Dear Daily Mail

Dear Daily Mail

I am writing regarding your front page on Tuesday 28th March which included a picture of Nicola Sturgeon and Teressa May with the caption ‘Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!’.  I am aware that you have received much media attention and criticism regarding this matter and I wanted to take the time to express my deep concern for the message your newspaper is presenting.

When driving home from work today I heard commentary on the radio condemning the headline and the subsequent article that made similar comments including that their ‘pins’ were their ‘finest weapons’.  I have to admit that I assumed that this was written by a man; it did not even enter my head that a woman would choose to objectify the two most influential women in Great Britain in this way.  On my arrival home I learnt that this article was in fact written by a woman: Sarah Vine. I was appalled. I immediately questioned why a woman would choose to lead on this highly important story with this tone.

Your later attempt to passify the outcry fell on deaf ears; referring to Vine’s comments as ‘lighthearted’ emphasises your inability to give the public what we want. We do not want our politicians objectified and we do not want important news stories to be made light of.  This is a turning point in British history and the public want facts and educated opinions rather than trivial, sexist comments.  As a historian, it both upsets and worries me that making comments about female politicians’ bodies and clothes is printed in our national newspapers, let alone making headline news. As a high school teacher, it concerns me that young people are subjected to this media coverage. Young girls are suffering more than ever from a lack of body confidence and mental health issues due unrealistic media expectations: you have a duty of care to ensure that your coverage does nothing to exaggerate this growing problem. It is bad enough that, due in part to media coverage, young women and girls already have poor body confidence, without the issue being reinforced, or even amplified, by today’s message that no matter how successful you are as a woman, you will never be more than the sum of your body parts.

Your response to critics telling us to ‘get a life’ is appalling: listen to the public and hear our disgust, do not ignore us. Vine’s comment of ‘that’s just what’ tabloid newspapers do is equally ignorant: you can make the news more accessible without causing outcry and offence.

I have no doubt that you will continue to report the news in the blunt and obtuse way that you always do but please be aware that this will always be met with scorn and criticism.

Yours faithfully

The Gutsy Gay

‘Film has a gay character’: big news.

There has been much media coverage recently about mainstream blockbusters having gay characters. Whilst it is important to acknowledge the introduction of gay characters and scenes in films, I really wish we were in an age where it didn’t have to be big news.

If you have a news app or listen to the radio, you can’t have missed the recent stories about two blockbuster films including gay characters. A Disney film has its first ‘gay moment’ in the remake of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and yellow Power Ranger, Trini, has girlfriend problems in the new Power Rangers movie. In ‘Beauty and the Beast’, LeFou is said to be confused about his sexual orientation and is seen winking at Gaston before later dancing with another man.  This brief moment in the film has caused a great amount of media attention and Disney has been metaphorically patted on the back for this step forward.

The inclusion of these characters is better than nothing but it is a far cry from where we should be.  We deserve more than fleeting glances and comments in minor sub plots.  LGBT characters in mainstream films should be more than just an after thought: moments are not enough.  A minor gay character in a Disney film should not be a revelation in 2017: characters that represent all members of our communities should be the norm.  I wish that the plots of LeFou and Trini weren’t newsworthy but they are a step forward.  Here is the hoping that we see a gay prince or princess in a Disney film soon.  Imagine the media circus that will accompany that!

No Norwich Grammar

An article in the Telegraph, on 3rd March, stated that some academy chains are considering opening grammar schools, particularly aimed at disadvantaged pupils, to aid social mobility.  This is seemingly going to become a reality after Philip Hammond announced in his budget that there would be funding of £320m for 110 new free schools, taking the total to 500.  The conservative government have also given the green light for these new free schools to be selective grammars.  This is all set with a backdrop of shrinking school budgets leading to larger class sizes, staff redundancies and increasing teacher workload.  Is this really the time to build new, selective schools that divides the teaching community rather than unites?

My perspective is perhaps not one that you would expect: I am a beneficiary of the grammar school system.  Growing up in Kent I passed my 11+ and spent seven years at an all girls grammar school.  It was a wonderful school with brilliant teachers and a range of extra-curricular opportunities.  I was surrounded by, on the whole, like minded individuals who wanted to achieve.  I gained the results I needed to access the university course of my choice and a vast majority of my year group did similarly.  Did I benefit from the school I went to?  Yes.  Would I have achieved similar outcomes at one of the local comprehensive schools?  Likely.

I am not fully opposed to grammar schools; there is logic to grouping students of a similar ability together.  However, I disagree with the concept that intelligence is determined at 11 and therefore fixed.  As a teacher I have countless examples of students who haven’t shone until 13, 14,15 or even 16; these young people, in a grammar system, could potentially miss out on educational opportunities.  A grammar system can only truly work if there are multiple entry points but what student would willingly leave their original high school to move to the local grammar?

