Being out was never in question | @Sara_KostMN

Sara outside her classroomThis is an original blog post by Sara Kost (@Sara_KostMN), an out teacher from Minneapolis.

It was never a question for me, whether or not to be out at school. Even throughout my undergrad, in all of my education classes, and during my student teaching, I was out. After coming out when I was 16, there was no way, I decided, no way I’d go back in the closet as a teacher.

My mom was worried for me. “Are you sure?” she would ask me. “Are you sure you want to be so open at school?”

“Yes.”

“But what about the Administration? What if they don’t like that?” she asked.

“Then I don’t want to work at a school like that,” I responded.

“But what if you can’t find a job? Can you really afford to be choosy?” Mom replied.

I know she was just worried for me, but I bristled at her suggestion that I hide my sexuality for a job. I couldn’t do that. It just wasn’t an option.

You see, my outward appearance usually clues people in to my sexuality. I’m fairly masculine. In lesbian lingo, I’m butch. There’s no way I would sacrifice my comfort just to dress a bit more passably feminine. I’m just not comfortable in feminine clothing. I feel so much more like myself wearing clothes from the “men’s” section.

It still took me a while, however, to feel comfortable going to job interviews in a very masculine-presenting suit and tie. I want the people I interview with to understand right from the start what they are getting with me. I don’t have to say it in the interview, my outward appearance says it for me. I’m gay, and I look like it. But that can be a double-edged sword. I don’t have to come out, my outward appearance does that for me, but I also don’t have the protection that conventional outward gender appearance offers, like the ability to claim straight privilege if needed.

I do sometimes wonder how many teaching positions I lost because of my appearance during the interview. I know of one for sure. Early on after I graduated, I had a job interview at a private school where they asked if the required dress code for women (a skirt) would be a problem for me. I said that it would be. Obviously I didn’t get that job, but oh well. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable, or even remotely like myself, and therefore I wouldn’t have felt like a good teacher.

Feeling comfortable is fundamental to my ability to work with my students. I am at my best as a teacher when I am my most authentic self. I think we’ve all had days as kids, as teens, and as adults, days where we throw on an outfit only to realize after we’re out of the house that it doesn’t fit right, or colors clash, or just doesn’t look good, and we feel awful and awkward the rest of the day. We don’t feel like ourselves. In that same way, I only feel like myself when I dress and outwardly appear masculine.

For my students, they just know me as Ms. Kost. They see me and the way I dress, and that’s how they know me. They only know me in the way I’ve interacted with them at school. And right from the start they’ve never questioned it. I stood in front of them on the first day of school the same way I stand in front of them the first day after winter break, the same way I will stand in front of them on the last day of school.

I’ve never hid anything from my students. It’s freeing, being an open book. I don’t have to worry about what to say or how to phrase things. (i.e. girlfriend/partner vs. “friend”/“room-mate”) That doesn’t mean I disclose to them everything about my life, but in general if they ask, I’ll tell them. I want them to know that I’m human. I want them to know that I have a life, a family, hobbies outside of school.

For instance, I have a bunch of pictures on the wall behind my desk of my family, friends and my partner. Whenever students come up to my desk, they’ll stop and look at my pictures, and sometimes they’ll ask about them.

Ms Kost's display of photos

“Ms. Kost, who’s that?” they’ll ask as they point to a picture.

“Oh, that’s me and my Grandma,” I’ll respond.

“Ms. Kost, is that your brother?”

“Yep, that’s my brother and sister-in-law.”

“Ms. Kost, is that your baby?”

“No, that’s my nephew. He’s cute, isn’t he?”

“Ms. Kost, who’s that?”

“That’s my girlfriend.”

It’s all very matter-of-fact, as it should be. I believe being honest and open with my students builds better relationships with them. My honesty builds trust. And sometimes, I may be the only gay person my students know. I put a face to the label. I challenge their preconceived notions.

Most importantly, for my LGBT students, I am a role model for them. I can be a beacon during their adolescence, a symbol of hope for them as they come out. As a queer youth, I didn’t have many out role models, so I want to be the kind of role model I needed when I was young. I want to show them that they can grow into a productive, happy LGBT adult too.

Being an out teacher has it’s challenges, but I am so lucky to work for a great school where I am supported and appreciated for everything I bring to our team and our students.

Coming out at school has really helped my students | @emmabaldry

A heartfelt letter from a a pupil

Emma Baldry (@emmabaldry) is a secondary supply/substitute teacher in Merseyside, England. She is co-ordinating an education area at this year’s Liverpool Pride, predominantly aimed at families and children to educate them about the LGBT community. Emma is running a Liverpool Pride competition for the schools in Merseyside, with the aim of increasing LGBT visibility (for students and teachers) in primary and secondary schools.

Being the only openly ‘out’ gay member of staff at a school in North Yorkshire was just the norm’ for me and my pupils and colleagues, aside from the yearly ‘outing’ on arrival of the new year 7 cohort each September! However, it wasn’t always like that.

