30 Dec 2020
Despite many reasons to like this Big Gay Adventures in Education, Branwen Bingle says it’s not love at first sight. There will be a second date, though
I wanted to love this book for a range of personal and professional reasons. In early 2016 I wrote a blog post for the Cambridge Primary Review Trust website questioning why LGBT people and their families still faced discrimination in schools post Equality Act 2010. Five years on, the scenarios are still all too familiar. LGBT+ people in the UK have often been let down by an education system that at best has not recognised their lived experience, and at worst has failed to protect them from discrimination and prejudice.
Big Gay Adventures in Education promises to celebrate the reality of LGBT+ people working in our schools, colleges and other education settings in a way still considered risky, particularly in the primary sector. As one contributor notes, too frequently the message for LGBT+ people is “Don’t mention it, don’t discuss it and certainly do not disclose your sexual orientation to anyone”.
I was an adult, a parent and a teacher-turned-academic before I really became aware, through my sister’s activism and advocacy for LGBT+ people, of what it means to grow up gay. I learned that coming out doesn’t happen once but every time you choose to disclose to a new acquaintance; I learned of the micro-aggressions and discrimination faced over things as innocuous as holding hands with a loved one; I learned of the lack of role models, the invisibility, the denial of rights and recognition.
I began to hear stories like the ones found throughout the chapters in Big Gay Adventures in Education. These are its strong suit. In its pages lies a crash course in what it’s like to be LGBT+ and live within a “stifling heteronormativity” that isn’t named until the final chapter, but is called out on every page.
The stories are loud and proud and deserve to be shared
As a teacher-educator I take seriously my responsibility as an ally to the LGBT+ community, to hear their stories and to contribute to an inclusive world where they can be their authentic selves. In the pages of Big Gay Adventures in Education, the stories are loud and proud and deserve to be shared. This is a book of hope, love and acceptance.
So I wanted to love this book for all these reasons and for all those given for its existence in Andrew Moffat’s foreword and editor Daniel Tomlinson-Gray’s first chapter. If you’re too young to have heard of Section 28, look it up and never forget! From its first pages to its last, this book is nothing if not a chronicle of its damaging legacy for school staff and students.
It took a while for me to warm to this book. This may be because of the order of the chapters. It was only when I got to chapter 6 (‘Permission’) that I really began to appreciate the content. The chapter is poignant: poor advice by well-meaning (if we’re being charitable) PGCE tutors and colleagues led to the author hiding in plain sight for years. Once their decision was made to hide no more, the headteacher’s response was sensitive and allowed the author the space to come out on their own terms. The reciprocity of respect that results is a lesson for every school community.
Sadly, the skill of the contributors in ‘hooking’ the reader varied. The stories themselves stand as testament to each contributor’s experience, but it is not always clear who the intended audience is. For those seeking advice as to how they might be used in practice, the “Big Gay Notes from the Editor” that follow each chapter do help. These are not necessarily instructions, but offer some assistance in drawing upon the text to create more inclusive education environments.
I didn’t love this book, but I liked it enough to want to see it again. I think over time we’ll be friends. I’m already making plans to introduce it to my students. I hope they’ll appreciate it the way I do, and maybe help me discover more of its strengths.