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Last Updated: Friday, 4 June, 2004, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
Coming out at school
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News Online education staff

Feet
Most of Tom's fellow pupils have been understanding
Sex education is a subject still regarded with embarrassment and discomfort by pupils.

To try to overcome this, teaching has moved beyond the basic "birds and bees" advice given in the past to include the emotional side of relationships.

In lessons like citizenship and personal and social education, children can discuss their feelings more openly.

But what if your feelings seem different from the rest of the group's? What if you are gay? Is it possible to feel "normal" among other teenagers?

Tom, 15, has known he is gay since the age of 12. He grew sick of hearing his peers insult each other in the playground, using words like "poof" and "queer".

Shocked

Six weeks ago Tom - not his real name - did something unusual for someone of his age: he "came out", admitting his sexuality to his friends, family and teachers.

He told BBC News Online: "I tried to ignore it. I completely put it out of my head. I had never really talked about it until I came out.

"I came out to my friends in a pathetic way. I sent them an e-mail saying how I felt.

"They were kind of shocked. With e-mail you don't get to see the reactions on people's faces, if they are bad. I was really scared about that.

"Now it's got all around the school. Most people are OK with it. It's just that you sometimes get people shouting at you.

"Passers-by say things like 'poof'. It's quite common and sometimes it can get you down. You think they might go further than just name-calling, but it's not a rough school and that hasn't happened."

Had I been spoken to about my feelings, it would have helped a lot
Tom, 15

Last year, the Section 28 rule was repealed in England and Wales. Since becoming law during the 1980s, it had prevented schools from promoting homosexuality.

Local government minister Nick Raynsford said the legislation had been "unnecessary and offensive".

Supporters of Section 28 said it had protected family values.

Either way, its repeal did not affect Tom, whose sex education had taken place earlier.

He said: "I found it really confusing in classes that I was having these feelings and it just wasn't mentioned.

"One day the teacher said he didn't have a problem with homosexuality and that was that. There were no reasons or explanations given.

"Had I been spoken to about my feelings, it would have helped a lot.

Teachers

"The worst thing was not knowing whether what I was feeling was normal and if anyone else had to go through this. It felt at the time that I was the only one.

"I actually came out to my German teacher, by writing about myself in my homework. She was quite good about it.

"She wrote quite a bit in my German book about how her cousin was gay."

Apart from this, Tom's teachers have barely mentioned the subject of his sexuality.

Tom said: "Homosexuality should be incorporated into sex education. Supposedly about one in 10 people are homosexual.

"When I was younger I used to get upset quite often. But now that I'm older and I can understand about it I can work around that.

"I had looked up coming out stories on the internet and they really, really helped. It might sound stupid, but actually reading what other people have to say about it can be very helpful.

"On the forum, there are quite a lot of people around my age who have come out, so I got some of their views."

Insults

Coming out has put Tom more at ease.

"Before, I used to have dreams. I kept on dreaming that I was going to marry a woman, which was confusing. Now I have got that out of my mind.

"When I had first come out, I regretted it. I felt quite sick for a week. I was completely overcome with nerves. I found it hard to stand and was shaky. But I had to put on a front.

"If more people understood about homosexuality then they wouldn't be so ignorant. In my school, people sometimes call people 'you gay' or things like that. It's always gayness that's an insult.

"It's calmed down around me. But when something is said, everyone looks at me as if I'm supposed to respond to it.

"It might help for people to discuss it with someone, to be told it's something you can't control.

"I've had people say, 'You can't be gay because you're not girly'. Some people think they are clever and say that there's something about my brain that's feminine.

Outburst

"I had a person burst out laughing because I said something in class. Someone was going on about lesbian marriage, saying that it was wrong.

"I had a go and this person just cracked up. It was kind of weird and scary, a weird laugh. It was like I had made a hilarious joke, like I had said something funny."

Despite the odd comment, Tom does not regret what he has done.

"Overall, it's gone better than I thought it would.

"I had to think about everything. It's a big thing coming out, no matter what people say.

"I came out young. Nowadays it's more acceptable than it used to be. The average age of doing it would have dropped. These days, when a person has accepted who they are, they will probably come out.

"My family were OK. I told my school friends first. Most people do that because family is so much bigger.

"There are things they might not understand, like when I mention Section 28, but my parents are not too traditional.

"But some of my dad's side of the family made quite a big deal of it. Overall I think I did the right thing."

Tom, who sits his GCSEs next year, hopes to go on to university.


SEE ALSO:
'Ten times more' sex education needed
11 Jun 03  |  Education
Section 28 to be repealed
18 Sep 03  |  Politics


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