Lavenham professor Catherine Lee on helping to shape Bafta-nominated film Blue Jean set during the era of Section 28
A champion of equality and diversity has said a new film that is partly inspired by her story has helped her 'make peace' with a homophobic law that was repealed 20 years ago.
Her experience of this time, including through her diary entries, helped shape Bafta-nominated and multi-British-Independent-Film-Award-winner Blue Jean, which is now out at cinemas.
The film, which was shot in Newcastle, follows lesbian PE teacher Jean, played by Rosy McEwen, in the 1980s as she is forced to lead a double life because of Section 28, a law that banned schools from promoting 'the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship'.
Catherine's own story is similar: she was a lesbian PE teacher in Liverpool during that time and was prevented from being her true, authentic self because of Section 28.
The professor, who stressed the experiences of lots of teachers fed into the film, said she was 'delighted' with how Blue Jean had turned out.
Catherine, who was an advisor on set as well as an extra, said being on set was probably one of the most 'profound experiences' of her life.
In Rosy's 'stunning' performance as Jean, she embodied how timid and afraid Catherine had been back then; so anxious and stressed she 'might be found out'.
"I felt so sad and really frustrated with her," she said. "My emotions were really quite raw."
Catherine, who later worked at schools in West Suffolk and the north of the county, mentioned a particular experience when she was a teacher in Liverpool that comes across in the film.
One Saturday night she went out with her partner and friends to a local gay bar where she was spotted by a member of her netball team, who came to speak to her on the Monday morning about their own sexuality.
Catherine says she 'behaved terribly' with that young person, closing the conversation down and was unable to support them.
"I put my own fear of losing my job because of Section 28 above my own responsibility to be there for her," she said.
Guilt is one of the three abiding emotions Catherine remembers from that era and that have resurfaced through her involvement in the film and writing her new book 'Pretended', which draws on her diary entries from the time.
There was also fear and shame; shame as she had internalised the homophobia from that period.
When asked whether her involvement with the film had been cathartic, Catherine said: "It's helped me make peace with Section 28.
"I didn't realise I hadn't made peace with it. I found it very difficult to be on set when the film was being shot and I have seen it six times now and it's actually getting harder to watch, not easier.
"But I'm so glad that the story has been told. I feel elation when somebody says to me 'I didn't realise this was even a thing and it's terrible'. It makes me feel we have come a long, long way.
"I get to go into schools now and again now in my role at Anglia Ruskin University and when I see that schools celebrate Pride and LGBT History Month they are being fantastic LGBT role models as teachers - the role model I could never be. That makes me feel happy."
Catherine, professor of inclusive education and leadership at Anglia Ruskin University, has herself been a champion of inclusivity in education and was named an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in King Charles III’s first New Year’s Honours list, for services to equality in education.
She set up a programme in 2016 called Courageous Leaders - a leadership development programme for LGBTQ+ teachers, which has supported almost 100 people to achieve promotion as their authentic selves.
"So working with the next generation of teachers and aspiring leaders, I feel as though I'm contributing to creating those role models that I could never be," added Catherine.
- Catherine's book 'Pretended: Schools and Section 28: Historical, Cultural and Personal Perspectives' is out now.