Interview : Chris Woodley

Interview : Chris Woodley

After being fascinated by how much had changed for gay students in schools since he was a teenager, Chris was inspired to write a play. He introduces us Next Lesson.

I came out as gay at fourteen years old. Having been blessed with forward thinking parents, my greatest battle was at school. I was educated in Bromley during the eighties when homosexuality was banned from discussion in schools. This was due to Margaret Thatcher introducing Section 28, which prevented teachers promoting homosexuality as something equal to a heterosexual relationship. This left me with a constant battle. The battle was daily. It was school. Five years in an all-boys school. Possibly the worst five years of my life. I was spat at, sworn at, shoved around, belittled, bullied and abused on a regular basis, like so many others. The school did very little.

Having studied theatre and then education, in 2005, two years after Section 28 was repealed, I went back to Bromley to work as a Drama Teacher in a secondary school. This time I was to be the teacher in the classroom, not the student. I was the only openly gay teacher at my school. Within a year I witnessed the impact being out made to my life and also that of the students. More gay students came out in school, I directed plays on sexuality, I challenged homophobic bullying – I felt empowered.

The road was not always easy but I knew it was about visibility and promoting dialogue. Theatre prompted discussion; discussion prompted change.

The idea of writing Next Lesson came to me in 2009 when working as a teacher in Cambridge where I was itching to write and act again. I was fascinated by how much had changed for gay students in schools since I was a teenager and I questioned how comfortable teachers in schools today are when discussing sexuality, following Section 28. I felt so strongly that in 2012 I quit my job, sold my house and moved back to London to study at drama school.

“Five years in an all-boys school. Possibly the worst five years of my life. I was spat at, sworn at, shoved around, belittled, bullied and abused on a regular basis, like so many others. The school did very little.”

Having started a theatre company, Hyphen, I locked myself away and completed my first full length draft of Next Lesson. It’s first stage reading was a sell-out – signifying to me the importance of this topic.

The play is a portrait of a secondary school, focusing on Michael, who is gay, and a student when the story begins in 1988 and it follows his transition to becoming an English Teacher at the same school. The play explores the all too human consequences that Section 28 had for the schools community – its staff, its students and their parents.

“Providing same-sex relationship education can only help young people to take more informed choices about their sex life and develop healthy relationships.”

Now working as an actor, writer and a teacher, it is clear to me that there is still a need for same-sex relationship education to become statutory in all schools. In my experience I feel that some teachers aren’t comfortable discussing issues surrounding sexuality in the classroom, not always because they don’t want to but because they feel an overwhelming pressure to get it right, which they feel they cannot fulfill.

Recent reports from the National Aids Trust state HIV diagnosis has doubled in the last ten years, highlighting an urgent need for educational change. The ways in which we deliver Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) in this country needs to addressed; without open and honest conversations about SRE we are at risk of failing LGBT young people. A recent report from the National Aids Trust estimated that more that fifty percent of gay and bisexual teenagers experienced in-school bullying based on their sexual orientation. What was most concerning was that a third of pupils said a teacher or adult was the bully.

“The ways in which we deliver Sex and Relationship Education in this country needs to addressed.”

Providing same-sex relationship education can only help young people to take more informed choices about their sex life and develop healthy relationships. Without this knowledge, students feel isolated from talking about same sex relationships and unsure of the facts about sexual health. Peter Tatchell put it perfectly when he said, “Education is, after all, supposed to prepare young people for later life. Sex and relationships are a very important part of adulthood. Why, then, are they neglected in so many schools?”. My hope is that Next Lesson will promote further discussion on the legacy of Section 28; what lessons have been learnt and ones we can teach for the future.

Next Lesson will be performed at The Pleasance Theatre, Islington between 20th and 25th October 2015.

Find out more :

www.pleasance.co.uk

Connect with Chris :

About The Author

Thomas Anderson

Founder and MD of Inclusive Networks. Thomas was Chair of the award winning LGBT network for The Co-operative Group, ‘Respect’ (2011-14). Thomas named the network and designed and managed all of the branding, communications and engagement until he stepped down from the role of Chair in March 2014. He also created the branding, name, was Editor of the quarterly magazine and developed the launch of the UK’s first Inter-Retail LGBT network ‘CheckOUT’. He contributed to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index 5 Year review. In recognition of his work in the diversity field he was shortlisted for ‘Diversity Champion of the Year’ at the 2013 European Diversity Awards, shortlisted for ‘Role Model of the Year’ at the 2012 Lesbian & Gay Foundation Homo Heroes Awards and shortlisted for the ‘Positive Action’ award at the 2013 Asian Fire Service Association Fair & Diverse Awards. He also won the 2012 ‘Pride of The Co-operative’ award. He was a judge for Scotland's biggest diversity awards, The Icon Awards in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Newsletter

Sign up to our monthly newsletter

Sign up to our monthly newsletter

Become a Friend of Inclusive Networks and join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

Thank you. You're now a Friend of Inclusive Networks

Recent Tweets

Our Pride Playlist

Share This