This is what Heartstopper gets right – and wrong – about LGBTQ+ school life

Kit Connor as Nick nelson (left) and Joe Locke as Charlie Spring (right), hugging in a photo booth. Heartstopper will conclude with Volume 6.

Ahead of the second season of Heartstopper, a teacher has graded how accurately he believes the show portrays queer experiences in schools.

Heartstopper has won high praise for its depiction of young LGBTQ+ people, and for showing that a happy ending is possible.

As a teacher and a gay man, much of the show – largely set in a secondary school – rings true to me. But there are parts I found unrealistic.

Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) felt immediately recognisable. Surrounded by a loveable group of outcasts, he’s chirpy, emotional and quirky.

Nick Nelson (Kit Connor), however, draws heavily on the trope of the popular jock struggling with his sexuality.

We’ve seen it a thousand times over by this point: Kurt Hummel’s closeted, hockey-playing tormenter David Karofsky in Glee, Drew Boyd in the American Queer as Folk, and, to some degree, David Rose’s baseball-loving husband Patrick in Schitt’s Creek.

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Through the first season of Heartstopper, we see Nick struggle to process his sexuality and witness him trying to reconcile his rugby teammates with his gay love interest. In the finale, he abandons a rugby game on sports day, takes Charlie’s hands and leads him away.

Heartstopper: Love is in the air in the season 2 trailer (Netflix)
Heartstopper: Love is in the air in the season 2 trailer (Netflix)

For many, coming out takes years of soul searching, and the homophobia young queer people face – like that which Charlie experiences at the hands of Nick’s rugby-playing friends – often delays it.

The setting of sports day for the climactic kiss in the finale was an interesting choice to me. Given the complicated relationship between the queer community and sports, often hatched during school years, it felt like somewhere Nick might feel empowered.

I’m also not sure that any kind of “relationship reveal” would be celebrated in such an overt manner, queer or otherwise. Today’s students would be documenting those feelings via Snapchat. And that’s before we even consider the very real implications of this public display of affection being sanctioned by staff, recorded by students and being all over TikTok by lunchtime.

It was sweet, but, in my experience, moments like this don’t really happen. It is more likely that he would be met with a few high fives from close friends and that everyone else would ignore or not notice it. But of course, this is TV, and that isn’t a satisfying narrative conclusion.

Heartstopper depicts the queer student-teacher relationship accurately

Throughout the season, there is a repeated motif of students seeking safe places, whether it’s Charlie, and later Nick beside him, spending time out of lessons in Mr Ajayi’s classroom (he’s the only out gay teacher at school), or Tara and Darcy hiding in the music rooms.

Heartstopper Season 2
Heartstopper Season 2: Corrina Brown as Tara Jones and Kizzy Edgell as Darcy Olsson (Netflix)

This felt accurate to me: the meme of gay students and their English teachers is, of course, rooted in fact.

On a basic level, students will seek out members of staff who they feel they can trust, and teachers recognise which students need support.

Often, it’s creative spaces that become sanctuaries for queer students. It’s certainly true from my experience – while English teaches subtext, emotional intelligence and sensitivity, art and music also offer a creative outlet for building a well-rounded expression.

Elle and Tao’s budding romance is what excites me most

While perhaps not wholly representative of a queer experience at school, viewers experienced the full arc of a queer romance between Charlie and Nick in season one, and it was a pleasure to see.

When season two arrives, I’ll be looking to see how the relationship between Elle Argent (Yasmin Finney) and Tao Xu (William Gao) develops.

Heartstopper Season 2
Heartstopper Season 2: Will Gao as Tao Xu and Yasmin Finney as Elle Argent (Netflix)

Giving young trans people a romance to root for would be an incredible thing. During break times, my classroom is home to mostly trans students, and I know they need to feel seen and understood. A positive representation of these two characters, navigating their evolving friendship and romantic interest in each other, would do those students a world of good, particularly in today’s hostile climate.

Heartstopper got a lot right in season one. Despite a sprinkling of artistic licence, mostly surrounding Nick, it was nice to see happy queer people on TV.

Heartstopper season two is released on Netflix Thursday (3 August).