Four LGBT+ teachers changing their schools
Helping kids reach their potential requires excellent teachers and role models from all backgrounds. Here, Four LGBT+ teachers talk about the impact they’ve had.
Siobhan – 2014 ambassador
Not long into my first year of teaching, there was a fight between two girls in Year 10, triggered by one girl spreading rumours that the other was a lesbian. When I spoke with student afterwards, it occurred to me that she would rather risk being excluded for fighting than allow anyone to think she was gay.
I decided to take the idea of an LGBT+ club to my school’s leadership team. The headteacher was completely on board with this and I’ve felt greatly supported throughout the time I’ve been running the club.
The group meets on Friday lunchtimes and is open to everyone - whether they identify as LGBT+, know someone who does or just want to find out more. The programme is varied; we’ve had debates, guest speakers, film screenings and more. I know several more students who identify as LGBT+ but who choose not to attend as they’re not ready to come out publicly yet; I think that just knowing there’s a safe space for them when they are ready is really important.
Of course, there’s an ongoing debate about whether teachers owe it to their students to be out at school or whether they are justified in choosing not to do so. I didn’t come out when I first set up the LGBT club as I wasn’t out to some friends and family and it didn’t feel right telling pupils before them. I’m now out to everyone at home and so I work on the basis that if I’m asked directly at school, I’ll be honest. However, though my colleagues know, none of the pupils have ever asked me. In my experience, pupils care far more about whether you’ve marked last week’s assessment or given them an achievement point for their homework than how you identify yourself.
It goes without saying that being out at school can be empowering and help to normalise the LGBT+ community. However, there are plenty of other ways to support and promote LGBT+ issues in school if you don’t feel comfortable coming out. My advice is to do what feels right for you.
Matthew – 2016 trainee
There weren’t any LGBT+ awareness events planned at my school when I started, so I went into the head teacher’s office and laid out what I wanted to do and why.
It was not long into my first year and there I was delivering assemblies to each year group across the school. It wasn’t really until I was at the side of the stage that it occurred to me that I was effectively very publically coming out to a very large group at once. For all my nerves at that moment, I knew I wanted to do this so these young people could have the LGBT+ role models that I never had at school.
I’ve repeated this all in my second year. The school has had a pride wall, a rainbow non-uniform day and a video competition on the theme of acceptance. When I’m stood next to the wall – with all the messages from pupils on what makes them proud – I know in my own way I’m making a difference.
I’m in my element teaching. I always thought I might end up in the city but when I stepped into the classroom for the first time I finally decided to stop fighting it and embrace the profession.
Samantha – 2017 trainee
I have always been quite confidently out as bisexual (like covered in glitter and rainbows on a regular basis kind of out), so I wanted to continue this at school.
I told my senior leadership team that I wanted to focus on LGBT+ education and awareness - something they were keen for me to pursue. I knew that I wanted to be out to the kids, but in a chilled enough way that they saw that it wasn't a massive deal, just one of the many parts of my personality and identity. This means my outing stories range from telling my form class when we were talking about national coming out day, to being asked about my "some people are bi" Stonewall poster (classic), to replying to a compliment about my rainbow eyeshadow.
I was worried about my school area in a previous mining town, expecting it to have many more traditional ideas about diversity and gender roles. I've found they're much more open than I first thought: the Christmas concert contained a drag act from a student, students who were creating characters in drama made many LGBT+, and I have personally had to tell a student his eyelashes are too long to safely wear eye googles for practicals...
There's still a way to go though so I have been delivering presentations for key LGBT+ calendar dates just by making one and sending it to the head of pastoral asking if it can be included. The first few were emailed round for tutor time, but for LGBT+ History Month just recently, I ran all the year meetings.
This allowed a perfect opportunity to tell students we're setting up an LGBT+ society (lead by myself and a 6th former) with 3 main focuses: awareness, fundraising, and wellbeing. This is still in its infancy, but already students are asking about how to get involved - the response has been great.
James – 2017 trainee
I don’t think I would have believed you if you’d said some of the biggest highlights of my first year in the classroom would involve delivering training and being able to employ my university Russian skills.
I knew LGBT History Month was approaching and I wanted the opportunity to really engage pupils and staff on why LGBT+ issues should be so much more than the odd Personal, Social, Health and Economic lesson. So as well as assemblies to every year group I delivered a session to all the staff on tackling homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in schools.
In the days afterwards several colleagues came up to me and said thanks to the training they’d felt much more able to deal with homophobic incidents. As pieces of feedback go, that’s been one of the best.
One day in my first term I was approached by a member of staff – “I hear that you speak Russian?”. Turns out there was a young pupil with English as his second language who was struggling so the school was keen for me to use my language degree and engage him in lessons. Watching his confidence grow to the point he’s answering questions in front of the whole class has been incredible.
I never saw LGBT+ role models when I was growing up so I felt like I owed it to the next generation to be open in the classroom. Teaching has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but that means when you get a breakthrough it’s all the more rewarding.