I'm writing this in the days before the start of LGBT+ History Month 2023. The theme of this year's month is #BehindTheLens, so it may seem strange that I'm showing you two images of me in front of the lens.
In my new English Language Teaching (ELT) resource, which I'll publish on the 1st February, I look at Esther Eng, the celebrated film producer and director - hence, Behind the lens. It is essential that we, as the LGBTQIA+ community, celebrate those people often invisible, or behind the lens. This representation is vital to demonstrate visibility and inclusion. I hope that my contribution to this year's LGBT+ History Month is used in ELT classes around the world.
However, we live in a society (I'm talking about the UK, here), which is becoming increasingly hostile to LGBTQIA+ people. The image of me in primary school was probably taken around 1988, the same year that Clause, or Section, 28 was introduced by Margaret Thatcher's government. In a speech in 1987, Thatcher proclaimed to Conservative party conference that: Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay ... All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life. Yes, cheated.
This, however, is not limited to the 1980s. In 1998, Conservative Prime Minister-to-be Boris Johnson wrote in a national newspaper about tank-topped bumboys in a nightclub and then in a book in 2001, compared gay marriage to bestiality.
The effect of Section 28 haunted me for years without really knowing why. Throughout my education, I didn't read about gay people at school, it wasn't talked about, it was invisible - I thought that what I was was wrong, it was a taboo. It wasn't until the mid-2000s when I was living outside the UK that I started, and really only started, to accept who I was. Section 28 was abolished in 2003 in England and Wales, and three years earlier in Scotland. But the damage had been done. Fifteen years of censorship and fifteen years of invisibility would, and still does, affect untold numbers of the LGBTQIA+ community in the UK.
Now the focus of hatred is against trans people. I say now, but I think it has always been there. I see what some people say about trans people, I hear about experiences of trans people. I can't speak for the trans community, but they are an integral part of the LGBTQIA+ community and I will always stand with them and support them.
As I write this now, there is a petition which will be debated in parliament about the removal of LGBT+ education in primary schools. This is to remove any reference to LGBT+ people - in effect, a return to Section 28. A whole new generation of children will grow up thinking that who they are is wrong, or invisible or not worthy of respect. Children whose parents, parent or guardian may be part of the LGBTQIA+ community - how will they feel? LGBT+ education is not indoctrination, grooming or 'recruiting'. I was educated in the throes of Section 28, so why didn't I 'become' heterosexual? The arguments against LGBT+ inclusive education are weak, unfounded and untrue.
There is a counter petition, Do not remove LGBT content from the Relationships Education curriculum - the link is here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/631529 Unfortunately, this can only be signed by British citizens. We need to get it to over 100,000 signatures for it to be debated in parliament. Can you help?
We must resist. We can resist. We will resist.