Iesha Small

writer, speaker, charity strategist

Exploring society, education, leadership and how to live a meaningful life.

When LGBTQ allies try to support but I don’t agree…

 

My friend wrote an article about LGBTQ teachers. I had issues with it. How did I tell her?

I wrote this, I’d love your thoughts

I first met Emma about 5 or 6 years ago while we were being bored stiff at a senior leadership training day and were both still teachers. Since then we’ve laughed and listened to each other and met each others’ families. We’ve been on TV together, and recently co-lead some leadership training (with better feedback than the course on which we first met, I might add). It’s fair to say that Emma is a friend.

Last week, Emma shared an article that she had written about teachers facing homophobia in schools with me. This was a totally reasonable thing given my own interest in having an education system where more teachers feel able to be out as gay. Emma’s article was for the TES which is the largest publication for teachers in England, she’s a regular columnist. For info Emma does not identify as a member of the LGBTQ community.

I read the article. I didn’t like it. Or to be fair, I appreciated her intention but thought the article lacked nuance.

Are you SURE you want my opinion?

What do you do when you like the person but not the work? I’ve got loads of time for Emma, she’s a great person. She’s supported me at difficult times. Her kids are cute. I know how hard it is to write and share creative work publicly and request feedback from people you respect.

I didn’t want to be a dick. However, Emma specifically asked for my feedback and she knows I will say my real opinion if asked, so I told her…

 

“I think it’s great that you are using your platform to raise awareness of these issues. There is still homophobia in schools and some LGBTQ+ teacher do find it tough. A few comments now but I’m also fine to chat when I see you later.

 

Trans people have a difference experience to LGB people

Obviously trans people can also be lesbian, gay or bisexual but I suspect they have very different issues re being visible and out in the workplace especially schools. These days if I write about specific issues affecting trans people I get at least two trans people to check because their experience can be so different to other members of the LGB community.

Homonormativity, son of heteronormativity

My other comment is a bit more difficult to articulate and others in LGBTQ community may not agree. Normativity.  You are using your platform to address large swathes of teachers who are straight and getting them to empathise with teachers in the LGBTQ community – which is A GOOD THING.  I think the way many LBGTQ people feel they need be accepted is to assimilate, to mirror heteronormative expectations- “Be the non- threatening, non- scary gay who shops at Tesco and is really just the same as you …”

 

However, not all Queer people are, or want to be, like that. Queerness is radical. Queerness questions sexual and gender norms. That is scary for some. We do that just by existing and living our lives unashamedly. That can feel radical in schools – which, in my experience are inherently socially conservative places.

Assimilate, assimilate

I think your amalgam, Jo, played heavily to the assimilation archetype which many straight people can identify with but may leave some members of LGBTQ community cold- because we feel that the respectability politics approach hasn’t worked that well for straight people and definitely won’t work for us. I will share your article because I think it starts a good debate and I will mention re heteronormativity and homonormativity too.

Invisible bisexual teachers

Final point – bisexual teachers. I don’t ID this way but my observation is that they face unique challenges re being out or feeling erased especially if they are in an opposite sex relationship – it’s really a whole different article.”

 

Bye, bye, friendship?

Emma and I are still friends. In fact, I’m seeing her later this week.  I first shared the info above with her privately via text (with more abbreviations and typos).  Her response was to listen, ask me a few questions and say she was still learning. She then asked if I minded sharing my comments publicly, so here we are.

What next?

Only ask my opinion on certain matters if you can handle the fact that we might disagree…

Queerness is scary for some. We question gender and sexual norms just by existing and living our lives unashamedly. Click To Tweet The way some LBGTQ people feel they can be accepted is to assimilate, perform homonormativity and mirror heteronormative expectations Click To Tweet Many queer people feel that the respectability politics approach hasn’t worked that well for straight people and definitely won’t work for us. Click To Tweet

…….

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When LGBTQ allies try to support but I don’t agree…