Bring your school's values into the 21st century

Daniel Tomlinson-Gray

Daniel is an English teacher and co-founder of LGBTed.

Follow @LGBTedUK

Website: Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Image credit: Flickr // jglsongs. Image credit: Flickr // jglsongs.

When training to be a teacher 10 years ago, I was told emphatically that I should not tell students that I’m gay because it would give them “more ammunition”. Comments like this grossly underestimate our young people who, in my experience, are more open-minded and accepting than their parents and many of my former colleagues. Comments like this force teachers and school leaders to let down some of our most vulnerable students by not being a visible role model they can identify with. I believe teachers should lead by example and that’s why, as part of LGBT History Month in February 2017, I finally came out to over 1,000 students in assembly.

No jazz hands, no drama, no hysteria. I simply talked all about how, as a school, we were going to commemorate LGBT History Month and said, “As a gay man, I know how important it is to have positive role models that can support you and tell you it gets better.”

It’s very telling that this was a much bigger deal than I ever imagined. It gained worldwide news coverage, particularly on the BBC, and the response to it has been phenomenal. I have received over 800 emails and messages of support from all over the world, “One man actually sent me a postcard from Texas.”including from former pupils. One man actually went to the trouble to hand-write a postcard, track down my work address and post it all the way from Texas, purely to thank me and say how moved he was. I have since decided to use my profile to make a difference for all the young people who are like I was.

I had a horrific upbringing, and a terrible time at school due to being bullied for being gay before I even knew I was. I had wet toilet roll thrown at me in the changing rooms; I had sandwiches thrown at me from the window of the school bus that I was too terrified to board, and I was pushed around, kicked and punched in corridors. I was called names I didn’t even understand, but I was never without a sassy comeback. My coping mechanism was to fight, to be the best and strongest person I could be, to prove them all wrong. I disrupted the status quo, I was unapologetic and I owned it. I was told by my teachers that “it’s just something I have to deal with”, and my school simply did not know how to deal with it.

These days, with hindsight, I say I was never a victim of homophobic bullying. I was subjected to it on a daily basis, but I was never a victim. I have had the strength of character to overcome it and use it my advantage, but without positive role models, so many other vulnerable children are less fortunate. All young people should feel safe at school and be encouraged to be themselves.

If there is any doubt as to why LGBT+ teachers and leaders need to be authentic in school, the statistics in Stonewall’s 2017 School Report are horrifying:

    • Nearly half of LGBT+ students are bullied at school, and 64% of trans students.
    • Half of LGBT+ students hear homophobic language regularly in school.
    • More than half of LGBT+ students feel that bullying has a negative effect on their education.
    • 61% of LGBT+ young people have self-harmed.
    • 45% of young trans people have attempted to take their own life.
    • Half of them have succeeded.
    • 53% of LGBT+ students say there isn’t an adult at their school they feel they can talk to.

For the sake of the young people that need us, this cannot continue. By having LGBT+ teachers and leaders who are authentic in the classroom, our young people will see it is possible to be successful and happy as an LGBT+ person. They will be reassured that there are other people out there who are different and are OK with it.

Aside from being visible role models, there is lots more that teachers and leaders can do to support our LGBT+ students. You could ask yourself these questions:

How often do you teach about LGBT+ related issues in your school?

In our school, we incorporated LGBT+ plus issues into a range of subjects for LGBT History Month, and the students found it incredibly enlightening. In Maths, they learned the heartbreaking story of Alan Turing. In MFL, they learned all about the ‘secret’ gay language of Polari. In Music, they learned “MFL students learned about the ‘secret’ gay language of Polari.”about some of the most iconic music by LGBT+ artists before learning what they all had in common and discussing it. In Media Studies, they learned about the positive and negative representations of both sexuality and gender in music videos and were surprised by what they saw. In Geography they learned about the huge number of countries that it is simply not safe to visit as an LGBT+ person, where LGBT+ people are tortured and killed simply for who they love. This was contrasted with liberal, welcoming British cities like Brighton, my beautiful home.

What is your school’s punishment for homophobic bullying?

You’d be surprised how many teachers don’t know this when I have asked them. Obviously, all individual cases are different, but if this is not treated equally to racism, we are once again failing young LGBT+ people.

When have you intervened to stop or prevent homophobic bullying or homophobic language?

Homophobic language is often used casually (phrases such as “that’s so gay” are still commonplace) and may be used more out of ignorance than out of malice, but is this being challenged and brought to young people’s attention enough? There are thousands of other words that can be used, but they chose “gay”. What is this saying to all those who are struggling to come to terms with their own sexuality?

