Tuesday, April 03, 2007

An email from a young gay woman

Observant readers may have noticed that I've started keeping a list of 'Pending Dear GB postings' in the right hand column, just underneath my e-mail address. Part of the reason for this is to reassure the people who've emailed me that I haven't forgotten them, as well as to remind me the order to respond to them in. However when I got home last Saturday night, there was a new 'Dear GB' email waiting for me which seems more urgent that the others waiting in my inbox, so I'm going to allow a bit of 'queue jumping'. Although I sent back a reply, I'm not sure I was much help, so this is another case where comments on this posting could be very valuable.

The email was as follows:

Dear GB,

Hi there, i think! I've read your blog on and off for a while now and its brilliant to have someone as educated as you trying to eloquently describe (without graphic details) what its like living in a non-monogamous relationship.

But...i'm emailing for a bit of advice and unlike many of your readers, i'm a young gay woman. It's about homophobia in the workplace and given that you seem to have risen very high in your profession and having a PhD, i thought you might have experienced something which might help me.

I'm 17, and i attend a sixth form in the UK, although my base school (where i attend the majority of my lessons) is a catholic convent school for girls. I've attended this school since i was 11 and as i've grown up i've realised that i'm gay. Recently i wrote a piece for a publishing committee about coming out, how hard it is and what troubles you face when you do. The brief was "dispelling teenage myths" and i think it fitted it perfectly.

On Wednesday i was called into a meeting with the head of sixth and head of year where they told me that they would not be permitting my piece to be published as it was the "incorrect forum" owing to the fact that it would be published in conjunction with my catholic school. I argued my point, saying that what they were saying was discrimination on the basis of sexuality i.e. homophobia as they were not allowing it to be published because it was about being gay. The conversation further continued and the stance they took was that i had to "tow the line" as it was a catholic institution. The committee which are in charge of the book have raised their concerns and the completion date of the book has been put back.

It's not just the book though, the head of sixth wants to tell my mother that i am gay. I tried to explain that she had no basis to break confidentiality as my sexuality has not detrimental to my welfare but she replied and said she had a "moral obligation."

I'm a bit lost and don't really know what to do as i can't go to anyone higher in the school as the head teacher is a nun and i doubt she would sympathise. She has no grounds to do this but i can't stop her. I need to put together some sort of defence but i don't know what. Which is why i'm emailing you, in the hope that you could suggest somewhere to go or an organisation which would help.

Attached to this email was her article about coming out, so I've posted that separately in my Reader's stories category. Before I went to bed last Saturday, I emailed her the following reply:

Dear reader,

Very sorry to hear about your situation.

I'm wondering whether you've tried phoning the London Lesbian and Gay switchboard (020-7837-7324) for advice on this one. I used to know a few people who worked for them, and I know that they've got a long list of useful organisations to hand.

This also sounds exactly like the kind of case that interests Stonewall, who are meant to stand for "equality and justice for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals". I know they campaign for equality everywhere including schools, but they'd also be interested in the issue relating to the threat of outing you to your mother which is outrageous. I doubt that they'd be able to do anything immediately, but they may well find the case useful in their campaigns.

It could well be that the threat of outing you to your mother is just intended to try and get you to drop the whole subject of publishing your (well written) article about coming out. I have no idea what the legal situation is on them outing you to your mother, but there may be one, e.g. perhaps it could be regarded as an "abuse of human rights".

In terms of publishing the article, my guess is that they can choose to publish exactly what they want, and there's precious little you can do about it. The only way forward there I can think of is getting enough other students behind you to try and show them that their attitude is wrong. But can you face being outed to your family?

Given the strength of your article, I'm actually surprised that you're not out to your family yet. My guess is that even if this situation hadn't arisen, it wouldn't be too long before you did come out to your mother. If you choose not to let the issue drop as your teachers want, unfortunately I think you do need to come out to her, because it's better for her to hear it from you than from someone else.

GB xxx

Yesterday I got a further email from her saying that "The lesbian & gay switchboard is forever engaged ...", and acknowledging that stonewall may be a good idea. But can any other readers offer any further advice?


muse-ic said...

you've said 'left-hand colum' a few times now...you do realise it is on the right? lol

contrary mary said...

