Promoting an Inclusive & Accepting LGBT Community in Schools

Last weekend saw Pride in London take place, a celebration of the LGBT community. 2017 marks 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, it’s also been 3 years since we voted to legalise same-sex marriage. It’s clear that we’ve come a long way in terms of making the LGBT community feel welcome and accepted, but unfortunately we still see discrimination against this community, and despite Pride celebrating this community, acceptance should not be designated to certain days of the year, this should be an everyday occurrence.

As teachers, we already know the powerful position we are in to help shape students’ futures and provide them with the skills they need to lead fulfilled and happy lives. It is part of our duty to educate students on social issues such as the ones that affect our LGBT community and also make the LGBT community in schools feel welcome. We have come a long way on our journey to achieving equality, with a survey taken earlier in the year finding that the amount of gay pupils who faced bullying because of their sexuality has fallen from 55% — 45%. The survey also found that more than a third of schools have dedicated clubs or societies for gay students and 2 in 5 students know an openly gay teacher. Despite these advancements it’s important to remember that still, almost half of gay pupils experience bullying, and that mental health issues among LGBT youths are alarmingly high with this survey finding that 4 in 5 transgender youths reported that they self-harmed.

In order to counteract this, we as teachers need to lead by example and operate an open and inclusive classroom environment. It’s always good to look at how far we’ve come, but it’s fundamental that we also keep the end goal in sight, and the end goal is equality for all LGBT people. The acceptance of the LGBT community in everyday life helps to make this task easier for us. For example the recent news of Ofsted having to fail a private Jewish school inspection due to them failing to teach students explicitly about sexual orientation and gender re-assignment in line with the Equality Act 2010 and failing to promote British Values sends the message that we as a community are accepting of everyone and schools must promote inclusion.

Promoting LGBT equality in schools needn’t always take place within the curriculum, there are steps that we can do throughout the school day to ensure we’re acting as proper role models for students. Confronting homophobic remarks regardless of their severity communicates to all students that this type of language is unacceptable. If a student refers to something or someone as ‘gay’, they may not mean to cause harm but may simply be unaware as to why this language isn’t suitable, this is when it is our job to educate students on why they shouldn’t be using terms such as this so flippantly.

Where possible or available, introduce LGBT into conversations or the curriculum and don’t shy away from talking about LGBT people or their rights. Examples of LGBT people in popular culture and history include Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner, Frank Ocean, Alan Turing, Sally Ride to name but a few.

Perhaps the most important and simplest way to promote acceptance of the LGBT community is to create a supportive environment, studies have also found that a supportive and inclusive environment for all students not just those who identify as LGBT has a positive impact on educational outcomes — not just LGBT students. In order to make yourself seen as approachable and welcoming to LGBT students become a member of your school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club, or if no clubs or societies like this exist in your school ask for one to be created. These will then give LGBT students a safe place to go if they ever want someone to speak to and also to meet like-minded individuals. Being an ambassador for clubs such as these will also place you as a member of the school community students would feel comfortable talking to or approaching if they ever feel the need to.

Simple steps such as this can make a huge impact on the lives of students who may be struggling to come to terms with their identity, but also to create a welcoming and friendly environment for everyone within school where students, teachers and parents will feel happy and safe.