Shaun Dellenty on his Role Models
My Father as a Role Model
My first and most important role model was my late father Richard, he was someone I always looked up to and there were definite character traits and things that he said and did that made me look up to him and think 'Yes, I want to be like that'.
A very specific example of this occurred on 1975, I was attending a small village church school just outside Buckingham at the time. One day two new children arrived at the school, a brother and sister of Afro-Caribbean descent.
I can recall being very interested in the children from the outset, they were the first black children I had ever met.
I was full of smiles and questions for the new children, and decided I would try and sit near them at lunch time. For school lunch pupils were required to eat in the school hall, the entrance to which was through a dusty cloakroom which had a second entrance to the toilets, meaning that the smell of antiseptic and toilets often permeated this area. How surprised I was to find that the new children were eating their dinner in the cloak-room area and not with the rest of us.
Taking it upon myself, I located the Headteacher and asked why the new children were seemingly excluded from the hall:
'Because they are different- now go and eat your dinner' came the reply.
Later that afternoon, on arriving home and over a glass of milkshake my Father asked me how my day at school had been. I told him excitedly about the new children, about their black faces and the fact that they had eaten by the toilets as Miss has said they were different.
My Father's face went so red, for a moment I actually thought my he was going to shout at me.
'Are you sure she said that?' he asked.
'Yes' I replied, slightly nervously.
Within half an hour we were stood in the Headteacher's office, my Father was explaining in no uncertain terms that he would visit the school the following day and check that the new children were eating with the rest of us.
And then he did something I have never forgotten, he picked up a small pin from the Headteacher's desk and he pricked his finger, a small glob of blood welling out as he did so. He looked straight into the Headteacher's eyes and said:
'That is my blood, it is red in colour and it is what makes me human, what keeps me alive. If you go and prick the finger of the new kids, their parents or any other human being in the world whose face is a different colour than yours you will see the same blood. Come on son, we are going home'.
And with that we left.
I can't say I was looking forward to seeing the Headteacher the next day if I am honest, but I never forgot what I saw and heard and learnt that day and to this day I remain proud of my Dad for speaking out.
Other Role Models
As a younger boy growing up I had two main role models apart from my Dad; one real and one fictional.
My teacher, Mr Peter Biebrach, was massively important to me, he showed me that learning could be creative, that it could be fun, that it should be relevant to our lives and embrace this wonderful planet. He also showed me that the best teachers brought humour, warmth and passion to the role; he also showed me the importance of setting clear boundaries! Mr Biebrach also saw my strengths at a time when family life was difficult and I could only see weakness in myself. He enabled me to overcome my extreme shyness and lack of confidence by encouraging me to get on a stage and act for the first time; he also booked a television actor as an Inspirational Speaker to talk to us in assembly, two decisions which led directly to me becoming a professional actor for a number of years.
My fictional role model was that of 'The Doctor' in the television series Dr Who. He appealed to me because I was aware that he was, well different, he was 'not like the other boys' (sound familiar?!) He believed in solving problems through peaceful means, using a smile, a joke and a jelly baby. However bad things got he could always see the beauty in the universe, and I liked that- in fact I still do.
Being an Openly Gay Role Model at School
I have worked in many working environments, in none of them have I walked in an said 'Hi my name is Shaun and I am gay'. I have never wanted to be defined by my sexual identity, especially in the workplace. To me I would rather be known as a hopefully nice guy who works well and if I choose to tell people I am gay then so be it. If my colleagues are able to openly discuss their weekends, holidays and family lives then so should I. Openly discussing your love, your social life and the fun things you do is as much part of work as the professional side (at the appropriate times of course!) This helps relationships at work and should be for everybody.
I was always openly gay at my current school Alfred Salter Primary School, except for the first six months when I had just moved to London in 2001 and was nervous about lots of things. Truth to told, there was a part of me that felt really uncomfortable keeping quiet about being gay at work, as I still would hear people making links between gay male teachers and child abuse- I didn't feel it would help my cause by hiding the truth away. In fact it might make people suspicious if they guessed the truth.
After a rather drunken Christmas party the truth came out and the reaction of the majority of my colleagues was 'I told you so'. And then we all got back to the job in hand, developing brilliant and successful children.
Over the new few years, several staff members who had children themselves in the school asked if I minded if they mentioned that I was gay when at home. Of course I did not, it was after all no secret; in turn these children would mention at school to their friends that I was gay. My partner would always come to school concerts and sit with me, no questions asked.
In 2010 I passed my Headteacher Qualification, that particular academic year the school experienced a number of pupils, mainly boys, who were showing signs of either openly questioning their sexuality or in one case their gender identity. It was glaringly obvious to us that no single staff member, including myself felt fully equipped to support these pupils. Additionally I was concerned that by getting involved I could be seen as 'leading' these pupils.
Concerned by this situation Alfred Salter Primary School did a questionnaire with Junior pupils around equality issues and we also chanced upon the Stonewall School Report. The evidence provided by our questionnaires matched the Stonewall findings almost exactly and showed that as a school we were failing ALL pupils, not just those who may be emerging LGBT, by not tackling head on the issues of gender stereotyping and homophobia.
It was at this point that I decided that I was personally failing pupils in not providing an openly gay role model. I cast my mind back to my own difficult emergence as a gay youth, what factors could have helped smooth my difficult journey? How powerful could it have been just to know that a senior school leader, well respected and well liked (I hope!) just happened to be gay? In acting as an openly gay role role model, one provides a living, breathing, every day example against which some of the negative association and discriminatory views can be offset. Pupils and parents can make their own minds up. First and foremost one strives to be an outstanding teacher, but one who just happens to be gay; as a male Year 6 pupil put it in 2011 when interviewed:
'A gay deputy headteacher? Why not, it isn't whether he is gay, it is whether he is a good teacher, gay or straight'.
And so I did 'come out' to the Junior School, not in an all singing all dancing over the top extravaganza, but as part of an assembly where I fed back the data from the equalities questionnaires. These showed that 75% of pupils were hearing homophobic language on a daily basis. I asked the pupils how they thought a black person in the school would feel it this statistic represented racist bullying. Pupils were clear that it could be very hurtful.
I then asked them how somebody gay might feel if they knew homophobic bullying and language was being used so often in our school and again they were able to identify the potential for hurt. It was at this point that I put up a slide featuring photos of popular media figures that I knew they liked, but I knew to be gay, Will Young, Gareth Thomas and John Barrowman for example. I also included myself on the slide;
'What have these people got in common?' I asked
'They are all gay' came the reply from a Year 6 boy.
'That's right, these people are all gay including me, so how do you think I/we would feel if we heard the homophobic bullying in the playground at this school?'
'Hurt, devastated, upset, terrified, suicidal' were the pupil responses.
This assembly was then followed up by more staff training and work in classes and work with the school council. A parent session was run in addition to a governor training session.
As of July 2012 Alfred Salter Primary School has had no recorded incidents of homophobic bullying.