Last week, a guest on the morning news show Good Morning Britain caused controversy after saying teachers shouldn’t come out to students.
While being interviewed on the show, Katie Ivens, vice-chair of Campaign for Real Education, called homosexuality “a fashionable issue” that students shouldn’t be told about. She was being interviewed following the news that two teachers from Brighton, Pam Stallard and Luke Burgess, had held an assembly with students to talk about their sexuality at the end of the summer term.
Ivens’ opinion on the matter strikes a resemblance to Section 28, a law which banned teachers from discussing homosexuality in schools in the 1980s, and she faced a huge backlash from viewers who vented their frustration referring to her views as “archaic”.
Stallard and Burgess said they came out to the students to help them “feel more comfortable about their own sexuality” but my question is - is a teacher’s sexuality really anyone’s business?
For me, school was a very uncomfortable time. I didn’t get on well with teachers. Their opinion was that I had a bad attitude, and my opinion was that those that can’t do [anything else], teach – an opinion that I had no issue in sharing with them at every opportunity. It was this opinion, and my lack of shyness in keeping it quiet, that led me into the corridors for many of my classes.
The truth is I never felt like I belonged in the school. I had a great group of friends, who were from all different backgrounds and walks of life. We never judged each other for any part of us, and that’s the attitude that I’ve kept with me through my years. Outside of our group, kids were cruel. You were picked on for being LGBT or simply for people believing you were, unless you were popular, in which case your sexuality or believed sexuality was never discussed.
For this reason, more so than any other, I think any opportunity for teachers to talk about gay issues, and challenge gay slang in schools is a positive step forwards. The fact that even 30 years after Section 28 was repealed more than half of LGBT pupils in schools still report hearing homophobic remarks is not okay.
But do teachers need to come out to make students feel comfortable about their sexuality? In an ideal world, all students should have a positive attitude to any diverse group, meaning that everyone feels comfortable with their own sexuality, and there’s no need for a student to know what happens in a teacher’s life outside of the classroom.
The sad reality; we don’t live in an ideal world.
When I was at school, sexuality wasn’t a widely discussed thing. In fact, being gay wasn’t really discussed. When I did see sexuality visible at school, it was negative. Kids were called names and picked on. This was also the case when I was at home and watching TV. Gay people weren’t really seen on screen when I was growing up. There just weren’t gay characters on TV shows, or on soaps. I think that’s why many of my role-models were radio presenters; Simon Nicks, a fantastic radio presenter who passed away earlier this year, and Scott Mills – two massive figures within the LGBT media community, and two of the main inspirations for following a path into radio for me.
The first opportunity for me seeing gay people on TV was actually on Hollyoaks at 13. The storyline featured John Paul and Craig – You’ll know the one I’m talking about, it was one of the biggest, and first, gay storylines for the soap. It was the story of two teenage friends coming to terms with their feelings for one another. It sounds quite tame for 2018 standards, but at the time it was a big thing.
It’s those two facts that make me think about the importance of having a figure that’s present in schools for students coming to terms with their sexuality. I wasn’t “out” – a term which I hate to use – until Year 11 officially, when some of my friends were overheard talking about my boyfriend. Some of the school staff questioned this and didn’t batter an eye-lid, nothing was ever said or remarked upon, until students found out the information. Although I knew that there were some teachers I could be open with, and wouldn’t judge me because of my sexuality, knowing that there wasn’t an “out” teacher at school made me, and I’m sure some of the other students that were going through the same thing as me, feel as though if I were to discuss the issue I wouldn’t really be understood.
That’s a hard thing to comprehend for a 16-year-old. It’s still a hard thing for me to comprehend while I’m writing this at 24.
In the end, the sexuality of a teacher is really no one’s business, unless they are making students aware for the right reasons; like in this situation. These two teachers are trying to give students an opportunity that those teachers wouldn’t have experienced at school, just like me.