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Queer Education: Pride and Prejudice

As another semester concludes, our education system has a pivotal role to play in colouring in the rainbow. My review, however, highlights much needed character development.

A stack of six hardback books
By Leah Kelley | pexels

For the first thirty days of the summer, queer identity is brought to the forefront of the cultural conversation reminding us both of the progress made and still to be achieved – specifically in the very countries that celebrate it.

Val McDermid (1955 – )

While attending Dunfermline High School for six years between 2010 and 2016, emerging with four higher and two advanced higher qualifications, it never occurred to me to search for a life for myself beyond that which would make me employable. Only in hindsight, as an adult, do I realise it is fundamental to our very human beings.

Although the sexuality of Scottish poet, playwright and former Poet Laureate Dame Carol Ann Duffy was made known to us in our English classes as it provides a greater contextual understanding of certain works, I didn’t know that Scottish crime writer Val McDermid was also gay, like me. McDermid actually visited our secondary school and spoke to a group of students in the English department, myself included.

In fact, it was an event I wrote about for the in-house magazine, which means, one would think, that I must have come across this fact during my research, but I don’t recollect. “How do you know you’re doing it right?” I remember asking her with regard to her writing process. Her answer I also don’t recall.

Michel Foucault (1926 – 1984)

During my bachelor’s degree with honours in journalism at Edinburgh Napier University, which I studied full-time for four years from 2016 to 2020, I was introduced to the works of French philosopher, political activist, and literary critic Michel Foucault. Based on Jeremy Bentham’s literal idea of the Panopticon prison for the purposes of punishment and rehabilitation, Foucault’s incarnation of Panopticism as it relates to a metaphorical political apparatus of behavioural control has come to delineate the surveillance state and makes for a prominent reference for contemporary academic discourse surrounding surveillance technology.

I knew this would provide the foundation for my research from the perspective of photojournalism. I didn’t know that Foucault was also gay and was one of the first French public figures to die from HIV/AIDS related complications.

A range of multi-coloured chalk pencils
By Alexander Grey | pexels

Alan Turing (1912 – 1954)

Having completed half of my full-time two-year Master of Fine Arts degree in photography at York St John University (at the time of publication), which began last year and will conclude in the next, I’m now preparing to undertake a study abroad opportunity with the help of English mathematician, computer scientist and theoretical biologist Alan Mathison Turing.

As depicted in the Oscar-winning 2014 historical drama ‘The Imitation Game’, with considerable creative licence, of course, Turing worked alongside fellow cryptanalysts during the Second World War to develop machines for the British government that would decode the German intelligence messages without their knowledge. Contemporary historians determine that breaking these codes saved 14 million lives by hastening the end of the global conflict by two years.

As a gay man, however, the government ordered Turing to undergo hormonal therapy while his death, within ten years of the end of World War Two, was ruled a suicide. 65 years later, he was chosen by a public vote as the winner of the BBC television series ‘Icons: The Greatest Person of the 20th Century’ while the Turing Scheme (formerly Erasmus) offers financial support to students studying and volunteering overseas.

In the two-year break of continuous education due to the coronavirus pandemic, separating my undergraduate and postgraduate studies, I was able to further my professional development psychologically by really questioning my life decisions to figure out why, with all this apparent academic success, I was very unhappy. It was only then that I realised that denying my sexuality throughout the entirety of my primary, secondary and tertiary education to devote myself to work was ultimately damaging.

Not only to my mental health but also, ironically, to my career prospects, as I had no social circle, self-esteem, or direction. I came out. I left home. I educated myself. For the first time in my life, I’m actually reading scholarship about my mind, identity and community, which, in turn, informs the approach to my skillset instead of the reverse procedure.

Sense and Sensibility

Perhaps this isn’t the role of the school, but if the education system (rewarding systematic behaviour and knowledge retention) ever hopes to prepare its community, a microcosm of society, for the real thing, as much as represent it, it must equip us with knowledge for life, beyond mere skills for potential employers. We must know about the people from whom we are learning as this will make their work so much more relatable, à la Duffy.

A person with face paint looks into the camera lens
By Alexander Grey | pexels

But more importantly, that queer history didn’t just suddenly officially begin with the Stonewall riots that Pride Month commemorates but began with humanity itself. If the government is serious (it isn’t) about levelling-up, education must be the first place to start; the sooner children know that there is a place for them, that people like them have not only existed for whole of mankind, but are the very individuals teaching them through the work they made, especially if it was a time before pride, of prejudice, which most of modern queer history has been. And the state under which most of the world population exists today. Why? Because they haven’t been taught to think differently.

If pride is realised after prejudice is learned, then the start line of education will never be level for everyone – and, unfortunately, will take more than one month to rectify. In other words, if there was a pot of gold at the start of the rainbow, what more could I have made?


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