'I had to stand by my beliefs'

4th February 2000 at 00:00
James was 28 and lecturing in design at a north-eastern FE college in 1988 when section 28 was rushed through. It was a turning point for him: he came out for the first time to fellow staff members.

"There was little reaction to the clause in the staffroom at first; most people didn't see it as affecting them. But as a teacher I saw my job as nourishing individuality. If a student wanted to come out, how could I say 'section 28 prohibits me from talking about this'. It forced me to come out."

As well as checking that the college library still stocked the gay newspaper Pink Paper - it did - James took literature from gay groups to college and approached the National Union of Teachers for support. "I wantedto find out what the position was. I wasn't prepared to refuse to discuss homosexuality if it should arise. I wanted to know if they could offer me back-up if I was going to be a test case." He says the union and staff were supportive - and many began to see how dangerous the legislation was.

As a result of his actions, James says, senior staff appointed him in a pastoral role "as someone who would be prepared to discuss gay issues. They only did that because I was out and had union support."

Two years after the introduction of section 28, James also came out to one of his year groups of 20 students - "some of them really macho lads. They asked me if I was gay. How could I tell them I wasn't?"

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