Sit down, kids, and prepare for a lesson in Why Representation Matters. After she took her civil partner's last name in 2009, Liverpool teacher Emma Baldry comes out every year to her students, which is a familiar situation to anyone in the LGBT community. Coming out is rarely an isolated event; rather, it's an ongoing process that begins anew each time you meet someone. Baldry encountered this with her students after she changed her name — many older students began asking whether she had gotten married and what her husband was like, which presented her with a choice. Should she be open about her sexuality, or lie for the sake of appearances?
In the end, she chose the former. "I’d gone through enough time living as not me so I promised myself that now I’d found who I truly was, I would never ever hide my sexuality again," she told the Liverpool Echo.
Baldry doesn't just come out for her own sake, though. She also told the Echo that she sees it as a way of providing her students with a "safe space to talk about anything," as well as an example of an adult who is happily open about her sexuality.
Teachers' efforts often go unappreciated, but this month, Baldry received tangible proof that her openness is having exactly the effect she hoped for. After taking her class, a former student wrote a heartfelt letter to the drama teacher, explaining that Baldry's example made it easier for her to come out. "Knowing that you were 'out,' I always felt I had someone to talk to and go to," the student wrote, adding that including gay relationships in the curriculum and hosting LGBT assemblies made being gay seem "more normal."
For those of you having trouble reading the tiny handwriting, the letter reads:
When I first started here I was really scared to come out mainly because the words "gay" and "dyke" were used all the time as insults but also because at that time there wasn't anyone else that I knew of that had "come out." Then I heard that you had "come out" and because you were a teacher it made being gay more normal and accepted. Then when you started doing LGBT assemblies and lessons it changed loads of students' opinions and being "out" wasn't so weird. It made it a lot easier for me to "come out." Knowing that you were "out" I always felt I had someone to talk to and go to. It was also really nice to have lessons that were based on gay relationships instead of it always being about hetrosexual couples. Hearing your stories about when you "came out" made me feel a lot better to know I wasn't the only person in the world (which it sometimes feels like).
Wow. Usually I wait until the afternoon to take my "sobbing into my pillow" break, but I'll make an exception in this case.
As someone who used to be in a similar situation, Baldry's bravery is particularly significant. Gay marriage is legal now and there may be more openly LGBT public figures than ever, but that doesn't change the fact that for many children, openly gay adults are hard to come by in real life. The fact that Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi are the cutest celebrity couple to grace the earth, long may their marriage reign, means very little to a 12-year-old lesbian who routinely hears them referred to as "dykes" at school every day. As the student points out in her letter to Baldry, merely having an openly gay adult around can change students' opinions drastically — it's one thing to talk about how disgusting gay sex is at school, but it's another to do so in front of an authority figure who just talked about how difficult it was to come out.
Baldry is far from the only teacher to openly talk about her sexuality, but hopefully her example will inspire others to follow suit. In the meantime, let's all take a cue from Honey Boo Boo.