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How long have I been out at school? I was never really 'in'. It was something that I know that I wanted to do when I came into teaching, because I was involved with the charity Schools Out, which runs LGBT History Month. I'd seen its work they and I wanted to put that into practice.
We ran LGBT History Month assemblies in my school. We are a very diverse school and, actually, I found the kids are very open minded. They do stand up for each other, whether that's things to do with race, religion, or sexuality. They are very socially aware.
Recently, we've also been running staff training sessions. The idea is to give teachers confidence to talk about LGBT issues. A big part of it is about how we, as teachers, can be role models, both as LGBT teachers and also as allies in the school. It's got to feel like a natural part of different subjects, though. So, if you were teaching Maths, rather than saying, 'Susie and John buy a house', it's about replacing those names [so it's not always a heterosexual couple] and making it inclusive.
There was a bit of a problem with homophobic and transphobic language in my school. I'd say about 90 percent of it comes from ignorance. It's things like 'stop being gay'. And when you talk to students and ask them what they mean by that, they do realise the mistake they've made. It's not so much malicious language, it just comes from a place of potentially hearing that language at home, or their friends using it. We're trying to stamp that out. We also put up posters around the school. We did an art competition based around human rights as well.
For me, being out in school is an opportunity for me to be the role model I never had as a kid. I want to be there to support our students and be open and approachable to them. When I was growing up, I can't remember any students being out at my school, and there certainly weren't any out teachers. I didn't hear anything positive about LGBT people. It's so important for young people to have role models, and especially in the community that we serve at my school, with children coming from all kinds of backgrounds.
I'd say that the highlight of my teaching experience so far is when two out students came to talk to me because I'd done the assemblies, and they knew I was out. They were out at school, and they had some issues and felt like able to talk to me about that. It makes me feel really proud, especially considering that they have the confidence to be out in school. Now, I've actually heard students tell each other off when they've said, 'you're so gay', or whatever. They've challenged that and said, 'you shouldn't say that'. Really, it's quite heart-warming to hear.
James Bennett is a teacher with Teach First in North London, UK
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