How do Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual teachers experience rural school communities?
In a fascinating (new) research paper, Catherine Lee of Anglia Ruskin University examines how lesbian, gay and bisexual teachers in rural schools negotiate their sexual identities within the workplace.
Although there has been progress towards LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) inclusion for teachers in urban and suburban schools, Lee’s research suggests that their rural counterparts often experience their school communities differently.
Lineback et al. (2016)
There has been an enduring culture of moral panic surrounding LGBT identities and the education of children. In 1988 in the UK, the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher was responsible for the implementation of Section 28 of the Local Government Act (LGA 1988), which stated that:
A local authority shall not—(a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality; (b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.
No wonder I had quite a culture shock when I moved from rural Lancashire to London to attend Goldsmiths College in 1993 (one of the largest LGBT student communities at the time). I knew nothing about LBGT issues!
Recently, some parents and people in faith communities have protested outside school gates, opposing the efforts of schools already teaching about LGBT inclusion through the No Outsiders programme. As September 2020 nears and LGBT protests have gathered momentum, it is more important than ever that we learn more about the way in which heteronormativity, cisnormativity and homophobia in schools, adversely affect LGBT teacher health, well-being and identity (Lee, C. 2019).
From September 2020, schools in England will be required to teach Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) that is inclusive of LGBT relationships. This is a positive step forward for our education system as a whole. I suspect some schools will need to manage their communities as we bring all families up to speed with parts of our society that are still ostracised.
Results showed that LGB teachers in rural communities lack the opportunity to speak their identity into existence at school, and often find their personal and professional identities incompatible, leading to low self-worth, depression and anxiety.
- Figure 1. Which of the following people at school are aware of your sexual identity?
- Figure 2. Does your partner accompany you to school social functions?
- Figure 3. Do you think your sexuality identity has ever been a barrier to your promotion?
- Figure 4. To what extent do you feel that your sexual identity and identity as a teacher is compatible?
- Figure 5. Have you ever accessed help for anxiety or depression linked to your sexual identity and role as a teacher?
Many teachers are not able to be themselves, are not able to take their partner to social events and feel the need to live outside the catchment area, carefully managing the intersection between home and school life. This could also be a reason why rural schools struggle to recruit teachers if they head for the city instead…
This research suggests that in rural school communities, traditional and conservative rural norms and values are compelling – if you are a school leader working in this type of setting, are you doing enough to support ALL pupils and teachers (or just some pupils and teachers)?
You can download the full report here – see footnotes below in the comments section.