‘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.

Fighting homophobia in football

A recent report from the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee has further highlighted the problem of homophobia in sport and has made suggestions on how governing bodies can take a zero tolerance approach.

The news that, in some areas of sport, there is an issue with homophobia is not a revelation and, whilst steps are being taken to alleviate the problem, there is a long way to go to eradicate homophobia from the sports we love. The recent report highlighted football as having bigger obstacles to overcome than other sports and discusses how many attitudes are out of step with wider society.

Unfortunately many football fans will regularly hear casual homophobia on the terraces. Stonewall, the UK’s leading LGBT charity, report that 72% of fan have heard homophobic abuse at games. Football is also lagging behind other sports as there are no openly gay players in the Premiership and, according to FA Chairman Greg Clarke, this is unlikely to happen any time soon as a player would receive ‘significant abuse’ if they were to come out.

A survey of 4,000 fans by BBC Five Live found that 82% of those polled would be comfortable with a gay player at their club but, rather alarmingly, 7% said they would no longer watch their team if they fielded a gay player. With a proportion of fans still holding such archaic views it is not surprising that a high profile player has not had the courage to come out.

Over the past few years there have been a number of initiatives to tackle the issue of homophobia within football. Stonewall launched its ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaign which was supported by clubs from a grass routes level all the way up to Premier League teams.

Charities such as ‘Football v Homophobia’ have been established with one of their main drives being to encourage high profile clubs to dedicate a game each season to raising awareness of the issues of homophobia within the footballing community.

In order to tackle the issues highlighted in the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee report we need the footballing community to unite. For this to happen the FA must take a leading role. However, as the recent vote of ‘no confidence’ in the FA from the House of Commons has demonstrated, the organisation is outdated. The FA LGBT action plan will only come to fruition if there is greater diversity in the rule making structure. Homophobia in football is an issue that needs to be tackled; clubs needs to do more to educate fans and ostracise those found guilty of homophobic behaviour.

P**s off Trump

This morning I woke to devastating news from America regarding transgender rights.  President Trump has made the decision to revoke guidance to US public schools that allowed transgender students to use toilets that matched their gender identify.  The Trump administration sent a letter to all schools outlining the changes, stating that the previous measures had caused confusion.  President Obama’s ‘Bathroom Bill’ was contested in some communities, with protesters saying it threatened the privacy and safety of other students.

The last 24 hours has seen a backlash against President Trump, who has previously said he would uphold the changes made by his predecessor.  The transgender community and their allies have taken to social media and the streets to protest this appalling injustice. Young people who are questioning their gender identity or who already identify as transgender require support, compassion and love rather than being made to feel ostracised from society.  I have no idea how Obama’s changes caused confusion. To me it was crystal clear: transgender students could use the toilet that matched their gender identity ensuring that they felt safe and secure in their schools.  Rescinding the transgender bathroom rules will cause confusion and, most importantly, will make transgender youth feel isolated and unsafe in a place where they should feel included and protected.

These changes will not only harm transgender students for the four years that President Trump is in office, it will harm them for many years to come.  What message does this send to the youth of America and, indeed, across the whole world?  The message from President Trump is loud and clear: if you are transgender you are not offered the same rights as everyone else.  Trump has vowed to be a President for all Americans; today that promise is further from the truth than ever.

 

‘Miss, are you gay?’ Part two

As stated in the prequel to this post I did not deal with this question well in the early stages of my career.  Actually, I dealt with it appallingly.  I denied my sexuality and set a precedent for how I may tackle similar questions in the future.

Fast forward a few years and at no other time has a student asked me explicitly about my sexual orientation.  However, there have been circumstances where I have been able to discuss my partner with students, both past and present.  The most notable time was on last year’s ski trip in Italy.  Another teacher and I were talking one night with two students.  My colleague was talking about her boyfriend and one of the students said to me ‘Miss, are you with anybody?’.  I was able to confidently say, “Yes, well actually I am married”.  The conversation continued and I disclosed that I was married to a woman.  It was as though a weight had been lifted off my shoulders; it felt great to talk about my sexuality.  It was exactly how I wanted it to happen: natural and met with complete acceptance, as I should have assumed it would have been.

I wouldn’t say I am openly out with students; it isn’t something I feel the need to declare.  It is not something I feel the need to talk about freely, in the same way I wouldn’t expect any professional teacher to talk openly about their private life.   I have been questioning the need that people in the LGBT community have to come out and tell people about their sexuality, especially since watching the film ‘Jenny’s Wedding’ that I have previously blogged about.  In a truly equal society there should be no greater need for me to announce my sexuality anymore than my heterosexual neighbour.

“Miss, are you gay?” Part 1

The title of this blog is a question I dreaded being asked as a 22 year old teacher at the beginning of my career.  I was worried that being open about my sexuality would be frowned upon by other staff members or that being honest with students may lead to them not respecting me.  I had thought about what I would say if the question arose; “I would rather not talk about my private life”, “I am not sure how this is relevant to the lesson” or simply “no”.  Surely not “no”; that would be denying who I was, suggesting a sense of shame.  At this stage in my career I gave very little thought to discussing my sexuality with students, it wasn’t on my radar.  I lacked confidence, I needed to establish myself and I wanted nothing to jeopardise my credibility.

