LGBT+ inclusivity in schools

It is as important as ever to continue to shed light on the histories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and to normalise LGBT+ relationships and identities so that LGBT+ students feel represented in their education.  

From 2017 LGBTQ-inclusive education has been embedded into the school curriculum across England, Scotland and Wales through Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) lessons – something that has made a huge difference to the lives of students with LGBT+ identities, as well as teachers and parents. Those who lived through Section 28, which prohibited the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in Britain’s schools, know that a lack of LGBT+ information in school can be incredibly harmful.

We caught up with Chartered College members Bennie Kara, author of A Guide for Teachers: Diversity in Schools, and Daniel Tomlinson-Gray, co-founder and director of LGBTed, to talk about LGBTQ-inclusive education in schools. Bennie Kara, explains why it is critical that schools teach an LGBT+ inclusive curriculum:

‘Schools often function as a counter to bias in the family and in the community about LGBT+ identities. It is therefore absolutely imperative that we plan for and implement LGBT+ inclusive policy and practice in school. Considering that LGBT youths are three times more likely to self-harm and twice as likely to contemplate suicide, LGBT+ inclusive environments are a safeguarding measure.’

Supporting children in developing inclusive attitudes can help reduce homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, as well as teach children to accept and respect those around them. Daniel Tomlinson-Gray, told us that LGBT+ inclusive education is ‘the right thing to do’, adding:

‘We can argue the business case for schools to do this – for example, Ofsted requires an inclusive curriculum – and there are statistics from Stonewall School Report 2017 that are frankly frightening, but surely we just want all of our young people to feel welcome and safe in our schools? This is our role as teachers.’

Positive role models provide students with aspirations and ambition, and positive representation is critical for young people. The curriculum must demonstrate that LGBT+ people not only exist, but also succeed. Tomlinson-Gray explained how including more diverse figures in the curriculum can make it more inclusive:

‘We can ask ourselves: “are we only teaching about dead, straight, white men?” Where are the lesbian poets, the gay scientists and the trans film directors in the curriculum? Growing up gay in school, I had no way of learning what it means to be who I am, whereas in our heteronormative society, young straight people are represented all over our TVs, in our films and in what they are taught. We can’t be what we can’t see.’ 

Bennie Kara also explained what steps we should be taking to make the curriculum more inclusive of LGBT+ themes:

‘Firstly, the PSHE curriculum needs to go beyond the definition of LGBT+ identities. There is work to be done on a subject knowledge level about the history, the politics, the art, the music of LGBT+ people throughout history – and not just people who have been persecuted because of their sexual identity. Children need to be aware of how society has stigmatised LGBT+ people in the past, but they also need to see non-stereotypical LGBT+ folks living well and succeeding – role models in all professions.’

It is critical for LGBT+ teachers and students to feel safe in schools, and Kara explains how we can do so:

‘Schools can protect LGBT+ teachers and students through policy and practice. What does the school policy on adoption leave for same sex couples look like? How do we actively advocate for our LGBT staff and students? Is it just the LGBT staff running Pride Clubs and wearing rainbow lanyards or does everyone do it to show their support for LGBT+ rights? Is there a policy that states that all teachers should challenge homophobia? Of course, LGBT students need to know that they can talk about what their daily experiences are. Is there a DEI group in school, or a child-led safeguarding group where these issues are discussed? Ultimately schools have to act decisively and visibly where incidences of homophobia abuse occur and follow this up with education sessions. This is how LGBT+ staff and students know they are in a safe space.’

If a school handles anti-LGBT+ rhetoric or bullying appropriately, it can make both students and teachers feel safe, but also it shows they have allies. As an ally, you can create a platform to advocate for LGBT+ people and make sure their voices are heard. Tomlinson-Gray explains the importance of listening to LGBT+ people: 

‘Never miss an opportunity to ensure LGBT+ people are listened to, respected and represented, particularly trans people. The trend in the media now is towards a very anti-trans agenda, with much of the negative language used echoing that directed towards gay men during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. Nearly half of trans people have attempted to take their own lives because they do not feel they are supported or that they have someone they can talk to. Our organisation, LGBTed have a slogan which sums this up: let’s be the role models we needed at school.’

Daniel Tomlinson-Gray explores what actions to take to make the curriculum more LGBT+ inclusive in a webinar from earlier this year.

Further reading:

Courageous Leaders: Supporting and celebrating LGBT school leaders

A whole-school approach to supporting students with LGBTQ+ identities

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