Craig Weir portrait

Written by Craig Weir

LGBTQ+ Educator, Consultant and Safeguarding Lead

People often ask why I became a teacher. The answer – to be the teacher that I never had. 

My own secondary school experience was tough. I lived in a small town off the west coast of Scotland where social status was defined mostly by what football team you supported: Rangers or Celtic. My lack of interest in either team made me an outcast to the boys in P.E, leading to me being picked last for all sports and seen as less alpha. It was obvious that the boys quickly assumed that I was strange because I didn’t see football as the most important thing at that point. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested or good at sports; the assumption was that I was different because I couldn’t participate in the locker room “banter”. 

This was the start of the multiple years of being bullied for being a “fag”, “gay boy”, “poof” or “bender”. These words were hammered into me daily from what felt like many and most of the boys. Instead of reporting this, I decided to hide my upset for the fear of looking weak and upsetting my family. It was, in fact, my cousin who spoke up when they witnessed the unkindness of their own friends towards me. When my mother finally asked the school to step in and help, they really could not and did not do much. The school were confined by the section 28 legislation that banned the promotion of homosexuality; I still struggle with this now. Unfortunately, the school did not act with speed or strength, which led me to absorb similar abuse throughout most of my school years. In all honesty, I think I’d struggle to write how I really felt at this time. In fact, this is a time that I have lost as it feels better to have “forgotten” what really happened. What I do know is it does – and did – get better. 

On leaving school, I trained in musical theatre at a very famous drama school in central London. The fact that I was moving hundreds of miles away from the pain was comforting. I was a real-life Billy Elliot and finally recognised myself and sexuality in others around me. This eventually led to me working in theatre, television and film with some of the biggest names in the industry. I never thought I was going back to secondary school… ever.

Like others, I found the pressures of work got to me and my love for an industry was being destroyed by the conditions I worked under. I was constantly showing poor health and was “blue lit” to hospital after a suspected brain aneurysm which was in fact stress. I hated my job, the hours, and the fact it was destroying one of my biggest loves – the theatre. I also felt too proud to admit that this wasn’t for me. I was worried that I had failed. Again, I was worried that I would upset others and seem weak.

With the support from my partner and my family. I quit my toxic career and retrained as an English teacher. Why? This went back to the hope that I could support someone in a way that was never available to me.

I now work at a comprehensive school in South London. The school has a large focus on sports and it could be said it’s pretty alpha in many ways: competition is very important.

As an English teacher, I went back into the closet and kept my private life private. Some of my colleagues were aware and encouraged me to be open publicly within the school. For some reason, I just could not do it and I didn’t know why.

I now want you to imagine a Wednesday afternoon. I was teaching Romeo and Juliet and Mercutio has just started the “Young Hearts Run Free” scene in Baz Luhrmann’s movie version. My class was overrunning; another class were waiting at the door ready to come in. It was a busy corridor. As I released my class, the popular girl in year 8 was at the door – strange because I did not teach her. This is the girl that can command the attention of her peers in a breath. I’m sure you know the type. Anyway, she knocks on the door asked loudly: 

“Sir, are you gay?” 

In all honesty, I was shocked by my reaction and shocked by her direct question. She repeated:

“I said sir, are you gay…?

My reply… “no”. 

Why did I reply with this?

I then had to teach my next class with a racing heart, struggling to catch my breath, sweat pouring down my face and barely able to think clearly. I was not prepared for the question about my sexuality. I was not prepared to be transported back into the boy who stood in school feeling terrified of the question that I didn’t know the answer to. 

After this experience, I thought for a long time about why I had replied “no”. I was mortified and hurt at my response. Why did I go back “into the closet” after 15 happy years out of it?

My colleagues have been brilliant; my leadership have been even better. They understood the pain and allowed me to speak. They allowed me a safe space to decide what I wanted to do.

This year, I decided to tackle this trauma myself. I was going to try to be more forthright. This started with a quick chat about equality with my year 8 class. When they asked me about my wife, I quickly corrected them and said I had a male partner. None of the students had much of a reaction but, for me, the feelings of worry and trauma came flooding back. However, I knew that this time it was on my terms.

I had started to feel empowered and more authentic. I knew that by being in control, my history and identity could be used as a positive rather than negative. So, I and another colleague decided to run the LGBTQ+ club in school. Doing this with another member of staff made me feel safe and supported. The school honoured the decision to have two members of staff on this club as they knew the support we gave one another was important. I could not have done this without her. 

LGBT+ History month came round and, as Heads of Year, we both knew that we’d like to deliver an assembly to our year groups on allyship and the history that came before us. Eventually, this turned into a whole school assembly that was delivered to every year group across the week. Honestly, I was terrified. I was ‘outing’ myself to every student and staff member in the school. Starting with the Equality Act, I informed the students that I was delivering this assembly as a gay man. I could feel myself becoming emotional and I’m sure this was obvious to the students too. I was numb and couldn’t speak anymore but the band-aid was ripped off. My colleague was my hero in this moment: in all 5 assemblies she stepped in and swiftly carried on until I could compose myself to continue. 

Every assembly got tougher, despite me thinking they’d get easier. I started to see myself as vulnerable again. As the year groups got older, their reactions became louder – particularly the boys, who presented with a mixture of shock, laughter and smiles. This made me feel exposed but my hope was that my pain would be far less than the gain for the students who needed to hear this. 

The assembly was received well. Children I’d never met before were saying hello to me. It was positive. 

Was there a negative? Yes. I remember a teenage boy stirred up a small anti-ally party in one of his lessons immediately after the assembly. The teacher, of course, had my back and had him removed immediately. Nevertheless, I remember this more than I remember the positives.  Recently, I’ve had an experience of another boy miming certain physical acts that he thinks are related to me. Sadly, both obvious negatives here came from boys, boys that are respected and known by their peers. Whilst this could be another trauma trigger… by releasing my pain and worry, I have realised, I’ve gained strength.

Honestly, I have no idea if my experience or honesty has helped anyone at school. What I do know is that I have helped me. Would I have done things differently? Absolutely. However, when we struggle with pain or trauma, I truly believe we can only do our best in that moment. I have amazing friends and colleagues who have supported me in being honest, transparent, and visible. Hopefully, this visibility will help someone else one day.

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