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 I had a horrible time. I was subjected to the most horrendous bullying on an almost-daily basis. 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. 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.
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. As part of a 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. 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.
Now, with some colleagues, I'm setting up #lgbted. Let's be the role models we needed.