My Experience as an Openly Lesbian Primary School Teacher
“So you’re a lesbian then?“ came the reply from a 8-year-old girl when I told the class I was marrying a lady that summer. “I think I might want to do that when I’m old.” Ignoring the when I’m old comment, this response has rung in my head ever since 2013, and has been my reason for ‘usualising’ my LGBT life with every class I teach.
Growing up Gay
Growing up in the 80s and 90s, the visibility of lesbians in the media was very slight. With the exception of Ellen in the late 90s, there weren’t many lesbians in the public eye, or generally ‘out’ in society, for youngsters questioning their sexuality to model themselves on. The stereotype of the ‘butch’ lesbian was the only image which prevailed, from my small, rural hometown, and I knew that just wasn’t me. To compound this, Section 28 (brought into law in 1988) made it illegal to ‘promote homosexuality in schools’, so even school wasn’t a place to grow and form an LGBTQ identity.
In 2000, I decided I was going to change that. At the age of 15, I knew I was a lesbian, I knew I wanted to teach and I knew I wanted to be the role model I had always, and still so desperately, needed.
The Shadow of Section 28
In November of 2003, following years of fighting for equality and representation, Section 28 was finally repealed in England, just as I embarked on my teacher training journey. At university, I was out and proud from day one (unlike my half-closeted life at home) and immersed myself in the LGBTQ life and community.
However, I was mortified to find that the one lecturer we all knew was lesbian – from the local scene – could not be out at work. Section 28 had gone but the shadow it cast was chilling.
Under the advice of the exact lecturer I aspired so much to be, I kept my sexuality to myself throughout each teaching placement for four years. With every denial of my lesbian identity, a little bit of my soul chipped away.
First Steps in Teaching
In 2003, I secured my first teaching job in a mixed year 3/4 class, and in an induction meeting with the Head, I was asked to keep my ‘lifestyle choices’ to myself. Just glad to have a job, I did as I was asked, and remained invisible. At the same school, the summer of the following year, I was told I could not teach Sex and Relationships Education to my year 6 class because I ‘did not know enough’. Still, I remained invisible.
But then the sun began to peek over the horizon and I saw a new dawn coming. When leaving the school that July, a group of children from my class cornered me (very quietly) and told me they knew I was a lesbian. They had worked it out and reasoned it between themselves, because ‘if you had a boyfriend, you’d say he, not they’. What followed was a warm, honest thank you for showing them that gay people are just people and that they can be anyone.
Coming Out and Staying Out
Out of the blue, in 2019, I received a Facebook message request from one of those very year 6 girls, now a fully-grown 26 year old adult, saying ‘If I hadn’t known you, I wouldn’t be me’ – she had just come out to her parents.
After leaving my first school, where I was forced to be invisible and keep my lesbian identity hidden (however successful that may or may not have been!), I made the conscious decision to never be invisible again, wherever I moved on to. And I never have been. I have been, and continue to be, the open, visible, proud lesbian I so desperately needed to see when I was a child, and that those children at my first school, deserved to have had.
‘Usualising’ LGBT Families in Education
Every year, I explain to my class that I am married to a woman and that our children have two mummies. Every year it opens up unexpected conversations with children in my class: mums in relationships with women, sisters with girlfriends, and children themselves questioning their own identity. Every conversation, every wide-eyed look and every child with a million questions reminds me why it is so important that I am visible as a lesbian, why I need to ‘usualise’ my life as being just like every other family and make LGBT lives part of our everyday narrative.
Finally, I’m the lesbian I needed to see and who my classes need to know.
This article was written by Evie (She/Her), a passionate, proud deafie, autism mamma, queerie, wife, teacher, writer and word geek. You can follow Evie over on Twitter here.