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.