The aforementioned Telegraph article focused on the Inspiration Trust, an influential academy chain in the East of England, and their desire to open a grammar school for disadvantaged students in Norwich.  It was revealed that the trust has been in talks with the Department of Education about the possibility of opening the new free school.  Speaking as both a teacher and a local resident I strongly oppose this move.  Many schools in the local area are seeing real-term spending cuts that are impacting on disadvantaged students.  Money should be spent on ensuring better provision for all students in the schools that Norwich and the surrounding area already has.  If class sizes continue to rise and vital support staff within schools are cut due to budget deficits then the disadvantaged will be the most likely to suffer.  A grammar school is not the answer to improve social mobility.  We have an abundance of talented professionals working in education all of whom share the ethos that every child, regardless of background, wealth and privilege, should be able to fulfil their potential.  Our education system should be one that mirrors the rich diversity of our society; segregation is not the answer.

The cost of becoming a parent

Many people dream of becoming a parent; there is no more important job in the world than raising a child.  Unfortunately many people struggle to conceive and have difficult decisions to make about fertility treatment.  For members of the LGBT community the quest to become a parent is a minefield.

My wife and I have always wanted to be parents and, in August 2016, we entered the process with a visit to our GP.  We knew that my wife would carry our first child; a referral to a fertility clinic, followed by blood tests and scans, showed that my wife should have no problems conceiving.  It was then that we were told that we would need to pay for our treatment.  The implication was that my wife could fall pregnant ‘naturally’ therefore it was at this point that NHS support ended and we entered into the world of private fertility treatment.

Our next appointment at the clinic ended with us taking home a range of forms and a price list which indicated what we would need to pay for different aspects of our treatment.  The NHS requires heterosexual couples to be trying for two years before they could be considered for fertility treatment; obviously same sex couples are unable to do this.  The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) have produced guidance which aims to create a comparable situation. They suggest that female same-sex couples try to conceive six times using artificial insemination, funded by themselves, before they would be considered for NHS-funded fertility treatment.

‘How much will it cost?’ I hear you ask.  Here is a complete breakdown of our costs:

Blood tests – £700 (a one off cost at the start of treatment)

Sperm reservation fee £1000 (this reserves us five vials of our donor sperm)

Intra-Uterine Insemination (IUI) package – £850 (per round of treatment)

Sperm preparation – £600 (per round of treatment)

IUI drugs package – £300 (per round of treatment)

It we have to have all six round of IUI treatment that will be a minimum spend of £12,200 before we are even considered for NHS support.

My wife and I are in the fortunate position where we are able to afford to take on the debt that could be associated with this.  However, this does not lessen the blow of the financial and emotional burden.  Any couple who decides to try for a child will go through a range of emotions during the process.  Adding a financial complication into that is extremely difficult.  A considerable amount of money rides on each go, coupled with the potential emotional strain and disappointment.  It seems unfair that many lesbian couples will have their chances of becoming parents determined by financial constraints.  For gay male couples it would be a far more difficult process.  Many same sex couples, who will make excellent parents, are having to make difficult decisions, forgo becoming a parent or undertake huge financial costs.

A note to my 16 year old self

Dear GG,

So, sort of strange, but this is your future self writing.  You are actually 29 now which may seem old to you, but it is a pretty cool age to be.  At 29 you are married, own your own home, have two cats and teach history in a high school.  I have referred to you as ‘GG’ as you have actually just started writing a blog called ‘The Gutsy Gay’.  This is an anonymous blog primarily about gender and LGBT issues that you share on a social media platform called ‘Twitter’.  Actually social media is a pretty big thing in 2017; it’s a bit more advanced than the MSN conversations you have.  Anyway, I have digressed.

I haven’t written to tell you too much about the future, I actually want to give you some advice about your present.  Sixteen is a pretty important age; you are about to sit your GCSE exams, choose your A-level subjects and I think you have just started your first part time job.  However important these things are I want to support you through the feelings you are having.  At around this time you are beginning to question who you are attracted to; those conversations your friends have about boys don’t feel quite right to you.  You haven’t put your finger on it yet but you have started to look at girls differently.  I know you feel different because I remember those song lyrics that you have plastered over your revision folder; am I right in saying that Avril Lavigne features quite regularly?

Over the next couple of years you have many things that you need to figure out but I want to tell you it will be okay.  I know that one of your biggest worries will be your family and how they may react.  This is probably what most people questioning their sexuality or gender identify will worry about the most: you are not alone.  Let me reassure you that, whilst things won’t be plain sailing, it will work out in the end.  At 27 you got married to an intelligent, kind and feisty woman; that’s right you have a wife!  Your grandparents, parents and extended family were all at the wedding; they love you both dearly.  There will be some ups and downs over the next few years but stay true to yourself and do not deny who you are.  Be honest with people.  However hard the conversation is or however much you think they don’t want to hear what you have to say, honesty is better than lying or hiding from the truth.

You are starting to build a bit of a following on ‘Twitter’ and you asked some people for nuggets of advice they would give their 16 year old self.  I think some of their advice will help you.  Firstly, never be ashamed of who you are.  Being gay is something to celebrate and be proud of: don’t hide.  Secondly, follow your heart.  Be bold and tell people how you feel; if there is a girl you like then tell her.  Never internalise your feelings.  Lastly, be heard, not silent.  There are many injustices in this world that need to be put right.  Always stand up for what your believe in and use your voice to share your opinions with others.

You are about to embark on the greatest journey of self discovery: enjoy.

Love from your 29 year old self.