role model

School principal comes out to his students as gay via online assembly

School principal Nichola Hewlett
Nicholas Hewlett (Photo: @StDustansColl/Twitter)

Today (February 1) is the first day of LGBT+ History Month in the United Kingdom. One British headteacher has marked the occasion by coming out to his students via an online assembly this morning.

It’s thought Nicholas Hewlett, 41, is the first British headteacher (the UK equivalent of principal), to come out to students in this way. Because of the Covid pandemic, British kids are undertaking virtual classes only at the moment.

Hewlett, is the headteacher of the £18,000($25,000)-a-year private school: St Dunstan’s College in Catford, South London. He went public with his plan to come out this morning by giving an interview to The Times yesterday.

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He said he’d been inspired to talk publicly about his sexuality, and of his marriage to husband, Alberic Elsom, after hearing one of his students discussing their own sexuality.

“Not long ago I was doing interviews with the pupils, and one of them was talking about how comfortable he was about being gay,” Hewlett said.

“I was so blown away by the courage of him that something flipped in my head. I thought then of my own situation and thought: ‘This is ridiculous.’

“Here I am as a happily married gay man, and the children do not know that at school.

Hewlett married Elsom, a music teacher at another south London school, in 2014.

“My only regret is not doing it earlier, because seven years of children will have gone through the school without the benefit of a role model.

“The message is simply have the courage to be true to yourself.

“There will be kids who are struggling with their own sexuality and who would benefit from knowing that you can be happy and gay, and I have a privileged position to show them that.

“I felt that I owed it to the pupils to be open and courageous too. I am inspired by them.”

He said that when he first became a teacher, he was warned by a senior colleague to keep his sexuality private if he wanted to be promoted to headteacher level.

“15 years ago, I was told by a senior colleague in the school I was then working in that, as an openly gay man, it would be virtually impossible for me to become a headmaster.”

On Twitter, he wrote, Hewlett wrote, “The fact that this is still news of course tells its own story, but if it can help just one young person feel more comfortable in their skin, it is surely an act worth doing.”

The majority of responses were supportive, including messages from parents and former pupils. Some, of course, responded that he should keep information about his private life to himself. He posted a second tweet a few hours later to remind people of the persecution many LGBTQ people continue to face around the world.

“In case we are under any illusion, there are people who are being bundled into the back of cars and not seen again, directly as a consequence of their sexual identity. It is not good enough and we need to stand together as a bastion of national libertarian values.”

Related: Teachers caught trashing gay colleague in front of students on Zoom

Writing for Thomson Reuters’ Openly News, Hewlett said, “As educators, it is imperative that we ensure children are surrounded by adult role models who represent them.

“Role models really do matter and can have a material impact on the mental wellbeing of young people.”

“Furthermore, I believe we are duty-bound to stop the pervasive, increasingly subconscious view that professional success needs to look a certain way; that white, heterosexual men are in some way inherently advantaged in assuming positions of responsibility and leadership.”