Whenever I visit a school with Diversity Role Models, it’s like taking a trip down memory lane. I sometimes feel the awkwardness in the air as children gaze at us, some that are in the closet but will never say as well as others who might not yet know that they are LGBT.
But the difference when I visit a school now is that the conversations that take place in the workshops would never have happened when I was at school.
There was some innovation when I was at school. The internet was catching on, MSN Messenger was a thing and mobile phones were starting to become popular. But one thing that was still staunchly in place was Section 28.
That became a sore point for me, as I saw how easily it was used as a ‘Get Out of Jail Free Card’ for homophobic bullying. I didn’t get flak from students for the rumours that were circulating about my sexuality, instead it came from a teacher.
On hearing rumours that I was gay I vividly remember him asking me one day – in front of a whole class of students – whether I’d missed his last lesson because I had AIDS like the rest of my friends. He also made racist comments towards another student that day.
My mum complained instantly. While the school took the racism seriously, his offensive and homophobic comments were dismissed as being part of “his sense of humour”. They even tried to suggest that I should have more of a sense of humour about these things.
I was fortunate to have a parent who made it clear to me that it was wrong and that I should never accept that type of excuse for bigoted and prejudiced behaviour.
From that day on I despised Section 28 as I had myself experienced how destructive it could be. Fortunately I wasn’t being physically harmed for who I was, but I didn’t like the power it gave people to the bully, especially a teacher. Having that type of behaviour displayed by someone in a position of authority made me feel more vulnerable as a result. But at the same time I worked extra hard in his lessons; I didn’t want to give him any more ammunition.
Credit is also due to my peer group. I was scared of a few of them, but those who heard the homophobic and racist comments that day said that my teach was out of order. For the most part though, I kept myself to myself, at a time when the law didn’t fully support equality.
These experiences have changed how I think and feel about life. If there’s one thing I want to share when I speak in schools, is that you aren’t alone, even though not everyone will be visible or will fit a stereotype that people will try to project onto you.
Love is impossible to control, hide or repress. We don’t choose who we love, our hearts do. So why does the gender of a partner matter?
I am so pleased to be a part of Diversity Role Models. Their workshops tackle the legacy of Section 28, challenge the use of the phrase “that’s so gay” and show students that LGBT people are just like everyone else.
It’s 2015 and we’ve made great progress, but there’s still work to be done. We need to focus our attention on schools so that the next generation of young people can be informed and empowered by positive information, rather than outdated and bigoted values.
Only then can we truly overcome the legacy of Section 28.