It wasn’t the first time I had come out. As a teen I had been very open about my feelings for members of the same sex but this had led me to experience the same bullying and low self worth that I am now trying to change for future generations. This time around, however, was different.

This time I was confidently ‘out’ with my friends and colleagues and was, in the summer of 2009, having a civil partnership ceremony to my partner and taking on her surname. There lay the predicament. Baldry, I was Miller! I was going to be taking on her surname which meant that the pupils were going to have a new name to learn! On my return that September I arrived to a new name badge and proceeded to introduce myself to new and old pupils as Mrs Baldry. Many of the older pupils started to ask what my husband was called and it was at this that I had a choice to make – do I lie or do I tell the truth. I chose the latter. I had had enough of pretending and now I wanted to be true to myself. I responded proudly “She’s called Joanne”.

For the first few months it was at times hard with pupils writing offensive messages for me to find on pieces of paper in the classroom and sniggering down the corridors but issues were dealt with by SLT and, although low level comments were still being made up until the day I left, they were less prominent and pupils would often be the first to stick up for what was right!

IMG_0232In 2011 Stonewall offered my school a visit from Lance Corporal James Wharton, as was, to do an assembly about being ‘out’ in the army and being a garrison school I jumped at this opportunity. With this came my 3rd big outing as, in front of the whole school in the assembly hall, I introduced James as being gay – just like me.

From this moment on I have helped to Champion the work of Diversity Role Models and Stonewall within schools across the North and this has helped them to move forward to tackle homophobic bullying and help the pupils become more accepting of one another. This has led to several pupils feeling safe enough to be open and ‘out’ themselves.

I feel, as in all schools, there is still more that needs to be done but I am now happy to be the ‘OUT’ role model for the pupils, and staff, alike that I see come through the school gates each day in whatever school I am working in.

Fighting homophobia in schools | @informed_edu

OutTeacher founder David Weston writes in the Guardian that denying LGBT young people their identity is child abuse.

Every school in the world has a significant number of young people who aren’t heterosexual. Some have already identified that they were born this way, some may yet do so. Schools can and must have an increasing role in helping them develop into confident, healthy adults.

Many are lucky enough to be growing up with supportive teachers, families, communities and legal systems, but not everyone is so lucky. Even in the growing number of countries that are, at long last, putting the law on the side of respect and tolerance, there are many young people who will face discrimination, even abuse, from their communities or, worse, family.

This makes it more important than ever that schools are oases of support and celebration of diversity. As a young man growing up and struggling to come to terms with being gay, I found my peers’ homophobic attitudes terrifying. The memory of these difficult years inspired me many years later, as a teacher, to discuss my forthcoming civil partnership ceremony in whole-school assemblies. I know from messages I received then and since that my “being out” as a teacher made a positive difference, not only to those students questioning their sexuality but also to their heterosexual peers. Giving children gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans role models has great impact – far beyond merely reading about gay celebrities. It is also hugely powerful when heterosexual teachers demonstrate that they celebrate diversity.

Read more at The Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jun/16/fighting-homophobia-schools-dont-let-religion-stop-us#comment-53881995

I think I’m out now – The aftermath of coming out in a national newspaper.

Eileen Out

This article originally appeared on Not A Second Class Teacher blog

It seems like a lifetime ago now, when I was beginning to come to terms with my sexuality, I turned to the internet for support. It was a desperate and almost fruitless search to find any trace of personal accounts from other Irish LGBT teachers. Were any LGBT teachers out in work? What happened when they came out? How did they handle questions about their private lives? What did Irish LGBT teachers even look like? What if I really was the only gay (teacher) in the village?

Finding the INTO LGBT Teachers’ Group gave me my first opportunity to answer some of these questions. And unsurprisingly, it turned out that LGBT teachers weren’t half as mysterious as I’d imagined. They were just teachers who happened to be gay. This sounds pretty obvious, but when the very mention of the word gay is met by silence in so many staffrooms, when it is presumed that you are straight, and even online searches for “gay teacher in Ireland” show sparse results, it sends out the message that there is no room for LGBT teachers in Irish Schools. I hoped that starting this blog might be another small step towards changing this misconception.

It took me three weeks to sum up the courage to publish the blog under my own name. By then I had decided that I would never again force myself back into the closet for any reason, even to stay in the career I love so much. So when I sat down to start the blog, I felt I had nothing to lose. What I hadn’t thought about was what I would gain.

When Grainne Faller from the Irish Times approached me to write an article based on the blog, I tried not to think about the consequences. It had been all well and good when only a handful of people had seen the blog, but my 96 year old granny reads the Irish Times and let’s just say, there’s a couple of things my family have neglected to tell her about my personal life these last few years.

Nevertheless, it was an opportunity for an LGBT teacher to write about their personal experiences in their own words. The very people Section 37.1 affects most are often left voiceless and faceless. For so many LGBT teachers, anonymity has been our employment protection because our equality laws have failed us. We have relied on others to speak for us, or our comments have remained anonymous, save a few brave individuals who were the inspiration for this blog.

