I Did it Again!

Just over a year ago I made the decision to share my experiences with coming out to the pupils at my old school. You can read about it here. It was a step I had wanted to take as soon as I got into teaching (and felt comfortable with knowing what I was doing). It was the best feeling finally being able to be myself and share valuable lessons I have learnt over the years. I didn’t have to hide who I was anymore. I then left and joined a new School in September and felt like I had only made a small impact on those kids as I had left so soon. But it was pleasing to have positive comments from many pupils and staff so I know to some of them it made a difference.

img_0114
At my new school I was almost back at square one, with none of the children knowing who I really was. I guess part of that is through my own choice to a certain extent but I wanted to settle in to the school and find my feet as it was very different to what I was used to and much more challenging. Nearly a whole year has passed and of course in a new school I was being asked questions like ‘do you have a boyfriend?’ Are you married?….Etc! Anyone who knows me will know I much prefer to make a point about something so it can have a bigger impact, I like leading assemblies and trying the share my words of wisdom with more pupils rather than hearsay (well I like to think I can sometimes be wise). So last week I decided to bite the bullet and do it all again, how very fitting that it came in the week after Bristol pride. I really couldn’t care less what people think of me and I wish I had only realised that sooner in life, and thats part of the message I wanted to get across. The only people who’s opinions matter to me are those that love me and are closest to me. Frankly, I don’t need anyone else’s acceptance.

So why? It’s simple really, how can we expect children and pupils to understand how to accept themselves or each other if a teacher in this day and age doesn’t feel as though they can come out and be themselves in their workplace? What kind of message does that send? I have seen pupils struggle with it and not realise what they are going through, when I was at school I wasn’t comfortable or confident enough to feel as though I could talk to anyone. I was a closed book and then was almost made to feel like I was wrong or weird for feeling the way I did so just denied it instead. The recent Stonewall School report shows an improvement in the LGBT bullying figures in young people, which is fantastic! But there is still work to be done. Pupils need a role model, I think we forget or sometimes underestimate the affect that we can have on these kids and if there is someone brave enough to be open and willing to be a role model then maybe more people will follow suit. I wanted to share my story again because if I can help only a handful of pupils then I know it will have been worth it. I want to be someone that the pupils feel comfortable talking to, to help them cope with what I struggled with. And it has already started, I have had 2 pupils come to me and discuss their sexuality with me, and I think it’s nice for them that they can have a listening ear and just to know that how they are feeling is normal. I hope they know that teachers are there for them.

img_0115-1
In light of this, I also want to work with other staff and educators to make an even bigger impact. If you are a teacher and identify as LGBTQI then I urge you to come out and make a difference. It might be a scary decision, but be brave enough to share your story as I can promise you, it will be worth it and you will have a positive effect on pupils.

On the back of this, we have now decided to go one step further and register with Stonewall to become a Diversity Champion School. Our intention is to celebrate diversity and encourage acceptance for all. Not just for LGBTQI individuals but to celebrate that everyone is equal and deserves to be treated with respect. We also want to encourage the #nobystanders campaign and try and get more people to feel comfortable speaking out and standing up for others. I am sure there are some amazing things being done in schools already so I am open to sharing best practice and new ideas. So please, feel free to get involved as it will only add value to what we are trying to achieve. The Stonewall report still has some shocking comments and figures in that we need to work together to try and change and hopefully eventually eradicate. Watch this space….

Stonewall

Gay – Let’s get the meaning straight….

I have been a teacher for the last 4 years and this is a topic I feel passionately about. @Stonewalluk are doing some fantastic work and have been for a number of years. More recently, they have distributed posters to secondary schools to display in classrooms. I think these are great and can be an excellent tool to try and deter pupils from calling each other gay as an insult. Here is an example of one of them.

IMG_1205

The sad thing is, that many people do not question the use of this term. This week has been anti bullying week. I have seen numerous pictures all over Twitter and Facebook. One of these pictures shocked me to my core. It is the picture that has had me thinking all week and inspired this blog.

  Fact

It makes me incredibly sad to think that young people would consider taking their own life because they are being bullied for being who they are. I ask myself why? What could we change to discourage this kind of behaviour. Why do people feel the need to bully others just because they are different to them? Let’s be honest, in this day and age it is far more accepted to be gay and Stonewall have done so much to help us get to where we are today. So what can we do moving forward? And more importantly, how?

As a teacher, I believe we can have an influence on this. If young people are educated about this issue at an earlier age, then this could be of help. I think part of the problem is that some parents and grandparents still don’t accept it. I know this is now becoming more of a minority but negative opinions can be passed down. The secondary school that I work in, deliver lessons on diversity during PSHE. This has included race, religion and sexual orientation. Opinions shared with me from the pupils have been positive, with comments such as “who cares if someone is gay” and “gay people should be allowed to get married.” Which has now been made legal. But somewhere along the line there is still an issue.

I was driving home from school this week when Macklemore’s Same Love came on the radio. That’s when I decided that I was definitely going to try and change some of the opinions of people in school. I have an assembly coming up in March and the theme is inspiration. I have decided to focus this on encouraging pupils to be themselves and to accept others if they are different. I am going to try and create a video and include real stories from people that I know. If you would like to be involved and think your story can inspire someone to be themselves then please get in touch.

2

I then decided to do some research. One way I believe pupils will be more forthcoming and talk about their problems rather than not dealing with them, is if they have role models. I then found this video. It’s the #proudtoplay campaign. Sports stars who have recently had the courage to be who they are and come out. Tom Daley was an inspiration to many young people when he released his video. What was upsetting was the number of negative comments on social media sites, this is what needs to change. Until they have role models they can fully relate to or even know, then maybe they will not change their opinions or they are too naive to understand.

I then remembered seeing an article on twitter about a teacher that came out to pupils in an assembly in 2010. He had a lot of courage to do that and ended up inspiring a lot of young people in his school. Teachers are in a position to be a role model for all that they teach, so why have we not heard more of these stories. I decided to find out why. I am saddened at what I found out. I came across this article. It outlines that a teacher who came out was bullied and ended up leaving. There was a complete lack of support from the senior leadership team. The main worry is a backlash from parents, and it’s frustrating that people cannot or will not see the bigger picture. I am hoping these barriers will change over the next few years and teachers who can be role models will have the courage to come out, but more importantly, will come out because they know they have the support of the school. Teachers share their private lives and experiences to let pupils know they are human too, and gay teachers have a lot to offer but are afraid to do it. Not because they do not want to but because they are worried about what it will mean for their job. I guess only time will tell……

The important thing is that times are changing. Being gay is more accepted today than it has ever been. If we can try and stop the ‘banter’ that can actually be taken as bullying, then more young people will feel more comfortable being who they are. Perhaps this and giving them role models to speak to about experiences and guidance on how to deal with it might prevent the 21,000 suicide attempts in the next year.

1