When have you missed an opportunity to support an LGBT+ student and what could you have done differently?

This might be the student who hangs around in your doorway and doesn’t quite know how to broach what they want to say to you; it might be the student whose friends dismiss their name-calling as “banter”. When teachers and leaders reflect honestly, I am told about so many examples where they feel they could have done more.

My story is not unique. There are thousands of children who still experience what I did but suffer in silence. Some have since entered the teaching profession, like me, to right these wrongs. A small number are also openly LGBT+. I recently spoke to a teacher who is beginning his first placement as an ‘out’ teacher because of what I have done. This is exactly my message to my LGBT+ colleagues in the profession: Come and join me on a big gay adventure in education, and let’s be the visible role models we needed when we were at school.

Want to receive cutting-edge insights from leading educators each week? Sign up to our Community Update and be part of the action!

Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support us.
When you register, you'll join a grassroots community where you can:
• Enjoy unlimited access to articles
• Get recommendations tailored to your interests
• Attend virtual events with our leading contributors
Register Now

Latest stories

  • How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country
    How to handle stress while teaching in a foreign country

    Teaching English in a foreign country is likely to be one of the most demanding experiences you'll ever have. It entails relocating to a new country, relocating to a new home, and beginning a new career, all of which are stressful in and of themselves, but now you're doing it all at once. And you'll have to converse in a strange language you may not understand.

  • Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?
    Is Learning Fun for You, Teacher?

    Over the weekend, my family of five went to an Orlando theme park, and I decided we should really enjoy ourselves by purchasing an Unlimited Quick Queue pass. It was so worth the money! We rode every ride in the park at least twice, but one ride required us to ride down a rapidly flowing river, which quenched us with water. It was incredible that my two-year-old was laughing as well. We rode the Infinity Falls ride four times in one day—BEST DAY EVER for FAMILY FUN in the Sun! The entire experience was epic, full of energizing emotions and, most importantly, lots of smiles. What made this ride so cool was that the whole family could experience it together, the motions were on point, and the water was the icing on the cake. It had been a while since I had that type of fun, and I will never forget it.

  • Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2
    Free recycling-themed resources for KS1 and KS2

    The Action Pack is back for the start of the brand new school year, just in time for Recycle Week 2021 on 20 - 26 September, to empower pupils to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The free recycling-themed resources are designed for KS1 and KS2 and cover the topics of Art, English, PSHE, Science and Maths and have been created to easily fit into day-to-day lesson planning.

  • Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu
    Inspire your pupils with Emma Raducanu

    Following the exceptional performance from British breakthrough star Emma Raducanu, who captured her first Grand Slam at the US Open recently, Emmamania is already inspiring pupils aged 4 - 11 to get more involved in tennis - and LTA Youth, the flagship
    programme from The LTA, the governing body of tennis in Britain, has teachers across the country covered.

  • 5 ways to boost your school's eSafety
    5 ways to boost your school's eSafety

    eSafety is a term that constantly comes up in school communities, and with good reason. Students across the world are engaging with technology in ways that have never been seen before. This article addresses 5 beginning tips to help you boost your school’s eSafety. 

  • Tackling inequality in EdTech
    Tackling inequality in EdTech

    We have all been devastated by this pandemic that has swept the world in a matter of weeks. Schools have rapidly had to change the way they operate and be available for key workers' children. The inequalities that have long existed in communities and schools are now being amplified by the virus.

  • EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab
    EdTech review & The Curriculum Lab

    The world is catching up with a truth that we’ve championed at Learning Ladders for the last 5 years - that children’s learning outcomes are greatly improved by teachers, parents and learners working in partnership. 

  • Reducing primary to secondary transition stress
    Reducing primary to secondary transition stress

    As school leaders grapple with the near impossible mission to start bringing more students into schools from 1st June, there are hundreds of thousands of Year 6 pupils thinking anxiously about their move to secondary school.

  • Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?
    Generation Z and online tutoring: natural bedfellows?

    The K-12 online tutoring market is booming around the world, with recent research estimating it to grow by 12% per year over the next five years, a USD $60bn increase. By breaking down geographic barriers and moving beyond the limits of local teaching expertise, online tutoring platforms are an especially valuable tool for those looking to supplement their studies in the developing world, and students globally are increasingly signing up to online tuition early on in their secondary education schooling. 

  • Employable young people or human robots?
    Employable young people or human robots?

    STEM skills have been a major focus in education for over a decade and more young people are taking science, technology, engineering, and maths subjects at university than ever before, according to statistics published by UCAS. The downside of this is that the UK is now facing a soft skills crisis and the modern world will also require children to develop strong social skills as the workplaces are transformed by technology. 

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"