UPDATED 13/1/16: I attended Grammar from ’09 to ’13, and I was openly gay from 4th form onwards (Year 10).
While I’m not aware of any changes that have hopefully happened since, I fear that many schools are still caught in the mentality that LGBT+ issues should be hushed and awkwardly skimmed over, if mentioned at all. I believe this is out of both a fear of the taboo of being gay or transgender and also a fear of stepping on eggshells. These are irrational fears, and the only way to overcome them is to start talking, and realise that these fears are weaker than tolerance and communication, if they exist at all.
At Grammar, apart from one poster on the wall next to Mr McKain’s office, I do not remember a single time where the health programme or the countless social/mental health guest talks mentioned anything about being gay or anything other than heterosexual. The last one I attended was a relationships seminar, I believe. While I’m sure it was insightful for some, it was ridiculously heteronormative. In fact it was basically just 2 hours (yes two hours) prescribing to us that the type of romantic relationship we should have. It spoke of girls in a way that made them sound like mysteries to figure out, and not once did it entertain the possibility that many boys in the audience might not be heterosexual.
However, I want to share my personal experience of being openly gay at Grammar. Having read Joel and Henry’s blog articles, I have to say, I really didn’t experience that much negativity and barely any hard-hitting bullying as a gay student during my attendance.
- Bullying: I remember some instances of bullying, however I would not say that they hit me very hard. Most of it was playground teasing, there was definitely no real hostility to me apart from maybe a few instances. However, this was my experience only. I know and have witnessed actual hostile bullying to two people, both of whom I believe left Grammar before graduating to switch to another school.
- Ignorance: I did not find this particularly unpleasant, but there is a huge, HUGE part of the student body who just seem to have no idea what being gay is. This resulted in lots of random questions, which was fine to me, and apart from really awkward sexual questions, I dealt with these questions all right. In fact it was refreshing to be able to talk about it instead of everyone pretending it doesn’t exist.
- Teachers: as we all know, the teachers can sometimes make off-colour jokes and vaguely inappropriate comments. One teacher while I was at school went too far, and our entire class was pretty angry. The topic of same sex marriage came up and the teacher in question went on a little bit of a homophobic tirade… ending by telling us that there’s no way being gay is natural. Luckily, the lunch bell rang so I awkwardly ran out of the classroom. One other teacher expressed his opinion on the matter in a bit of a colourful way which was upsetting to me because he was so wise and helpful in every other way.
Importantly however, the majority of teachers I had were very open and very lovely. Sorry if anyone who I mention doesn’t want me to write about you! I remember Mr Lee sassily telling my friend off for using the term ‘faggot’, I remember how Ms Tsukamoto shut my friend up when he told her I was gay by saying “I know.”, and I really appreciated how Mrs Hay-Mackenzie was able to talk about the people in classics and ancient history who had non-heterosexual relationships from a completely objective, educational perspective (she was just one of the best educators I know in general, and inspired half our class to study law by telling us about her lawyerific background).
I think at the end of the day, the important thing to remember being in this situation is that this school is made of individual people. Treat it like real life, how you might treat anyone else (ideally with tolerance and kindness…) Unfortunately, my, and many others experienced an unpleasant heteronormative environment. This can be isolating and awkward, making you feel like you’re not able to be yourself, or be honest with people.
But do be honest, and be yourself. There are good people everywhere and good teachers. While it may take courage, and though some may not accept you for who you are, the way to combat heteronormativity is not to be complicit in it, nor to angrily prod, but to be an example, to break the ice. Who better to start the discussion than yourself?
In conclusion, I appreciate the education I received more than anything in my life (even if I have criticisms of it). But I want this school to work to become less awkward and more open about LGBT+ topics. It’s fine to talk about, and it’s kind of important to talk about it so that students, whoever they are, don’t end up being ignorant and sheltered about different people. As we know, communication is the key to education.
P.S. I heard on the news that the response from AGS is positive and I’m pleased to hear that discussion is the path they have chosen to try to tackle this problem. I think open discussion is more helpful than one person lecturing a group, because it’s less likely to irk, and effects better communication, which is the goal of tackling heteronormativity.
Danny is studying a conjoint Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts majoring in Linguistics at University of Auckland. He likes cooking and baking, and you can find his recipe for blueberry chocolate chiffon cake in the Taste of Grammar cookbook. He hopes to become a lawyer or speech pathologist someday.