2020 Summer Term

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Deputy Headteacher David Lowbridge-Ellis shares ten simple ways you can support your LGBT staff and pupils.

Be LGBT inclusive

With everything else we have to do, it is perhaps understandable that creating an LGBT supportive culture in our schools and colleges falls down many leaders’ priority lists. But there are things we can all do to make a huge difference to LGBT staff and pupils, many of which only take a matter of minutes.

1. Get the rainbow flags out

Straight people might find it hard to appreciate how comforting many LGBT people find a humble rainbow flag. Whenever I go anywhere, in my personal or professional life, I look for this universal, but not ubiquitous, symbol. When I see one, I relax a little. It shows me that the people who run this organisation, whether it be a restaurant, shop or a school, are trying to tackle prejudice. The rainbow signifies there is an intention to include people like me, that any discrimination I face for being gay while I am in this space will not be tolerated. Having a rainbow flag in reception, on your letterhead, as badges or ribbons on pupil and staff lapels, tells everyone they are welcome.

2. Ask the librarian to order some LGBT books

While mainstream adult fiction is still playing catch-up in terms of LGBT representation, young adult fiction is going through a golden age. There are hundreds of brilliant titles to choose from.

Ask your librarian to collate a list of LGBT-themed books to purchase or, if you have pupils and staff who openly identify as LGBT, ask them to come up with suggestions. A Google search of ‘LGBT young adult books’ will also do the trick.

3. Delete a few words

From the uniform policy In this day and age, schools shouldn’t really have separate columns in their uniform policy for ‘girls’ and ‘boys’. Some boys like to wear makeup. Many girls feel more like themselves in trousers. Some don’t identify as ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ at all. Make it easy by just putting everything under one column: Uniform.

4. Change the sign on a toilet door

One of the big sticking points of providing adequate facilities for gender non-binary pupils (that is, those not identifying entirely as ‘boys’ or ‘girls’) is toilets. Simply get around the headache entirely by designating at least one toilet as usable by everyone. Maybe replace the gendered symbols with the word ‘Toilet’.

5. Make sure all teachers know it is okay to include LGBT examples

During my own school days in the 1980s and 1990s, it was difficult for teachers to reassure gay students they were okay or to mention gay stuff in any way. This meant a whole generation of gay children were left feeling terribly alone. I genuinely thought I was the only gay person in the world for most of my childhood. That sounds ridiculous now, but how was I supposed to know otherwise? Even today, some teachers are not sure if they can talk about gay stuff in the classroom. Take any opportunity you can to remind pupils that it’s not just okay to do so, but it’s essential. Even in the internet age, LGBT pupils can feel very alone. But telling them that this scientist, that artist, this musician and that mathematician were LGBT too will help them find their place in the world.

6. Ask your network manager to unfilter ‘gay’ words

It’s not a good idea to ban the word ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ or any of the ‘correct’ terms to describe LGBT people. Instead, it’s essential that we teach our children to use these words in the correct, non-pejorative way. And yet, even schools that have succeeded in making pupils well aware that gay is not an acceptable synonym for ‘rubbish’, forget to unfilter it on their IT systems. If a child is prevented from Googling ‘gay history’, how are they going to learn about it?

Deputy Headteacher David Lowbridge-Ellis shares ten simple ways you can support your LGBT staff and pupils. So, approve that order for rainbow ribbons or laces. And if your school has an equalitythemed club, make sure different members of the senior leadership team make guest appearances. I’m sure I don’t need to persuade anyone of the need to create an LGBT-inclusive culture. Hate crime targeted at homosexual, bisexual and transgender people is depressingly prevalent in society as a whole. And although LGBT people are at significant risk from bigots, more are at even greater risk of harming themselves. LGBT people are far more prone to mental health issues and are much more likely to self-medicate with drink and drugs. Disturbingly high proportions of LGBT people, younger and older, have attempted to take their own lives. We’re all very busy. But tackling this is surely worth ten minutes of everyone’s time?

7. Remind everyone that diff erent families exist

Several staff in our school in same-sex relationships have children. My own niece and nephew have two dads. We should never assume everyone has the default ‘mummy and daddy’, denying the possibility that some have ‘mummy and mummy’ or ‘daddy and daddy’, ‘mummy’ or ‘daddy’, or ‘carer’ or ‘grandparent’.

I encourage staff to use fully inclusive phrases like ‘someone at home’, as in, “Ask someone at home to test you on these spellings.”

8. Challenge staff to be representative when reviewing the curriculum

Our profession’s renewed focus on curriculum is the ideal opportunity to make sure what we teach represents more than the experiences of a narrow section of society.

How much of what we currently teach is rooted in the thoughts and actions of straight, white men? Anyone who says, “Yes, but straight, white men wrote all the best books and made all the important discoveries and decisions” clearly isn’t looking hard enough. So, next time your staff are having a curriculum planning meeting, throw in a provocation: find the LGBT people in their subjects. They are out there, waiting to be discovered.

9. Make sure everyone knows it’s okay to be themselves

After having more than a dozen trainee teachers and new staff ask me if they were allowed to tell pupils they were in a relationship with someone of the same sex, I decided to build this into our induction programmes. It’s worth all of us checking our recruitment and induction procedures to make sure the message is 100% clear: it’s okay to be yourself.

It works the other way around, too. Until a few years ago, I still encountered young people who were not sure where they stood if they came out to a teacher. “Do you have to report this somewhere? Do you have to tell my parents?” That’s why our pupils learn the answer to these questions is “absolutely not” in the first personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) unit of Year 7.

10. Make LGBT everyone’s responsibility

In many schools, the person ‘responsible’ for Equality and Diversity belongs to a minority group themselves. You may think, “Well, it makes sense to appoint them to the role because they know what they’re talking about.” However, if you don’t create ways for everyone to show their support, you might end up making it appear like it’s one person’s crusade rather than a mission that everyone needs to get behind. Individuals, however passionate, only change the world when they have allies. So, approve that order for rainbow ribbons or laces. And if your school has an equalitythemed club, make sure different members of the senior leadership team make guest appearances.

I’m sure I don’t need to persuade anyone of the need to create an LGBT-inclusive culture. Hate crime targeted at homosexual, bisexual and transgender people is depressingly prevalent in society as a whole. And although LGBT people are at significant risk from bigots, more are at even greater risk of harming themselves. LGBT people are far more prone to mental health issues and are much more likely to self-medicate with drink and drugs. Disturbingly high proportions of LGBT people, younger and older, have attempted to take their own lives.

We’re all very busy. But tackling this is surely worth ten minutes of everyone’s time?


David Lowbridge-Ellis
Deputy Headteacher at Barr Beacon School in Walsall, West Midlands
@barrbeaconsch

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