'It's a Sin' actor visits South Shields schoolchildren as Mortimer College's first ever diversity and inclusion week begins
A South Shields secondary school has begun its first ever ‘diversity and inclusion’ week, with help from local drama talent Michael Mather.
The actor, who appeared in hit Channel 4 series It’s a Sin, visited Mortimer College as the school launched its equality initiative on Monday, June 21.
Coinciding with Pride Month, the drive sees youngsters between Years 7 and 10 hear from speakers who are engaging with them about minority and alternative perspectives.
The 26-year-old, who attended Mortimer Primary School, just next door to the secondary college, said it would have made a huge difference to him had there been a similar initiative in place during his school days.
He has previously told The Gazette how there were few role models or reference points to look to when growing up in South Tyneside during the 1990s.
“What an amazing experience,” he said.
"I can not tell you what it would’ve meant to me at 13 or 14 to have a gay man, who’s happy and who’s doing what he wants to do, speaking to me and my peers – telling me that it’s okay to be gay and that we all struggle.
"And also telling me about the battles and the fights and the struggles that the LGBTQ+ community has gone through.
"We spoke about Section 28, we spoke about the HIV/AIDs epidemic, we spoke about gay marriage and how until recently many gay men could not legally give blood.
"They’re learning about the LGBTQ+ movement throughout all the recent decades. It’s unbelievable.
"I’m really hoping other schools catch on and we can help start conversations like this across the North East. It would be amazing to help kick-start that in any way I can.”
Michael appeared in two episodes of It’s a Sin, the much-lauded television drama set during the UK’s 1980s HIV/Aids epidemic.
The series became the broadcaster’s most-watched box set show ever shortly after its release at the beginning of the year.
Michael’s next project, feature-length comedy film ‘The Duke’, in which he stars alongside Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren, is set for UK release later this year.
The diversity and inclusion week at Mortimer is the brainchild of Tracy Hallway, the school’s mental health lead, who says she hopes to build on the work the secondary college is carrying out to help foster a more tolerant and pluralistic approach to education locally.
"Today, we created an LGBTQ+ movement experience,” she told The Gazette.
“All the pupils have gone on a walk through the performing arts corridor. We also watched a video about the history of the LGBTQ+ movement.
"In the theatre, we had five students who were extremely brave and spoke about their coming out experiences. They also spoke about what they’d like to see, moving forward, from the school and from the students.
"Later in the week, we’ve got Sikh and Muslim speakers coming into the school and performers who’ll play music and answer questions about diversity and Pride.
"The number of LGBTQ+ pupils we have is growing so we felt like we really needed to get this right from the off.”