Risedale School pupils were urged to be themselves during an inspirational assembly dedicated to Pride Month today.
During the emotional event, headteacher Colin Scott discussed the challenges he had faced as a gay man and introduced the school to his husband.
Although staff and school governors were aware of Mr Scott’s sexuality, the head admitted he had been reluctant to discuss with pupils because of his own experience of growing up as a teenager in the 1980s and the prejudices and discrimination prevalent at the time.
The head said that these concerns had been ingrained within him, despite society changing and laws now in place which support individuality and difference.
Surprised pupils applauded after hearing the head’s news.
It is believed Mr Scott, who talked about his experiences of growing up and working in the Navy, is the only openly gay state secondary headteacher in the country.
He said: “I am truly inspired by the pupils who are brave enough to be who they are and who they want to be.
“The time for me to hide behind the 80s child is over and to now embrace who I truly am, as I have always, perhaps hypocritically encouraged my pupils to do.
“It’s time for me to practise what I preach and to be honest to myself and to others.”
During the assembly, Mr Scott introduced the school to his husband, Drew Dalton.
Mr Dalton, is a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Sunderland.
He is also chief executive of the ReportOUT, a charity set up to protect the human rights of sexual and gender minorities.
Also speaking at the assembly was the current garrison commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Turner, who is also openly gay.
They were also joined by #members of the LGBTQI+ community from North Yorkshire Police.
The assembly took place in Pride Month, which is dedicated to celebrating LGBTQI+ communities all around the world.
Colin Scott: So here I am
“As a teenager in the 1980’s I wasn’t the happiest of young people. I was very much loved by my parents and well cared for. I grew up in a traditional working class household with a father who worked hard but went from job to job and a mother who was not able to work as much as she would have liked. I had two elder brothers who also had very working class jobs and worked very hard. I decided my career would be in the Royal Navy as I liked a disciplined life but one with prospects to allow me to grow beyond my home town of Hebburn in South Tyneside.
“So in 1984 I joined the Navy in full, but private, knowledge about my own sexuality. I thought it was a ‘phase’ that every young person went through. I was ‘straight’ after all, wasn’t I?… because that’s what I should be. That’s what I had been brought up to think and certainly the stigma attached to being gay at the time was not a positive one in society or the local communities.
“After four years of being in the Navy, I really struggled to ‘block’ the gay side out of me for fear of being caught by the authorities whilst still trying to pretend and act as a straight man. Whilst it was legal to be gay in civilian life it certainly wasn’t in military life and I risked being criminalised and sent to prison had I been found out.
“It reached the point where it was seriously affecting my own mental health and I made a choice to leave the job I had dearly loved doing because of that fear and turmoil. I still miss the Royal Navy to this day. But I regret nothing and only have the Navy to thank for how they truly made me who I was by building my confidence, growing me as a person and giving me my first experiences of teaching other people.
“I trained to be a teacher at a time when the political mantra from government was that “children believe they have an inalienable right to be gay, no, no, no!” This was the cry from the then prime minister in 1988. And so came a new law; Section 28. This prevented schools from supporting young people who were LGBTQ+ or even to say that it was ‘normal’.
“The pressure of being a young gay teacher in the 1990’s prevented me being honest with myself and I hid, and I struggled and I cried. Especially when one young person did find the confidence to confide in me about their own sexuality and I couldn’t help them, talk to them about it or point them in the direction of support.
“Thankfully in 2003 Section 28 was gone and the equality act of 2010 now gives protections to all people regardless of their individuality, their disabilities, their faiths, their genders or their orientations.
“I have always put a brick wall up in front of me to prevent people from seeing the real me and instead showing them this ‘construct’ or clone of what society expected a teacher to be at the time. This ‘wall’ stayed up for many years. Each time I went for a promotion being gay could be a career-killer. I still believed being openly gay would prevent a teacher reaching senior levels within a school, and never a headteacher. Especially in a secondary school.
“But now I sit in awe and admiration for the young people I am responsible for as a headteacher. I watch their acceptance of their peers’ individual identities. Be that their culture, religion, gender, race or sexual orientation. I sit back and think to myself ‘why couldn’t I be as open and accepted as most young people now feel confident enough to do and are?’
“Yes prejudice still exists out there and bullying does still happen in all schools. But here is me. A 54-year-old grown man scared of being who I am and hiding behind this fictional brick wall of my own construct. Yet the young people take on the world and are not now afraid of who they are.
“Prejudice will always exist if those with influence do not challenge it in all its forms. Do I not have the ability to stand up and tell them how life for them is much better than it was for me but to also stand up as a role model to be “whoever you want to be”?
“So here I am.”