‘The kids clapped me, the whole school’: Yorkshire head on telling pupils he’s gay

His pupils probably still think of him as a bit of “a git”, but the spontaneous applause that headteacher Colin Scott received after he came out as gay at the school assembly brought tears to his eyes.

The assembly at Risedale school, a state secondary in Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, had been organised to mark Pride month, with speakers including Lt Col Jim Turner, the commander of Catterick Garrison army base, who is gay, and Hanna Johnson, North Yorkshire police’s LGBTQ+ representative.

But there was also the school’s 54-year-old headteacher, surprised pupils soon realised, as he introduced them to his husband, Drew Dalton, a sociology lecturer at the University of Sunderland.

Scott grew up in Hebburn, Tyne and Wear, and knew he was gay as a teenager but didn’t embrace it. As a child of the 1980s, Scott says, he was “indoctrinated to think in a certain way”. He thought he was going through a phase and tried to force himself to be straight, he said.

He joined the Royal Navy before the ban on homosexuality in the forces was lifted in January 2000. “I suppressed who I was and I struggled. I don’t blame the navy, by the way, the navy was great for me. But I realised I had to get out before I got found out.”

Scott became a teacher around the time Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government introduced section 28 legislation, which prohibited the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities and meant support was denied to pupils who needed it. The legislation was repealed in Scotland in 2000, and in England and Wales in 2003.

Scott said that 15 to 20 years ago coming out would have harmed his career, but these days he is happy to be openly gay and he has been in a civil partnership with Dalton since 2008. The school’s staff and governors have known about his sexuality for years, but the 500 pupils did not know until Monday.

“It made me feel guilty. Why can’t I be like my pupils? Why can’t I be honest with myself?” said Scott. “There may be kids struggling with their sexuality and the position I’ve got means I can be a role model. A number of different things all clicked into place.”

Children today are much more “able and willing to accept people than perhaps we were as kids”, he said. “I was tired of hiding it. I can now take my husband to social events … I don’t need to hide it.”

Last year Nicholas Hewlett, the headteacher of a private school in south London, made headlines when he came out to pupils in a virtual school assembly.

Scott said he wasn’t aware of any other state secondary heads coming out to their pupils.

He said he was in “awe and admiration” of the young people he was responsible for. “I think to myself: ‘Why couldn’t I be as open and accepted as most young people now feel confident enough to do and are?’”

Prejudice and bullying still exist in schools and if his public coming out helps one child then that’s enough, he said.

The assembly itself was a bit of a blur because of how nervous he was, he said. “The assembly wasn’t about me, it was about individuality … but the kids clapped me, the whole school, it did make me a bit tearful.”

Afterwards the teenagers didn’t behave any differently with him. “They still think I’m a git,” he joked. “But a number did come up and say they were proud of me, which is totally not what I expected.”

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