In the grim depths of the third lockdown, I made an active decision to bring my queer identity into the classroom. As an educator in liberal third level arts colleges, the decision hardly caused any shockwaves, but it marked a moment for me to stop tip-toeing and becoming a bit overt about being LGBTQ+.
I thought of the scenarios that my students might be facing, and how their teacher being forthright and proudly out might help. What is lost is very little, but what’s gained is huge. It’s a matter of visibility of course, but it also allows for moments of community-building. Students can engage in shorthand about their own experiences and context. If the work relates to identity, the tutorial doesn’t need to begin by bringing the educator up to speed on the background, there are things that are understood implicitly. It brings students closer to a moment of their perspective being understood and appreciated, rather than engaging in the labour of having to explain it.
And so the college students I work with hopefully feel heard, and others may benefit from a non-heteronormative perspective. Within third level education there is of course a degree of maturity, of understanding, and of acceptance. So let’s talk about secondary school, the dreaded time for queer youth. A pressure cooker of identity-finding, hormonal bursts, and fear of not fitting in. In BelongTo’s most recent national survey, they found 97% of LGBTQ+ youth to be struggling with their mental health.
The work of ShoutOut, of which I became a volunteer during my queer awakening, aims to make the lives of young LGBTQ+ people better through personal stories and education, primarily in secondary schools. When I first heard of the charity’s work, I got chills. I thought of how powerful that would have been for me as teenager to have a LGBTQ+ person stand atop the classroom and speaking through various queer orientations in a relaxed, unapologetic way. My youth was spent seeing queerness as amoral, as sinful, as wrong, and I desperately wanted it to disappear. I can’t eradicate the rotten experiences of my youth, but I can hopefully lessen them for others today.
LGBTQ+ hate is on the rise, with LGBTQ-free zones making up about a third of Poland, and Hungary last week passing a bill banning gay identity from schools and media. We need to counter this with more overt acts of inclusivity. Make your allyship clear, respect pronouns (you can request workshops from charities like Shoutout and TENI to explain terminology) and call out hateful behaviour. The decision for someone to present as LGBTQ+ in education or the workplace is a private one, not to be forced. It’s not without risk. But I can assure you that once their decision is fostered and encouraged, as mine was, you’re allowing for a sense of pride that is long-lasting and meaningful.
Note: ‘Queer’ is used as a reclaimed slur, and should not be used when describing someone. ‘LGBTQ+’ is the appropriate term if you do not self-identify as ‘queer’.
David McGovern is an artist and educator based in rural Ireland. He recently launched HARD CARE, a new socially-engaged project that proposes new images and words for care that are more inclusive of queerness, disability, sex work and the many ‘other’ of society.
BelongTo’s most recent national survey
Poland anti-LGBT zones
Hungary last week passing a bill banning the very mention of gay identity from schools and media
Risks of coming out in work