I was thirty-eight years old when I first visited San Francisco.
Walking against the evening rush-hour we came to rest at a bookstore; my partner Mike submerged himself in historical texts, but my gaze was caught by an untidy pile marked ‘young readers.’
I uncovered a book cover featuring two men seated in a wooden boat; a young boy pictured in front of them feeding two white water birds; the cover read ‘Daddy’s Roommate-written and illustrated by Michael Willhoite.’
Intrigued I began to read…about a boy living between his mother and his father separately. Father had a new roommate (Frank) and together they undertook regular activities: working, sleeping, eating and occasionally having disagreements. Father and Frank took the boy to the beach, zoo and baseball. Later in the book, the boy asked Mother about Father and Frank; Mother explained that they were ‘gay’- simply another form of love. The book ended with the boy’s acknowledgement that since all of his parents were happy, he was happy too.
My tears came suddenly and relentlessly; fortunately Mike spotted it.
‘Are you ok?’ he enquired.
‘I’m thirty-eight years old and for the first time in my life I have read a book that, had I read it as a child, it might have made me feel like I belonged in this world’. I blubbed messily.
At primary school, despite knowing that I fancied Benny (not Frida) from the pop group Abba and Sean Connery (not Ursula Andress) in the film ‘Dr No’, I (like many others), was provided with not a single book at school or at home that helped me understand identity.
My transit through state education was punctuated with homophobia, bullying and beatings, so sustained and overwhelming that my story very nearly ended at the age of seventeen.
Diverse human children must experience diverse stories and role models to feel welcomed, validated, celebrated and natural, yet it took thirty-eight years to see my own experience of life on Earth reflected in any children’s books.
May 17th is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, an opportunity to explore identities histories, experiences and suffering of those who identify as LBGT+ and to stand as allies in the ongoing struggle against hate.
Ten years of facilitating LGBT+ inclusion in schools has shown me that prejudice-related bullying can be targeted at anyone who is perceived as ‘different’. We are all naturally diverse and therefore all potential targets.
In 2009 my primary school uncovered (via pupil data) that 75% of our children were experiencing bullying related to LGBT+ identities, whether or not they identified as LGBT+.
As a school leader I had a simple choice; ignore the data and be negligent or be pro-active.
Unable to source relevant training at primary level I devised an LGBT+ inclusion teacher training programme, delivering it to over one hundred staff. I also sourced books for our classrooms about diverse identities, including ‘Daddy’s Roommate’ the very same book that had once moved me to tears.
Shaun Dellenty is an independent education trainer and inspirational keynote speaker who has been working to positively prevent LGBT+ and identity-based prejudice in the UK education system since 2009. His debut book, Celebrating Difference, publishes on 30th May.