Eileen Irish Times

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/education-people-eileen-gamble-a-gay-teacher-on-coming-out-in-the-staffroom-1.1806611

Within two days of the article being published, I received over 500 calls, messages, tweets and emails from LGBT groups, teachers, teenagers, principals and even religious community leaders. The vast majority of messages were positive, supportive and caring. So many people wrote of the disbelief and anger they felt when they learned that Section 37.1 even exists in modern Ireland. Others wrote of their similar experiences of working in schools or other workplaces. People of all ages, both LGBT and straight, shared memories of how LGBT issues were treated in their schools. LGBT parents wrote about both positive and negative experiences of raising children attending religious-run schools. Parents came up to me in the school I was subbing in to shake my hand. Some even sat their children down and read them the article. It was a wonderful and overwhelming experience. But I also felt utterly heartbroken to learn that so many people in our communities still feel isolated or invisible because of who they are, who they love and their family structure. I just hoped that the positive messages I received were heard by everyone in these positions.

I was invited to talk with Ray D’Arcy on Today FM. The lovely Ray was extremely supportive and managed to charm all sorts of personal information out of me. But when it came to reading out emails from listeners, I held my breath. Would I be quick enough to defend myself live on air? I needn’t have worried. Other gay teachers phoned in to share their stories and parents emailed to give their support to gay teachers and gay parents. Finally, the silence was broken.

Ray Darcy

http://www.todayfm.com/player/listen_back/4/12069/04th_June_2014_-_The_Ray_D’Arcy_Show_Part_2

The INTO LGBT group were invited to the TV3 People’s Debate with Vincent Browne; “Is Ireland Homophobic?”. Vincent’s eyebrows were enough to terrify me to the very core. But it was an honour to sit alongside three other LGBT teachers; Anne Marie Lillis, Niall Callan and Dion Ó Caoimh who spoke with such dignity and eloquence. We had the opportunity to be in the presence of many of the incredible spokespeople for LGBT rights in Ireland today. Most notably, the young adults from BeLongTo Youth Services and TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland) who spoke so movingly of their experiences of discrimination and the effects it has had on their lives. They are a glaring reminder that we are continuing to force the youth of this country to participate in a national education system that lacks the capacity to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying and discrimination in many of our schools.

Vincent browne Vincent Browne

During the next few weeks, other opportunities to do interviews came my way. I was so grateful for these opportunities to talk about life for LGBT teachers and student teachers across the country.  By then, there was only one type of interview that was of a major concern to me – a job interview. As Dublin Pride week arrived and many of my teaching colleagues counted down the last days of school, I couldn’t relax. Like so many teachers on temporary contracts, I knuckled down to write job application after job application. I started to feel a bit sick as the reality of coming out in a national newspaper began to sink in. It was nice to be referred to as a proud lesbian teacher but I was beginning to feel like an imposter. Could I still be called a teacher if I wasn’t actually teaching?

Eileen Newstalk

Newstalk’s Global Village with Dil Wickremasinghe

http://www.newstalk.ie/player/listen_back/21/10767/21st_June_2014_-_Global_Village_Part_2

I was giving my hairdresser/unofficial counsellor the update on all that had happened up until mid-August when the nice old lady sitting next to me bent over and tapped my on the arm.

Well did ya love? Did ya ever get a single job offer at all?” she pressed.

Even better”, I said, “I got three.”

Ah that’s grand for ya, isn’t it?

It is.” I replied.

And did you say you were a lesbian on your application?

No, there isn’t a box for it on the form.”

You couldn’t make this stuff up.

So I’ve chosen a one year temporary contract in a multidenominational school, an Educate Together National School, where Section 37.1 has no legal bearing on my employment equality rights. It’s the end of my third week. My head is melted and my throat is sore. I’m absolutely loving every minute of it. And when I go in next Monday and someone asks me how my weekend was, I will tell them; without editing pronouns, without avoiding certain questions and without replaying the conversation in my mind afterwards to make sure it was suitable. And then I’ll go back to my classroom and continue to do my job.

Eileen Door Sign

The last few months have taught me this; If you want to make any sort of contribution to the world around you, you do not need to be anything else but yourself. Of all the lessons I’m planning to teach my 5th Class this year, I’m making that one top of the list. If only our society made it that easy.

My reality is that I’m out now, very out! But the reality for most LGBT teachers and student teachers is that they are not out, and they feel that they can never be out in their school if they want a job or a promotion. And the number of teachers, gay or straight, who feel equipped to tackle homophobic bullying in our schools is miniscule. And this should not be the reality, for anyone, anywhere. No excuses.

Thank you to every single person who has supported this blog and especially to the other contributors so far; Cecelia, Niall and Ciara. And to other LGBT teachers who are wondering if their story is worth telling? Stop wondering and get typing/talking/sharing. Your voices and the voices of our many supporters remain the single most effective tool in combatting discrimination in our schools today.

UPDATEOn the 25th of September 2014, my dream temporary job became a dream PERMANENT job! Now that’s a happy ending 🙂