My decision as headmaster to come out reveals the importance of role models for young people

by Nicholas Hewlett | St Dunstan’s College
Sunday, 31 January 2021 14:11 GMT

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Today, in my seventh year as headmaster, I have taken the decision to be open about my sexuality to the pupils under my care - I have the moral imperative to do so

Nicholas Hewlett is headmaster at St Dunstan’s College, an independent school for pupils aged between three and 18 in London

Fifteen years ago, I was told by a senior colleague in the independent school I was working in at that point that as an openly gay man, it would be virtually impossible for me to become a headmaster. Today, in my seventh year as head of St Dunstan’s College, I have taken the decision to be transparent and open about my sexuality with the pupils under my care.

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. For children, being educated by a diversity of adults who represent differing races, genders or gender identities, sexualities and backgrounds, helps identities to settle and grow. More than this, it helps cultivate an ethos of inclusion and respect, preventing the narrow-minded rhetoric, superiority and inward-looking identities that have come to characterise far too many of our country’s institutions.

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.

Growing up in the 1990s and coming to terms with my own sexuality was a challenge. It is easy to forget how quickly society has moved on in a very short period of time; the differences today are astronomical.

But, whilst this is undoubtedly the case, we still have a very long way to go.

The fact that my decision to come out is in any way remarkable, is in many ways a testament to the fragility of our social values. The fact that I am one of only a very few openly gay heads in the sector tells its own story. The fact that there are countries in the world where exploration of LGBT+ issues is still illegal teaches us that we must not take liberal values and inclusive thinking for granted.

And the answer must sit in education. It always does. Helping young people to understand the huge benefits and joy that diversity can bring to society. Facilitating an open-minded approach to their own identity and the identity of others. Showing young people the joy of learning about yourself and embracing difference to make for a more cultured, tolerant and respectful world. This is our job, and we should use adult role models to champion these values.

So, as Britain marks the start of LGBT History Month at the start of February, I am finally of the view that I should be open and honest with my pupils about this aspect of my identity.

Why shouldn’t I tell them a little bit about my journey and the fact that, as a happily married gay man, you can be successful in life and at one with who you are? In fact, I increasingly think I have a moral imperative to do so.

If by standing up and “coming out” to my pupils, it helps one young person be more comfortable in their own skin, more empowered to be themselves, and further engenders a culture of respect, inclusion, and the championing of individuality, surely it is an act worth doing?