It does depend on where she lives, but there are often local organisations that can help out. Visit: http://www.galha.org/dir/lgb/support.html#england for a list of local orgs.

Alternatively: http://www.outzone.org/

Your reader's article is excellent and gives a good representation of how I and many of my gay girlfriends felt when growing up.

My only advice would be for her to tell her mother. As you said, I'd rather get in there first before someone else delivers the news. And hopefully her mother will be appalled at the school's attitude and treatment towards her daughter and offer her the support she so rightly deserves. Support the school should be giving her.

Telling your mum can be the hardest thing. I told my mum when I was sure she already knew (I was 18). She didn't know and she reacted very badly. But I persisted in getting her to understand and with the help and support of friends and other family members, she did come round in the end. Once your mum knows, nothing and no one can stop you ...

Good luck!

GB said...

Thanks for spotting my 'deliberate' mistake muse-ic, I've changed it now (on both postings). I guess I got my chiral symmetries mixed up!

Anyway, do you have any advice for the reader on this one?

GB xxx

muse-ic said...

Oh, I did mean to reply to this one, and as a teacher in a high school/6th form college, I can tell you the following:

1. Every school in the United Kingdom has to have an anti-bullying policy, inclusive of homophobia, regardless of their religious nature. It would be interesting to learn whether your school's policy is up to date (meaning if it had a homophobia section), and whether they are breaking their own policy or not!

2. Your head of 6th form has absolutely no grounds for telling your parents about your sexuality. Threaten him/her with the Governing Body - it will soon shut them up.

3. With regard to the Catholic Church and homosexuals: the Church only teaches against homosexual sexual activity. Every human person is made in the image & likeness of God and everyone should respect the sanctity of human life by treating all with dignity; not by discriminating. The actual Catechism says:

"2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved."

When I was at school myself, we were explicitly taught that we must not discriminate against homosexuals, nor are they any 'less' of a person as a heterosexual. Our teacher was quite firm in telling us it is only the sexual relations that they disprove of. She gave us a sheet with some other quotes on to support that idea, but I don't have it anymore.

Besides...doesn't the Bible say "judge not and ye shall not be judge"?

I hope that helps, in some way.

Anonymous said...

It's really simple. The teacher here has NO reason to speak to the girl's parents at all - unless she genuinely feels the girl is at risk. if this is the case (I fail to see why) then the teacher should go directly to the Child Protection Officer. The rules in a school linked with a 6th form are exactly the same - she's under 18 and therefore a child.
the Child Protection Officer would asses the situation. and would then make a referral - to...Social Services, Child and Family etc. etc. Once these agencies get onto the case - they'll stop the discrimination- but I DOUBT the CPO would even refer unless he/she was VERY stupid.

I think many teachers are wary of the "Never ever offer unconditional Confidentiality"Rule but there ARE strict rules around what they should disclose.

A simmilair situation arose with me last year when I started PEP medication.. Obviously the HIV-PEP is medication and so with doctors - 100% Confidentiality is guaranteed - however, my school realised I looked ill - Rang Social Services who told them I was on HIV PEP.... The school stopped me going on a school trip, suspended me from going into school on Health And Safety Grounds and told my Parents straight away. it wasn't quite how i wanted to tell my parents that I was taking medication for the Prevention of HIV.... However. My parents supported me 100% and agreed that whilst they're glad they were told - the school werent the right people to do it - and we're currently in the process of taking the people behind the cock-up to court....
Confidentiality is a real problem in schools, along with homosexuality.ugh Rant.

Philippe Fraser said...

Hi there,

First of all, can I just say how disappointed I am at the school's reaction.

I went to a (non-religious) school back in the early 1990s and came out in a not dissimilar way to your reader and although there was hostility, I got a much better response! (if she's interested, there's the full story on: www.thatp.com in the "HistoryP" section.

The main reason for my response, is that the LGCM (Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement) http://www.lgcm.org.uk/ would seem like the idea forum for help.

Richard Kirker in particular is really helpful and has a wealth of experience with dealing with gay/lesbian people in religious enviroments.

Best of luck!


GB said...

Update: Yesterday I got an email from the young gay woman who sent me the original e-mail. She's very grateful for all the advice, and said that the head of sixth has now accepted that it's not her place to tell the mother that she won't take any further action. Although she's still objecting to publishing the article of course!

GB xxx