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.
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.
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….