Diversity - 'I had to make a choice. I came out'

24th January 2014 at 00:00
Award-winning teacher says students need gay role models

Tackling homophobic language is the responsibility of all teachers, who need to take a collective stand against the use of phrases such as "that is so gay", according to the winner of a prestigious award from the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS).

John Naples-Campbell, a performance lecturer at Edinburgh College's Performing Arts Studio Scotland, was honoured with the first GTCS Professional Recognition Award for Equality and Diversity as a result of his efforts to raise awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues.

The use of homophobic language was unacceptable, Mr Naples-Campbell told TESS, but young people often did not understand why such phrases were insulting.

Similarly, many teachers did not know how to tackle the problem or did not see it as an issue, he said. "If one person who is sitting in their classroom is questioning their sexuality or knows they are gay, and a teacher condones that sort of language, that is completely wrong.

"I don't care if you think homosexuality is right or wrong. You are a teacher and your main job is your responsibility towards your students."

The 32-year-old recalled the horrific bullying he suffered at school as a gay teenager. It began in his second year and worsened so much in his third and fourth years that he had to take time out of education.

"I came out at school when I was in fifth year and, once I had, the bullies had nothing to say," he explained. He went on to enjoy his final years and was inspired by his drama teacher to follow a similar career path.

"I am passionate that our young people are in an environment in school where they can feel safe and secure," he said.

"I worry about any young person who has to come out. I think it is a bigger issue for them than they think it is. The fear factor plays a huge role."

Mr Naples-Campbell said he had been open about his sexuality from "the moment I stepped into the classroom".

"On my first day teaching I was asked by one of my students if I was gay, and I really had to make a choice. So I came out to my students," he said.

His openness has led to him becoming an example for others. "One of my pupils wrote to me after he left the school, saying that he had come out and was grateful he had me as a teacher," he added. "That really broke my heart. We need more role models."

Although colleagues had been supportive, being an openly gay teacher had not been easy, he said.

The fact that many teachers felt they could not be open about their sexuality was a shame, he added, claiming that it was "easier to be gay in FE than it is in schools".

Mr Naples-Campbell's work on LGBT issues started when he was a teacher at Knox Academy in East Lothian and created a documentary with a group of S3 students. The academy later became a member of the School Champions programme run by gay rights charity Stonewall.

"I was so proud of my students," he said. "These were 14- and 15-year-olds tackling a major issue at their school."

Now based at Edinburgh College, he led the introduction of the annual LGBT History Month, including a production of The Laramie Project, the true story of a gay hate crime in the US state of Wyoming, in which a young man was murdered.

Mr Naples-Campbell was also instrumental in the creation of a video featuring LGBT staff and students discussing their own experiences.

Rosa Murray, education adviser at the GTCS, said: "John has worked incredibly hard to achieve this equality and diversity award and has been an inspiration to many of us with his commitment to educating in innovative and effective ways."

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