Coming out to my students was one of the most natural things that I have ever done. I vividly remember the first time I told a class. We were studying non-fiction, specifically Obama’s speech on same-sex marriage from 2015, and they were struggling to understand the emotive nature of his speech.
I told them that I’m a lesbian, and how it felt when my then-girlfriend proposed to me before it was legal for us to be married. They got it, and reacted with warmth, respect and acceptance (as well as writing some epic analyses because they could better relate to the text).
They were full of questions – most of which I answered – but after about five minutes they were more interested in getting on with their work.
In all honesty, it was about as eventful as if I had told them I had eaten chips for lunch, but there was a clear respect for the honesty I had shown. I hope that, as a result of this openness, my students feel more comfortable with and accepting of who they are, and that they can see a normal, successful person who is proud of who they are.
This exchange would never have happened when I was at school. Most adults who are part of the LGBT+ community will tell you the damage that Section 28 did to them. I actually started secondary school in 2002, a year before Section 28 was repealed, but the effects of it lasted way beyond 2003.
We were taught nothing about LGBT+ relationships or what it meant to be LGBT+. I didn’t even know what it stood for until I was 18 years old. I had no role models and no information. Couple this with a complete lack of representation in the media, and I felt alone and isolated. I didn’t know who to talk to about it: I didn’t even know that it was OK to talk about it at all.
I suffered real, serious internal conflict. I have a very loving and accepting family – my conflict wasn’t about telling them, it was about understanding that being gay is normal, and that it’s OK.
I really, truly believe that if I had been educated about all different kinds of relationships, and had been allowed that open dialogue in a safe place, I wouldn’t have gone through so much internal turmoil.
Scarily, I am a lucky one. Many people have, and still do, suffer dire mental health problems, self-loathing, shame and crippling fear. It is frequently cited that LGBT+ youths are much more likely to take their own lives than their heterosexual peers. It is only with openness, education, love and acceptance that we will change this and prevent them from suffering in the same way that we did.
Tolerance and kindness
The protests and events in Birmingham over the past few months have been utterly terrifying to me and many other LGBT+ people (many of whom have voiced their concerns on Twitter that we are returning to an age of Section 28). People who are protesting these so-called "LGBT lessons" have made claims that the lessons in these primary schools are "proselytising [the] homosexual way of life to children".
I take great issue with this.
First of all, they are not "LGBT lessons" – they are lessons that teach about all kinds of relationships and people. They are designed to promote tolerance, if not acceptance. Even if, as protesters say, they don’t accept homosexuality, surely tolerance is the minimum that should be given?
Secondly, these lessons aren’t trying to preach one particular way of life or promote being LGBT+. They are designed to simply open children’s eyes to the fact that not all families look the same, that not all people are the same, but that we all deserve tolerance and kindness.
I want you to pause for a second and remember that at the heart of this are children and families. Children who are seeing this hatred towards the LGBT+ community, and looking at their two mummies or two daddies and wondering, what is so wrong with my family? And these parents are crying out in frustration that their children are happy and healthy. How can we stand by and let these families and children feel like this?
There have even been claims that teachers were promoting being LGBT+. I know my life would have been vastly easier and more straightforward if I were not a lesbian, and as much as I love who I am, it is more difficult. No LGBT+ person actively wants to change anyone, but merely make the people who are LGBT+ safe to be themselves and for others to accept them.
We teach students about all different kinds of religions to prevent ignorance and intolerance. This is no different. The adults involved in these protests – rightly – expect tolerance of their beliefs. But the only way tolerance and acceptance happens is through education.
Being LGBT+ is not a lifestyle choice, it is a matter of existence and humanity. Human identity must surely warrant at least the same respect as religious beliefs. How can anyone expect tolerance and acceptance on the one hand and preach hate on the other? That’s what this is: hate.
The fact is this: LGBT+ people exist. They exist in businesses, schools, governments, different religions and all walks of life.
Our children need to understand that everybody is different and that it's OK. Not every student will have a LGBT+ teacher who is open about their own sexuality, but all students can be taught about LGBT+ issues in an age-appropriate way.
As a secondary school teacher, I believe that students should be taught what being LGBT+ means, what it looks like, and that there should be open discussion to allow them to ask their questions to prevent ignorance. It is also vital that, just as they are taught about safe heterosexual sex, they should be taught about safe gay and lesbian sex.
This is the only way that we can ensure that future generations are accepting and tolerant of others, but also that our LGBT+ youth feel safe and accepted, and don’t suffer in the same way as we did under Section 28. These protests are nothing more than homophobic ignorance and our government must come out to support those schools affected. There should be no ‘opt-out’ when it comes to LGBT+ education.
To all those schools in Birmingham, to all the teachers that are out to their students and to all the schools across the country that are teaching about LGBT+ relationships, I applaud you and what you are doing. You are ensuring a better, safer future for our children and nothing can be more important than that.
Please know that you are not on your own, that there are thousands and thousands of teachers, families and allies all over the country that know you are doing the right thing for our children. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you.
Vikki Hudson is a secondary teacher in Lancashire