To sir, with love

Elementary pupils show support for gay headteacher in best way possible

Pupils made rainbow hearts to hang at the school’s entrances (Photo: @GarethKaneLD | Twitter)

A gay headteacher in England has spoken about the messages of support he received from his pupils after he was targeted by homophobic graffiti outside his school.

Miles Wallis-Clarke is headteacher of Hotspur Primary School, in Heaton, Newcastle. ‘Primary’ school in the UK is the equivalent of elementary school in the US.

Last week, Wallis-Clarke discovered the vile graffiti outside the school. Despite being at Heaton Primary for 15 years, he says this has never happened before.

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He posted a message about the incident on the school’s Friday newsletter bulletin.

“This week some of you will have seen the homophobic and libelous abuse about me sprayed at the entrance to school. This was hurtful and upsetting. The hate crime is being dealt with appropriately and we have suspicions about the perpetrators.

School headteacher Miles Wallis-Clarke (Photo: Supplied)

“To be attacked for who you are is a horrible experience. Some people question the need for Pride celebrations or work in schools on equality and diversity. There is a need when there is this level of hatred for difference in our community.

“At the same time, I recognize that other people have a more relentless experience than I have had. There are members of our school community who suffer racism on a daily basis and fear it every time they open their door.

“There are others who live with misogyny and domestic violence and see no way of escape. This is why we place importance on these issues in our curriculum.

“How am I feeling? A little damaged to be honest. Sometimes angry and then quite sad. However, the support from my husband, family, colleagues, our governing body and many others has been wonderful.”

Police are investigating the graffiti as a potential hate crime.

Returning to work on Monday, Wallis-Clarke was bowled over by what greeted him. His school kids had painted rainbow hearts and strung them up alongside rainbow flags outside the school. He was also sent cards and messages of support.

He told the local newspaper the Chronicle: “I am a gay man, I make no secret of that at school and I’m very open and I talk about it. I have been at the school for 15 years and I have never ever had anything like that.

“But from what was a hate crime so much love has come pouring out.”

On the school’s Facebook page, he posted: “I would like to thank everyone in our school community for the fantastic supportive response to the bulletin last week. I have been overwhelmed by the messages, cards, pictures, etc.

“I was also so moved by the decoration of the entrance gates on Monday morning. This turned an awful event into one which was so heart-warming and reminded me what a wonderful school community we have.”

Wallis-Clarke told the Chronicle, “We have got four main entrances to the school and each one had been decorated with rainbow flags and hearts. It was just lovely.

“I always stand outside in the morning and I was given cards and letters, and people saying ‘what can we do to help’, and it was just incredible.”

He said the incident had again reminded him of the importance of teaching about diversity. He was proud his kids had responded so quickly to the act of homophobia.

“We always do a lot of work on equality and diversity and we know our children are going to live in a diverse society. Talking about that is really important and we are looking at what we can do to reinforce that we don’t accept homophobia.”

Related: This school wants to out Gay-Straight Alliance members. The students are suing.

The topic of teaching kids about LGBTQ diversity and equality in schools has been hotly contested in the UK of late.

Parents outside one particular primary school in the city of Birmingham have staged regular school gate protests about their kids being taught about diversity as part of the school’s anti-bullying ‘No Outsiders’ program.

The UK government ruled earlier this year that from September 2020, all secondary schools must teach pupils about sexual orientation and gender identity. All primary schools will be required to teach about different families, which can include LGBTQ families.

Last month, a survey conducted by LGBTQ-rights charity Stonewall found that 60% of people aged 16 and over supported primary schools teaching kids about different types of families – although one in five ‘strongly disagreed.’