A few weeks ago, a picture of some members of the INTO LGBT Teachers’ Group appeared in the Irish National Teachers Organisation monthly magazine InTouch. The photo was taken at the GALA awards ceremony (www.galas.ie) in March when we won the award for Best Voluntary Organisation. It was an incredible night and the support we received from the audience and other LGBT groups and advocates was incredible. But standing in that photo meant a lot more to us than just showing off our shiny award and fancy outfits.
Few INTO LGBT members are completely out at work. The majority of the teachers in the photo were out to friends and family and for some, a small number of co-workers. But this was different. The decision to be in that photo and to agree to its publication in InTouch magazine meant that we would be potentially coming out to 30,000 teachers, including our current colleagues, principals, boards of management and future employers.
So we explained to the photographer that we would need two pictures, one for the official GALA photos, and a second one with those of us who agreed to be pictured in InTouch. When it was time for the second photo, we paused to let people move out of shot. Nobody left the picture. I can’t overestimate how proud I felt of everyone in the group that night.
For some of us, it was the first step to coming out to colleagues, for others, it was a celebration of just how far they’d come in being open about who they are with the people they work with and of their ten years of incredible work towards visibility, equality and diversity in schools.
And it got better. It was with more than a little trepidation that I entered the school building, the first Monday after the article had been published in InTouch. I comforted myself with the thought that most teachers probably wouldn’t have read the magazine yet and would most likely miss the photo altogether anyway. I was wrong.
Inside my classroom, I was met with a delightfully crafted sign made out of magnetic scrabble letters.
As I ventured back out into the corridor, I was greeted by SNA’s and teachers alike who openly congratulated me on the award and on my “lovely dress.” I was beginning to feel pretty good about the whole thing but there was one very important person I had yet to bump into. And there she was – the Principal herself – standing in the hallway in the midst of parents and pupils. “I’ve been trying to get into that magazine my entire career and they still haven’t put me in a photo. Congratulations!” she beamed.
And there you have it. It was not simply a case of tolerance of my sexual orientation by school staff, as it has been in other schools. It was a public acknowledgement of my identity, not just as a teacher, or just as LGBT, but as a complete individual. For the very first time in my teaching career, I felt visible – I felt equal.
Can you imagine if every teacher and every child, no matter who they are, where they come from, or what they believe, had the opportunity to feel like this?
In the yard the next day, a senior infant told me I had bright happy sunshine coming out of my eyes. I couldn’t have put it better myself.