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Professor from Lavenham named MBE in New Year's Honours list in recognition of career championing LGBTQ equality in schools

A champion of inclusivity in schools says her New Year’s honours recognition is “a timely tribute” to all those marginalised by a homophobic law, ahead of the 20th anniversary of its repeal.

Anglia Ruskin University professor Catherine Lee has been 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.

Since joining the university in 2010, where she is now a deputy dean in the faculty of health, education, medicine and social care, Dr Lee has dedicated her career to promoting equality in schools.

Dr Catherine Lee has received the award of Member of the British Empire for services to equality in education. Picture: Contributed. (61665936)
Dr Catherine Lee has received the award of Member of the British Empire for services to equality in education. Picture: Contributed. (61665936)

This includes establishing a courageous leaders programme, which has helped dozens of teachers who openly identify as LGBTQ to reach senior leadership positions.

Dr Lee, who lives in Lavenham, explained that her career focus was inspired by her own experience as a gay schoolteacher, under the now-repealed Section 28 of the Local Government Act.

The law, which was in effect from 1988 until 2003, forbade local authorities from promoting “the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

Having moved to Suffolk in the mid-90s, before teaching at schools in Saxmundham, Newmarket and Beyton, she told the Free Press: “The law meant that myself and others thought that, if anyone found out we were gay, we would lose our jobs.

“I left teaching to move into higher education, and I want to acknowledge Anglia Ruskin for its support in this journey. Together, we have worked to make schools more inclusive than when I was a teacher.

“When I go into schools now, I’m amazed at what inclusive places they are, and how relaxed everyone is towards sexual and gender identity.

“I know there must have been LGBTQ students before that I couldn’t be a role model for. I think it’s fantastic that it’s possible for there to be role models to support young people, which there weren’t when I was a teacher.”

Dr Lee, who is a National Teaching Fellow, has also published several books on diversity and inclusion in education, and is currently working on a new book titled Pretended, to shed further light on the Section 28 law and its impact.

In addition, she served as an adviser on the film Blue Jean, which was told the story of a gay teacher working in a UK school during the time the law was in effect.

After being made an MBE, she said she was “absolutely thrilled” and paid tribute to the inspirational people she has worked with over the last decade.

“I missed the email as it ended up in my spam folder, and it wasn’t until I got a call from the Cabinet Office that I realised I had got an MBE,” she said. “I was absolutely flabbergasted, and I’m still really in shock about it.

“I feel extremely privileged to have spent the last decade at Anglia Ruskin where, alongside incredible friends and colleagues, I have been able to undertake work in pursuit of greater inclusion in education. I am so grateful to them for their support.”