Monday February 16, 2015
To celebrate LGBT History Month we're featuring a series of guest blogs from our volunteer role models about their personal histories. In this post, Amie reflects on growing up without any LGBT role models, and how that's made her determined to be one herself.
Before writing this blog, I revisited Section 28 on the internet, to remind myself of a law I lived much of my life under until I was 17. Section 28 stated that a local authority should "not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".
It angers me and I find it quite challenging to grasp the fact that this law existed in my living memory, and also how unaware of this it I was at the time. I knew nothing about its existence until I was in my mid-twenties.
I grew up in the 1990s, in a small village in the Midlands, where gay seemed not to exist. There were rumours flying around my secondary school that certain teachers and students were gay, but because gay teachers were restricted by the law or made the personal choice to not come out, ‘LGBT’ was a myth, invisible, something that didn’t happen where we lived. ‘Gay’ was all too often little more than a playground insult.
Looking back I remember many of my straight teachers casually mentioning husbands, wives, children, weddings or family holidays. But the suspected gay teachers were more of a mystery to everyone. On top of this, Sex Ed was limited to opposite sex relationships and pregnancy, covered in just two 35 minute classes.
This didn’t result in me struggling to come to terms with my sexuality. Instead, I was actually quite oblivious to it. I didn’t have a massive interest in boys, but with no role models to look to, it didn’t occur to me that I may have one in girls.
Fast forward 12 years or so to today. Section 28 was lifted in 2003. I am 28 years old, happy, comfortable in myself and in a relationship with a wonderful woman. And now, I am a writer and a drama teacher. Because I’m freelance I move from school to school and run youth theatres.
Several times I’ve faced situations where young people have asked questions about my personal life (‘Do you have a husband?). Or we’ve been talking about something and it may have been relevant to mention my girlfriend or relationship.
I find myself questioning if I should. If there are other members of staff in the room that may disapprove of my coming-out to the students.* Or if the students themselves may disapprove, or their parents.
There are parts of my personal life that are mine, not linked to the work I do and therefore should stay private, to protect both myself and the children I work with. And I honour this privacy. But I do believe that if that six year old girl old asks me ‘Miss, do you have a husband?’, that although answering ‘No, I have a girlfriend,’ can require a little more explaining, it begins to normalise same-sex relationships. It brings them into the lives of children I work with, and ultimately puts a face to the idea of ‘gay’.
I can imagine the difference it could have made to me, having just one out gay teacher, or tennis coach or Brownie leader. One day, the many six year olds I work with will be older and will have their own questions about their sexuality, or have friends who do. I hope they will have been fortunate enough to come into contact with many brilliant role-models along the way that grounds them and demonstrate that gay doesn’t mean other, from another place or on TV; but here, now, real and brilliant. Here in a way that it often wasn’t for my generation growing up.
Based on my own experience of having no role-models until I was in my mid-20s, I aim to be the best role model I can be. And I hope that one day that could support someone else on their journey.
*To add, I know many brilliant primary and secondary teachers that are out at work and really well supported by their schools, my own situation is slightly different as I move from school to school on a regular basis.
Photo of Amie Taylor by Clive More