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Image for Coming out at school – is it possible?

Coming out at school – is itpossible?

School students exiting the closet – we’ve seen a few of them on Glee, but is it happening in real life?

Yes. More and more teens are coming out while they’re still at high school, writes Twenty10’s Senior Counsellor Ross Jacobs. But are their teachers ready?


One of the major ingredients of most queer young people’s lives is their school environment – it’s where they spend much of their time, and where virtually all of their Real Life friendships occur, unless they have developed connections to places like Twenty10 and other after-school social environments.

In the past, for these young ‘uns, it’s been a matter of hiding in plain sight – of keeping sexuality as hidden as possible until school was over. But more and more the sexualized world, the interconnectivity of the internet and the open-mindedness of young people to differing sexualities means queer students’ lives can be much more open.

In fact, I think the greatest leaps I have seen while working with young people has been in the domain of schools – it’s so heartening that we at Twenty10 often receive calls from school counsellors and concerned teachers who are looking for guidance about making the school environment a more welcoming place for queer students.

They often recognise how hard it is to be ‘othered’, particularly during adolescence, forced into an observer point of view; watching straight peers have all of the experiences that being a teenager is all about but being denied those experiences yourself. Good, switched on teachers and counsellors understand that young people who feel this removal are often missing out on the experiences that lead to stability, and that in turn is terrible for both an individual and wider school environment. But they also understand that through support and education there is no reason queer young people need to miss out.

“We often receive calls from school counsellors and concerned teachers who are looking for guidance about making school a more welcoming place for queer students.”

From a developmental point of view, I love that some young GLBTI people are not locked out of the important tasks of adolescence, namely figuring out intimacy and our place in it – from expressing their desires in terms of crushes, holding hands and first kisses – all of that romantic schmaltzy stuff. Too often queer people have been forced to skip this step – the safe exploration of intimacy in the teenage world – and pushed without any experience at all into pretty confronting adult world of sex.

It’s really easy for us adult members of the community to forget how confronting the gay scene feels in your first exposure to it – in the worst cases, young people’s naiveté about sex leads to their being treated as ‘fresh meat’, hardly a guaranteed safe way to slowly explore what it means to be sexually vulnerable with your peers. But now young people are often pretty savvy about sex and their own currency as sexual beings long before they are of an age to enter the scene, often due to having had a few years at school in which they were getting used to the idea.

In my experience, schools sometimes but not often openly acknowledge GLBT students. Increasingly, schools are starting to understand that the fabric of their student makes up inevitably involves queer students, and that their duty of care extends just as completely to them as to their students not grappling with gender or sexual identity.

Proud Schools

There is a pilot program in 12 high schools in NSW that Twenty10 is consulting on with the Education Department, called Proud Schools. It’s exciting. But sadly, some schools – I won’t explicitly state here which – regard identity exploration as ‘private matters’ instead of ‘core personality’ and thus irrelevant to a student’s well being. This is, to say the least, frustrating… if not an open breach of responsible governance. (I suspect it’s far more to do with discomfort that young people are sexual and growing up in a sexualised world than with a real belief that it doesn’t impact well-being.)

Happily, many students are taking these matters into their own hands and simply sidestepping existing power structures to start their own after school gatherings or online discussions about who they like and who they LIKE like.

But the flipside of coming out while at school revolves around a question of privacy. Announcing to your whole school community that you’re gay the day after you realise it yourself is not necessarily the best choice for some people – once that information is out there, it’s virtually impossible to bring back under control. As someone who supports young people it’s hard for me to acknowledge that the closet is the safest place for some young people to be – but it is unarguably true. While the modern world has come a long way, safety must still be our paramount concern. Horror stories of information and pictures spreading like wildfire around schools and peer networks are of real concern, and can make a huge impact on how the ‘outed’ young person feels about their own sexuality.

Just like their straight peers, queer young people are desperate to fit in, to enjoy popularity and connection with their friends. More often than not, young people don’t have any kind of problem with being gay, but there is always a risk that is will be turned, violently, into a weapon of bullying. This is never acceptable. Schools are starting to understand that if homophobic bullying is taking place, it has far more to do with the aggressors than the victim.

