An ideal schooling environment is one where every student feels a strong sense of belonging and all students are able to ‘be’ in the moment. It is a place where students foster a love of learning and where all students feel safe and secure. Within the educational environment all students will see themselves positively represented and they will be able to access information that affects themselves and the world around them.
While this is what we strive for, this is not always the reality for our young LGBT+ students. Current research states that LGBT+ students report avoiding school functions (75.4%) and extracurricular activities (70.5%) because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable and approximately 4 in 10 students avoided gender-segregated spaces in school due to safety concerns (bathrooms: 42.7%; locker rooms: 40.6%) (Kosciw et al., 2018). Many schools still fail to extend explicit protection to LGBT+ students in their policies and they do not represent LGBT+ individuals within the standard curriculum (Chesir-Teran & Hughes, 2009).
With this in mind, we need to ensure that this changes and therefore as teachers we need to do better. We need to do better than celebrating LGBT+ history month once a year and then forgetting about our LGBT+ students for the other eleven. We need to do better than wearing a pride pin but when our students come to us reporting homophobia, we do nothing. We need to do better than creating policies, procedures and structures that negatively impact upon our LGBT+ students. We need to do better!
But how do we encourage all staff to move away from the effects of section 28 which prohibited teachers from promoting the acceptability of homosexuality to a place where all students no matter who they inherently are, are able to feel safe, included and represented. Well there isn’t a one size fits all answer for everyone however some of these tips will start to get the ball rolling.
Firstly, it is imperative that schools create a judgement free space for their LGBT+ students, staff and community to share their experiences within the school. All LGBT+ people should be given an opportunity to identify where and when they feel safe and when they don’t, and they should be able to identify any concerns that they have to ensure that they can learn and meet the requirements of their job. School leadership needs to use this time to allow their LGBT+ stakeholders to speak and for them to listen and strategise ways forward for any of the issues or concerns that are raised.
Furthermore, school leadership also needs to reflect on the policies and procedures that they enforce. Often in schools there are still policies and procedures that are not LGBT+ friendly. This might be a uniform policy which enforces gender stereotypes, an antibullying policy that does not include clear procedures for homophobia, biphobia and transphobia or enrolment policies that do not include non-binary people. To move forward, senior leadership teams need to take time to explores the equalities act of 2010, list their policies and when they will review them and review them with a keen eye on improving them for all LGBT+ students (wording is key here).
But being LGBT+ inclusive cannot just be up to our senior leadership teams. Classroom teachers and heads of departments also need to be working towards a more inclusive curriculum. While this year marks the first year that LGBT+ people are mandated to be discussed in sex education this is not enough. Students who are LGBT+ need to see themselves represented throughout every subject. Both the good and the bad. For instance, when discussing World War 2, the treatment of LGBT+ people could be included or when looking at a maths problem maybe two dads go to the shops to buy oranges and apples that students need to subtract. Ultimately schools need to get to a place where their curriculum usualises LGBT+ people. This can be done through being aware of how gender is used in your school, auditing your curriculum to see where LGBT+ people are represented, developing staff confidence and providing a range of resources which students can access that they can identify with or need to grow.
School culture also needs to be explored as it is this which greatly impacts upon young LGBT+ students experiences within schools. Bullying is one of the greatest concerns of students who identify as LGBT+. Schools need to consider how they are outwardly showing that their spaces are inclusive to all. They also need to consider the language that is being used and how they deal with situations that are not in line with an inclusive environment. Some ways that you can ensure everyone feels included is by modifying gender-stereotypical phrases that you use such as good morning girls and boys could be instead good morning students.
Make sure your displays link to your updated curriculum and reflect LGBT+ people along with thinking about how you show you are an inclusive environment from the moment people enter your reception area. Also make sure you have a strong transphobia, biphobia, homophobia policy that incorporates teachable moments and restorative justice rather than just discipline. Finally remember that your school is not just reflected inside the four walls, think about how you can show you are an inclusive school on your social media and your school website so that everyone knows that your school is one where inclusion is imperative to the very fibre of your school’s ethos.
As I said in the beginning of this blog, schools need to become a positive place where all students can relish in the myriad of experiences that they are offered. With all of this in mind, what will you do to be better for the future generations who come through your school?
Some useful books for you to explore further:
- Celebrating Difference: A whole School Approach to LGBT+ inclusion by Shaun Dellenty
- How to transform your school into an LGBT+ friendly place by Dr Elly Barnes and Dr Anna Carlile
- Can I tell you about gender Diversity? By CJ Atkinson
- Courage in the classroom. LGBT Teachers share their stories. Edited by Catherine Lee.