Opinion: I'm an openly queer teacher - here's why that matters
Georgina Tomsett-Rowe on the importance of being out in the classroom.
Regardless of your response to this summer’s celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, you cannot deny its visibility. This has been in stark contrast to my own experiences growing up when exposure to visible LGBTQ+ representation was through sneaking downstairs to watch Bad Girls. In school, Section 28 was in force and aside from the locker room speculations about the PE teacher (possibly wishful thinking on my part), off screen there were few visible queer role models.
In comparison, the current generation of students are growing up in a world which, for the most part, celebrates diversity and acceptance. A world where openly gay characters are portrayed on television living mundane daily lives. So, we didn’t have visibility and now we do, it’s all fixed, right? Not quite, for whilst we have made enormous strides in our public attitudes, there remains one institutionalised sector of society which is finding it hard to move on.
Almost a decade ago, during my PGCE, a classmate asked our tutor about coming out in the classroom. The response? ‘Don’t give the children anymore ammunition. They will never respect you again’. I was shocked by her answer but I wasn’t surprised. When she began teaching in 1964, homosexuality was illegal. Over the course of her career she saw the decriminalisation in 1967, worked under Section 28 between 1988 and 2003, and witnessed the establishment of Civil Partnerships in 2005. It is no wonder her response to the question seemed antiquated and left a bitter taste in my mouth. I would dearly love to say that this attitude was an anomaly, but only 15 years since the repeal of Section 28, there remains a core of homophobia running through our education system. Becoming impervious to vitriolic statements about ‘gays in schools’ should not be a mark of length of service for an openly gay member of staff.
We no longer apply obsolete methodology in classrooms, so why do we seem fixed on maintaining obsolete attitudes towards sexuality? They say it takes three generations to change public sentiments, one to rewrite the rules, one to bluster through the change and one to have never known anything different. Whilst we can all be guilty of making judgements based on our own experiences, if these attitudes are presented as lore to new generations of teachers, we are in danger of hindering the progress of the teaching profession.
Whenever another student comes out to me, my belief in encouraging openly queer teachers is reinforced. Without this visibility we are helping perpetuate the myth that sexuality is something of which to feel ashamed, uncomfortable and afraid. We’re getting it so right in one area of society but so wrong in another. Comfortable acceptance of homosexuality needs to step out of the television screen and into reality but, to make a stand, we need bolster the resources available to us. Teachers are one of our greatest weapons in the fight against homophobia and we need to give them our full support to ensure that our arsenals are well stocked.
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