I want to tell you a story, about a teenage girl. She was 14 when she came out as a lesbian, at school.
She was caught truanting one day by the deputy head, who called her into his office.
This teacher proceeded to find out why she was truanting and when he found out it was because she was gay and being bullied, the expected response of: compassion, understanding, tolerance and the immediate suspension of the bullies wasn’t forthcoming.
He proceeded to ask her how she knew she was gay, he asked her if she knew what lesbians did in bed......then he asked her to describe it for him.
It doesn’t end there; he then blackmailed her into telling her parents. “I’ll give you until Friday to tell them or I’ll tell them for you.”
Wind this story forwards, that deputy head went onto become the head teacher and later retired.
That 14 year old girl went onto become the LGBT Executive member for the National Union of Teachers, this is my story.
I needed an ally when I was 14, and I didn't have anyone in my corner then, and I made it my mission to ensure that history didn't repeat itself when I became a teacher. I spent the first 8 years however in the closet [to students] as a PE teacher, I then switched subjects, came out [to students] and never looked back.
Being an ally isn't just about being a hero to everyone, sometimes just one is enough. We face choices in the classroom everyday, and some days we choose to be a hero, we speak up, we challenge, we are the adults in the room and help students see beyond bigotry and hatred through to compassion and understanding.
My journey in my current school has been empowering, and luckily I don't have to choose silence, and neither does anyone else, it isn't hard to be a hero or an advocate for young LGBT people.
My workshop I'll be delivering at the #womened unconference is a short intro to awareness of language, reframing how you can all be allies, and reflecting on what we would do when put in that 'mano a mano' situation of challenging homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language in the classroom.
Assemblies, posters on the wall and history months are great, but it's those small moments that potentially make all the difference. :)