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Church Times obituary inspires London headmaster to come out as gay to staff and students

05 February 2021

St Dunstan’s College

Nicholas Hewlett, headmaster of St Dunstan’s College, Catford, south-east London

Nicholas Hewlett, headmaster of St Dunstan’s College, Catford, south-east London

SEXUAL identity should never be a barrier to success, but, rather, “unlock success and happiness”, a head teacher has told his students after coming out as a gay man in a same-sex marriage.

Nicholas Hewlett is the headmaster of St Dunstan’s College, Catford, in south-east London — an independent, co-educational school with a Church of England foundation, for pupils aged three to 18. To mark the start of LGBT+ awareness week at the college, Mr Hewlett made the decision to tell his staff and secondary-age students that he is a “happily gay man” who lives with his husband, Alberic Elsom.

Mr Hewlett had been inspired to be open about his sexuality after reading an obituary in the Church Times last month of a former pupil, teacher, and chaplain of St Dunstan’s, the Revd Martin Preston, who was outed by Private Eye in 1981 (Gazette, 22 January). While the headmaster at the time had been “hostile” to Mr Preston, pupils at the school had been supportive.

In a pre-recorded assembly broadcast on Monday morning, Mr Hewlett told his students: “[Preston] was remarkable, not least, because he was openly gay. . . Pupils rallied around their teacher; they had letters published in his support, going against cultural norms, and showed great humanity, respect and dignity, and in apparent direct contradiction to the views of the headmaster of that time, who took a very different view.”

He continued: “This place, this school, has moved on to such an extent that I, as the headmaster, can be comfortable to share with you today that I am happily gay and in a same-sex relationship.”

St Dunstan’s CollegeSt Dunstan’s College, Catford, south-east London

Mr Hewlett, who has been headmaster for seven years, encouraged pupils to have an open mind and the courage to be true to themselves and others, but said that it was also “OK not to know who you are just yet”. “Sexual identity should never ever be seen as a barrier to success. It should unlock success and happiness. . . Remember we should not take our inclusive and liberal values for granted.”

Staff, pupils, and parents had been extremely supportive after his announcement, he said on Tuesday. “I have been overwhelmed with the response from students, parents, and staff. This included a very kind email from the prefect team over the weekend saying how supportive they are of my decision, and how proud they are to be part of St Dunstan’s College.

“There have also been more than 300 supportive and positive messages across social media, even from parents of students at other schools. In many ways, it’s sad that this has to be a story in 2021, but as I’ve said many times, if this can help even one student feel more comfortable about who they are, then it’s worth it.”

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