Last year, in a South London middle school, in an assembly filled with upwards of 1,000 students, a media teacher decided to honor Pride month by coming out to the school in a video about the history and importance of the celebration. In the midst of explaining the significance of the school’s first year honoring Pride, he looked at the camera and said, “As a gay man, I know how important it is to have gay role models.”
When Daniel Gray first began teaching at Harris Academy, he was advised by his colleagues to keep his sexuality from his students, as it would “give them more ammunition.” Those words would leave a lasting impression for two years, which was when, with Pride month approaching, Daniel decided it was the right time to come out. There was no explicit reaction, volatile or otherwise, which was exactly the response he was aiming for.
After the assembly, a student he’d never met before approached him and expressed his thanks, adding that Gray’s video had changed his life. That was the moment he knew that as an educator, being out was not just a perk but a responsibility, and a necessity. As with many other LGBT kids growing up, Gray was bullied, called names, and pushed around in school. He recalls going to a teacher for help and being turned away under the pretense that it was just what happened and he’d have to deal with it. As an adult, and as a teacher, he came to the realization that he had the capability to “right some wrongs.”
Together with cofounder Hannah Jepson, Daniel Gray created LGBTed, a community for LGBT+ educators to network and “influence education policy around LGBT+ inclusion in education; we will support and empower colleagues to come out at all levels in education; we will increase school leaders’ knowledge of LGBT+ issues in education and will improve teacher retention by allowing colleagues to be more authentic in the workplace.”
The main incentive here is to provide students with the option of having someone they know they can talk to should the need arise. For a gay kid, those pre and early teen years can be difficult. Whether the difficulty is at home or bullying in school, knowing there are out teachers around can make all the difference.
LGBTed aims to provide educators with the tools to be the available support LGBT kids need. Through hosted events, in addition to online networking, that include workshops and speakers, the program aims to connect LGBT+ teachers and in that, create a safe place for both educators and students in schools.
Soon after the assembly, Gray began to notice touching gestures from his fellow teachers, like LGBT positive signs going up in classrooms, and the occasional acknowledgement from the students. All in all, he claims that the overall community reaction has been positive. Though there have been a few complaints from parents and he expects there will be more, he maintains that his only regret is not coming out sooner.
While the networking site is fairly new and so far only U.K.-based, it has the potential to expand and be a model to educators in other countries, as LGBT+ youth can never have too many safe spaces. As Daniel Gray stated, “You don’t understand how much of a huge impact you have on the students just by being a bit more open about who you are.”
LGBTed’s official launch date and first event is June 2nd, and there are tickets available on their site.