While dinosaur principals still exist, with antiquated ideas that this kind of treatment is ok, more and more even they understand that violent schools are not good for anybody. If you know of a school where this is taking place – if you’re a student, a teacher or a family member – I’m sure the Education Department would be most pleased to hear from you. It’s not the 1950’s anymore, and diversity is ok.


Find out more about Twenty10, a service for young people of diverse genders and sexualities, here on its official website.

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pioneer_to_the_falls

pioneer_to_the_falls said on the 30th Mar, 2012

Well, I'm a teacher at a western sydney high school and it's a taboo for me to be openly gay to my close colleagues. I'm the only gay in the village. I'm sure there are other teachers who are gay/lesbian/bi but none are open about it. Likewise with the students...

There's still a lot of discrimination going on, but I think that's more of a reflection on the community/area that the school is based in.

DIBS

DIBS said on the 30th Mar, 2012

I'm a year 12 student at a Western Sydney high school and I came out in 2008. Some people bullied me a lot at first but the teachers I spoke to were supportive and helped stop the bullying. Students have matured a great deal since then.

Some teachers probably wouldn't be very kind about the matter but most of the younger teachers are very accepting. The counsellor has been great help too.

ImAwesome

ImAwesome said on the 30th Mar, 2012

I agree with pioneer.

It's hard to be open in an environment that isnt as accepting as others. I've practically missed out on everything during high school, because I'm gay. The discrimination is quite bad. I wouldnt say violent, but definitely emotionally abusive. I actually had to come out to a teacher, in order for her to realise that I was not OK with the homophobic shit carrying on in class.

It shits me that this is usually a time when one's sexuality begins be questioned, and yet there is practically no one that you can talk to, because "[they've] never experienced any gay related 'problems'"

I cant wait til the HSC is over. -.-

Doolander

Doolander said on the 30th Mar, 2012

I agree with pioneer.

It's hard to be open in an environment that isnt as accepting as others. I've practically missed out on everything during high school, because I'm gay. The discrimination is quite bad. I wouldnt say violent, but definitely emotionally abusive. I actually had to come out to a teacher, in order for her to realise that I was not OK with the homophobic shit carrying on in class.

It shits me that this is usually a time when one's sexuality begins be questioned, and yet there is practically no one that you can talk to, because "[they've] never experienced any gay related 'problems'"

I cant wait til the HSC is over. -.-

Hey ImAwesome, don't ever feel like you've missed out on anything, let alone everything.
There are a lot of times that I wished I had of had the strength or courage to come out in high school, but I didn't. I came out two years after graduating; and now at 26, I have a life that I am proud of, a career I love, and goals that I am chasing for my future!
The last 8 years since coming out I seem to have squeezed SO much in to them, that the thought of feeling like I missed out on something by not coming out at school tends to border on ridiculous now!

You have no idea yet how much of an amazing journey is in store for you. Yes, there's going to be times when you can't wait to get out the other end of some tunnels, but on the flip side, there will be times that you don't EVER want to end.

AWOL

AWOL said on the 2nd Apr, 2012

I came out as bisexual in year 7. At a Christian school.

Gay guys coming out at school is pretty common nowadays. Lesbians not so much.

pioneer_to_the_falls

pioneer_to_the_falls said on the 2nd Apr, 2012

I came out as bisexual in year 7. At a Christian school.

Gay guys coming out at school is pretty common nowadays. Lesbians not so much.

Really? I've found the opposite to be true with my experiences...

ilbonito

ilbonito said on the 3rd Apr, 2012

.

I'd agree (teacher here). Interestingly, I've noticed kids coming out at "rougher" public schools more than private ones. I think because they were in neighborhoods with such ethnic diversity anyway, difference was less of an issue for them.
A lot of the openly gay kids in say, year 8, were obnoxious little shits.

Hessy

Hessy said on the 3rd Apr, 2012

i stumbled out of the closet when i was 12 and on a school trip. from then on i was known as a lesbian.

Virgindirk

Virgindirk said on the 3rd Apr, 2012

I went to a private school and I was constantly bullied, teased, isolated and rejected by my classmates. On a few occasions I was physically assulated. I wasnt out at the time but I wasnt like all the other boys in my class and that made me a prime target for homophobic taunts. In year 10, the school social worker asked me if I was gay. I lied and said no and he replied "excellent, thats good to hear". The next year I changed schools and I finally came out.