As another February LGBT+ Month approaches, I take this time to reflect on those who influenced my thinking, growing up and beginning my career during the period of infamous Section 28.
I cast my mind back to watching the hugely influential mini-series; “Queer As Folk” back in 1999, written by the amazingly talented Russell T. Davies. Back then, I was a fresh-faced student teacher nearing the end of my university degree. Closeted for the vast majority of my school years, I was still subjected to venomous bullying from peers ignorant to the impact of their jeers. I tried to find my voice as I neared the end of my sixth form days but divided reactions firmly shut the closet doors once more and I led a double life throughout the majority of my informative years of university.
By day, I was taking the path into a respected profession, yet by night, I was venturing into an exploratory world of the unknown gay scene in Nottingham. I was fortunate to find a close group of friends who supported one another in finding their feet. Yet, I found no LGBT role models to look up to. Thanks to Mrs Thatcher’s Section 28, it was illegal to discuss anything to do with being gay in school settings and gay characters such as Colin in Eastenders were vilified in the media.
So along came Russell T. Davies and this “out there” show. The characters were positive. The show was funny, yet it tackled issues facing the LGBT community. I remember watching it in secret, volume turned down. Fast forward a few years and Russell has continued to influence in his writing. He brought back “Doctor Who” with queer characters such as Captain Jack, broke boundaries with “Cucumber” and most recently in 2021, gaining critical acclaim with his hugely successful series “It’s A Sin.”
So how has this influenced me as an educationalist? Russell’s first venture gave me hope. It made me realise that I wasn’t a freak of nature. His offerings in “Doctor Who” and “Cucumber” reflected the changing attitudes towards all marginalised groups and reaffirmed my belief in myself. This belief helped me grasp every opportunity to progress in my teaching career and move into leadership positions that have allowed me to influence positive change. “It’s a Sin” served as a reminder of the challenges many of us faced growing up gay in a world that, not so long ago, was less accepting than it is now.
Russell’s work has stimulated my passion for writing and promoting equality in my own small way. As a primary school teacher, I have always loved writing, as much as teaching writing. So, when an opportunity arose for me to develop stories I had used in assemblies, into self-published picture books tackling equality issues, I jumped at the chance. This has allowed me to visit many schools (during my school holidays) to help promote diversity through my book “The Best Mummy Snails in the Whole Wide World.”
Simultaneously, I was thrilled to work with Andrew Moffatt, a leading LGBT activist and author of “No Outsiders in Our Schools.” Taking inspiration from him, I was able to develop the use of picture books as a vehicle of representation for children and families of all different characteristics in our community. Not only this, but I was able to help our children feel and believe that they too could help to break down barriers. They were only too proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with schools in Birmingham who were subjected to protests against the “No Outsiders” work, both locally and on a national level.
Russell; I have you to thank for being an inspiration, not just to me, but to many. I look forward to seeing what you have to offer next with your work…