One day the dreaded question was asked: “Miss, I’ve heard a rumour you are gay”.  I panicked, I didn’t think, words just came out of my mouth, “I don’t know where you heard that, it isn’t true”.  Instantly I regretted it, it felt wrong.  Why had I denied it?  Who was I trying to protect?  Myself?  What was I so scared of?   My response to this question has regularly played on my mind since.  Seven years on, I still think of how I responded and I regret it wholeheartedly.  Young people deserve honesty and they require role models who are proud of who they are. I do not advocate teachers sharing too much with students about their private lives as there have to be clear boundaries.  However, my lie and denial did not send the correct message; it suggested a lack of pride in who I am.

In the four and a half years that I have been with my wife she has always been open regarding her relationship with me.  Previously, she had only been in relationships with men and, in every circumstance, has tackled questions about her ‘partner’ head on.  This is something I truly admire; her response normalises our relationship rather than hides it.  Not once has her honesty been met with anything other than support and acceptance.  Seeing her approach showed me that honesty was the best way to tackle questions regarding sexuality.  This was something I knew before but was not confident enough to follow through with. Whilst I have never been directly asked the exact question since, there have been opportunities for me to discuss my sexual orientation which I have not shyed away from. I will share and discuss these in my next post.

‘What must your mum think, always having to wash them?’

As stated in my ‘pink vs blue’ post I dislike gender stereotypes. Unfortunately they are well and truly ingrained in our society. When discussing possible blog posts my wife mentioned something she overheard a male teacher say to a boy at school.

The boy had been playing football at lunch and had very muddy trousers. This is, presumably, something that is a regular occurrence. The male teacher, whilst passing the boy in the corridor, said ‘What must your mum think always having to wash your trousers?’. Of course his mum will wash the trousers for that is perceived to be the responsibility of a woman.

These types of comments infuriate me; they are based on archaic gender stereotypes that have no place in a modern society. Most families do not conform to gender stereotypical roles; women can be the main breadwinner, men can take the lead on the cooking,  washing and cleaning. The comment made is detrimental for teenagers to hear as it upholds the view that the home is the woman’s responsibility when they are forming their views on the world. As teachers we have an immense ability to shape the outlook of our students and flippant comments about the role of men and women are misjudged. Let’s not even get into the fact that as a fourteen year old boy he could even have the responsibility of washing his own trousers!

The problem with Jenny’s Wedding 

I think most members of the LGBT community like to watch films or tv shows, from time to time, that represent their lifestyle. My wife and I sat down on Friday night and watched Jenny’s Wedding.

This is a tale of a woman, Jenny, who decides to get married to her female partner after a five year relationship. However, her parents do not know they are in a relationship and think they are just housemates. When Jenny discloses her sexuality to her parents they do not react well and the stereotypical ‘how did we not know?… You have changed as a person’ ensues. The focus of the film is the parents coming to terms with their daughter’s sexuality and has a happy ending of acceptance that culminates in a very traditional wedding.

The film deals with the difficulties that some people face in talking to their families about their sexual orientation and,unlike so many LGBT films, has a happy ending.  Jenny shows strength of character to stand up to her family’s negativity, especially in the scene at a neighbour’s funeral. However, the film gives far too much airtime to those characters who hold negative opinions of Jenny’s lifestyle; it is important to acknowledge that some people have a difficult experience when coming out but the film was far to fixated on the struggle of her parents.  The main climax of the film was her parent’s acceptance when it should have been the love shared between Jenny and Kitty or the couple starting a family. Throughout the film we were given no information about the couple and their relationship so were unable to relate to them. We wanted to understand how their relationship began and the struggles Jenny faced throughout the five years whilst hiding her lifestyle from those closest to her.

As a member of the LGBT community I watch films like this to see my life represented and to relate to the characters. Whilst Jenny’s Wedding was an improvement of some other films I have seen it still fell far short of representing my life. 

Television adverts and LGBT representation

Imagine the scenario … you are sat on the sofa with your partner, relaxing after a hard days work and watching some television.  A typical evening for most, I would say.  However, there is something about this evening that is different for members of the LGBT community.  When we watch the television we see disproportionately fewer examples of our lifestyles and relationships, not just on programmes but also in television adverts.  Most people would not notice this or, in many cases, see this as an issue.  However, this lack of representation in advertisement can have a negative impact on our ability to feel fully integrated and respected in society.

On the occasions when LGBT relationships are portrayed in television adverts they can often lead to complaints.  The third most complained about advert of 2016 was a Match.com advert in which a woman returns home to her female partner who removes her top and passionately kisses her.  This was first aired in January 2016 and received a total of 810 complaints questioning whether the advert was sexually explicit and inappropriately scheduled.  I am certain that if this advert was a woman returning home to her boyfriend that there would have been very few, if any, complaints.  What is so offensive about a lesbian couple showing affection?  This is something that should be celebrated and examples of same sex couples in everyday situations should be included more often in television adverts.  Fortunately the Advertising Standards Agency did not uphold the complaints.

