My decision to be out at work came after some profoundly difficult personal issues and has had a big positive effect on me and also on some of the amazing young people and adults I’ve worked with.
In 2005 I was diagnosed with a rare liver condition and became very ill.
When I finally had a life-saving liver transplant in February 2009 it was one of those moments in life where you realize you’ve been given a second chance, and I felt like I wanted to make a difference in some way.
I was inspired by watching the film Milk in hospital, so that when I went back to work at my school I knew I wanted to be open about my sexuality.
After getting the support of the headteacher, I gave presentations to the whole school about homophobic language, the law around sexuality and civil partnerships. In the process I made it clear that I was getting married to my now husband.
I will admit I was completely terrified at the thought of it, but fortunately my fiancée was hugely encouraging and supportive and the school leadership team made it clear that they ‘had my back’.
I think it was ground-breaking for the school, and a few students spoke to me after to say ‘Respect for doing that. That was a great assembly.’
I only received positive reactions, in fact. While most people didn’t say anything, I was never made aware of any negative reaction from any student, teacher or parent.
What was particularly powerful was letters from a couple of students thanking me for making such a difference to them. They are letters I shall treasure for the rest of my life. I was even more surprised when, four years later, I received another letter from a former student thanking me, and the letter went viral on social media and received coverage in the press.
I came out as a gay teacher in a whole-school assembly in 2010. Today, 4 years later, I just received this email. Wow pic.twitter.com/Wdgzo4n3lf
— David Weston (@informed_edu) August 12, 2014
Since then I’ve been occasionally asked to talk on radio and TV or write articles about the importance of teachers being out, trying to deal with some of the common concerns and misconceptions. I also decided to set up OutTeacher.org, a website to share stories of other teachers who have done the same, which I run in my spare time.
I’ve been truly inspired by the stories I now receive, and even occasionally teachers telling me that they decided to come out at work too after reading my story.
I know I wasn’t the first teacher to come out, and many brave colleagues did so in much harder circumstances, but it’s clear that every time students are able to meet LGBTI teachers who feel able to be open about their identity then it makes a difference, not just to LGBTI young people, but to the whole school community.
David Weston (@informed_edu) is now the founder and Chief Executive of a national UK charity that supports teachers, the Teacher Development Trust, and is a Chair of England’s Department for Education Teacher Professional Development Expert Group