This is the gayest post I will ever write. So gay it’s running around in a tight pink t-shirt admiring your fab curtains whilst listening to Kylie Minogue. Oh, and it might try it on with you.
As a teacher, I’m often faced with the complaint: “Sir, he just called me gay”.
Ouch. Cutting. Imagine being called a homosexual when you’re actually not. Such a dent in a teenager’s masculinity (and I say masculinity as I only hear it from male students).
No doubt we’ve heard “that’s gay” to describe something stupid or bad. Many teachers may pretend they never heard it or they may just brush it off as a joke or excuse the behaviour by saying the student ‘never meant it like that’. Maybe this is where we’re going wrong.
Indeed, words are meaningless. The main message in our communication is made up of how we say it. The pitch, the intonation, our body language. However, it’s the deeper connotations associated with the word ‘gay’, in this derogatory sense. The suggestion of something abnormal, something wrong, something stupid.
As a languages teacher and socio-linguistics nerd, I can understand how difficult it is to remove a word from somebody’s vocabulary when they’ve become so used to using it. Words can be become involuntarily embedded in our lexicon via our peers or the cultural and social milieu in which we find ourselves.
Are our students really thinking of other’s feelings when using the word? Are they aware of how a homosexual person would feel if their sexual preference was being used as an insult? To be honest, probably not.
However, it’s the deep-rooted homophobia among students that frustrates me more than anything. The giggles and the sheer looks of disgust. Students saying they wouldn’t have me teach them anymore if they found out I was gay, despite the strong relationships we have formed. Students saying they’re ‘scared’ of homosexuals because ‘they might do something to them’. Are these students suggesting that gays are paedophile rapists, too?
What students need to understand is the fact that being gay is not a choice. No-one chooses to be gay just as we don't choose the colour of our skin or our gender. Can you remember when you chose to be straight? Nah, me neither.
I myself faced homophobic slurs at school, despite being straight. When I was at school, I just wanted to be in The Strokes. Apparently, my hair was gay, my clothes were gay, my Converse shoes were gay, the bands I listened to were also gay.
10 years on, those people who called me gay are now the ones wearing Converse and sharing their Facebook statuses about "ow fukin sik" the new Kings of Leon album is.
How queer, eh?
Many of my students are of Muslim faith and see homosexuality as ‘haram’ (sinful). Others are of Caribbean backgrounds, where anti-sodomy laws in countries like Jamaica and Belize punish gays for up to 10 years in prison. Time Magazine even labelled Jamaica as the most homophobic place on earth. In addition, it has been argued that such attitudes have contributed to the under-achievement of Caribbean male students as academic success may undermine their masculinity.
However, homophobia is causing young gay people’s attendance and attainment to drop. Stonewall’s Teacher Report found that more than a quarter of teachers would not feel comfortable in supporting a student who decided to come out to them as gay, lesbian or bisexual.
Also, half of secondary school teachers who are aware of homophobic bullying in their schools say the vast majority of incidents go unreported.
Teaching forums have become a cesspit for bigotry and fear-mongering. I have seen many teachers on these forums advising openly gay teachers to stay away from supporting students who want to come out as we shouldn't get involved in their personal lives and as teachers we should never discuss our sexuality. Yet, its OK to wear a wedding ring and show the photos of your kids, isn't it?
Don't believe me? Just type 'gay' into the TES forum search and have a read. You'll no doubt find gay teachers asking for advice on 'coming out' or are worried about a parental backlash after revealing their sexuality to their students.
Teachers should not have to hide their sexuality. Many schools lack positive gay role models and if we cannot support our students in becoming who they are and who they want to be then we have failed them.
The fear of upsetting parents is a huge barrier. I often hear from teacher friends that raising awareness about homophobia in their school may not sit well with some parents. So what? Deal with it.
We cannot move forward if we continue to shy away from the issue. As teachers, it is our duty to educate our students on such issues and provide a safe and happy environment where all our students can flourish and be themselves, regardless of gender or sexuality. We have to stand up and tackle it head on. If it’s going to upset a few parents for the sake of someone's future then so be it.
We can no longer ignore the ignorance.