These complaints aren’t just seen in the UK.  In Australia a mother complained about a Kellogs advert that included a brief kiss between two women stating that she didn’t want the lesbian message shoved in her face and that her seven year old son did not need to see that behaviour.  More recently an advert for Dunlop trainers has sparked huge controversy in Australia as it contains people of different sexual orientations, wearing minimal clothing, kissing.  Christian groups have said this is wrong as Dunlop produces shoes for children; there is outcry because they believe the innocence of children should be protected.

The 2016 Sainsbury’s Christmas advert has been praised for reflecting modern Britain for its inclusion of different types of families, one of those being a lesbian couple with a child.  Thomas Cook’s most recent set of campaigns includes a gay kiss and gay parents.  Lloyds Bank has included a same sex marriage proposal.  Lastly, Lush’s Valentines Day advertising campaign includes both male and female same sex couples sharing baths. These examples are positive steps  to improving the amount of LGBT representation but companies need to be braver and bolder in their portrayal of the variety of relationships that make up modern Britain. All members of the LGBT community wanted to feel included and represented; marketing aimed at us which depicts our lifestyles is one way of this happening.  It is also important that young people who may be questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation see examples of their thoughts and feelings in everyday situations. With rising mental health problems amongst young members of the LGBT community improved visibility of different relationships is one way to help with self acceptance. Finally, it is important for all members of society to regularly see same sex couples and families being portrayed in everyday situations. Everybody in society is a consumer and everybody deserves to feel represented on our television screens.

The battle against misogyny

 

On the day of President Trump’s inauguration  I was teaching a group of 15 and 16 year old students in the final lesson of the day.  I was due to teach them a lesson on Louis Pasteur and the impact of the Germ Theory but decided to spend some time watching the history of tomorrow happen.  We watched the BBC news coverage of the build up which included an interview with two women, in their early twenties, who were university students; one had voted for Clinton and the other for Trump.  The news reporter asked several probing questions including how the Trump voter felt about his comments towards women, in particular the 2005 conversation when he talked about how being a star meant he could ‘grab them by the p***y’.  The woman being interviewed gave a response that made me put my head on my desk in front of 30 teenagers in utter disbelief; she said that it didn’t bother her as ‘that’s just how men are these days’, finishing by saying that women just need to accept it.  I turned down the volume on the television coverage and spoke to my class about the importance of self respect, dignity and pride.

It is unbelievable that, in 2017, the battle against misogyny is still very much alive and, most importantly, that some young women accept the differing standards that can exist.  An article in the BBC History Magazine titled ‘Are women winning their long battle against misogyny?’ poses some interesting questions regarding the historic struggle that women have faced in their fight for equality.  During the Chartist movement in mid 1800s Britain the call for women to gain the right to vote on the same level as men was dismissed as the group believed they would be seen as a laughing stock.  Suffrage campaigners in the early 1900s were often portrayed as spinsters who hated men rather than the confident, forward thinking women they were.  Many men who supported the fight for equality were vilified and accused of affecting ideals of chivalry and masculinity.  Those famous  female figureheads of the suffragette and suffragist movements did not face prejudice, imprisonment and even death for women in the 21st century to accept misogyny as the norm.

2016 was a year where misogyny reared its ugly head in the American Presidential election.  The rhetoric of Trump and many of his supporters towards Hillary Clinton was abhorrent; he said that she was an enabler of her husband’s affair and that she wasn’t strong enough to take on the role of President.  The numerous sexist scandals that surround President Trump demonstrate his lack of respect for women; he belittles and attacks our dignity.  Last year also saw Theresa May become Prime Minister of Britain in rather unsavoury circumstances.  Whilst I am not a supporter, or fan, of Mrs May I have been appalled at much of the press coverage of the person who is charge of running our country.  More often than not press coverage can focus on her outfit or her hairstyle; why does the media feel the need to comment on the appearance of women in positions of power but not men?  Nobody cared about the colour of David Cameron’s suit and tie, they were busy discussing his politics.  Obama and Biden have shown that you can be a strong politician whilst also showing your emotions.  Hopefully this will pave the way for more women to enter the political sphere without the worry of the focus being on their clothing choices or their ability to emotionally deal with difficult situations.

About a week ago I received a text from my friend Helen which said ‘Please write a blog post about Trump and abortion!’.  She, like millions of people worldwide, were incensed by the photo that appeared from the Oval Office during Trump’s first day as President when he signed, in front of a room full of men, a ban on federal money going to international groups that perform or provide information on abortions.  There was outcry on Twitter that this executive order was being signed by men who would have no concept of how it would feel for a scared and worried woman in a desperate situation.  Now whilst this order does not affect women in the USA it is a sign of the Trump administration’s stance on the rights of women and other minorities in America.

When you consider all of the above it is unbelievable that any woman voted for Trump, not even to mention those that did so whilst proudly joking about his misogynistic ideals.

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