Queer Clubbing – Creating Intentional Queer Space in Educational Settings

Edel Cronin portrait

Written by Edel Cronin

Secondary school senior leader and co founder of Bristol Queer Educators, very Queer and very Irish.

During my PGCE I had one lecture where the lecturer spoke about being a LGBTQ+ Educator.  They spoke of their experience growing up LGBTQ+ in the 1960s onwards.  One of the messages that stayed with me is the importance of Queer spaces for LGBTQ+ people.  For that lecturer living in a society where there was active policing of LGBTQ+ lives, Queer people found ways to create space and community.  Without these spaces LGBTQ+ people become isolated, lack space where their sexuality and/or gender is affirmed and don’t get an opportunity to learn their history.

During our school Pride last year, I spent a term doing all the usual things that it takes to help coordinate a school Pride.  Our Pride events ended with a whole school Pride Day, as part of that day LGBTQ+ club had a lunchtime party where the focus was celebration.  Students had a Pride Photobooth, we had music playing, the school canteen made rainbow cupcakes for the party, students dressed in rainbow colours and wore their LGBTQ+ flag like capes.  While sitting in that room taking a moment to observe what we had created I realised that what was happening in that room, Queer Joy free from risk of homophobia or transphobia, this was the most important work I could do.  If you have a regular space where you are free from the ‘risk assessment’ that comes with being a LGBTQ person+, a space where you can learn your communities history, share your favourite books or films that celebrate your lived experience and bask in the joy that comes with the freedom of being in a Queer Space, over time you will become more affirmed in your own self, you will be able to move around the world with the self-assurance needed in a society that tells us we shouldn’t exist.

Schools should absolutely spend intentional time and resources educating all the people in their community about LGBTQ+ history, provide anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia training and celebrate LGBTQ+ people.  Doing so will help use build coalition between LGBTQ+ communities and those outside the community, reduce homophobia and transphobia and liberate us all from the burden of heteronormative stereotyping.  However, it is also important that before doing this work school leaders have policies in place to support the work, provide staff and students with scripts on how to have difficult conversations and challenge homophobic and transphobic language.  And provide space for Queer people in the building, should they want to access it, where they do not have to worry about being the ‘Gay Oracle’, experience homophobia, transphobia and risk assess how Queer they can be.  For some people a virtual space will provide them with the best support, others will benefit from sign posting of networks or groups that exist outside of the school community and for others it will be having a physical space.

Ensuring that in person or virtually student and staff groups are available to LGBTQ+ people also allow Queer people the space to be surrounded by people who have similar lived experience that can provide or direct them to Queer inclusive support, learn about Queer stories and histories and experience the joy that is being Queer in a Queer space.  It removes the burden that can come with moving from a Pride assembly to a classroom where you are only Queer person.  By making intentional Queer spaces in educational setting, we are also making an active statement as Educators that we are taking up space in educational spaces that are traditionally positioned as a battle group for LGBTQ+ rights. Let us ensure that all our educational spaces move with intentionality to liberate and acknowledge loudly that Queer people have always been and will always be in educational spaces.

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On Being ‘In’, ‘Out’ and ‘In-Between’

Glyn Hawke portrait

Written by Glyn Hawke

I am a deputy head in a primary school in South-East London. I completed a doctorate in education at King’s University and was awarded my doctorate in March 2020.

This was first posted on my blog during the first lockdown.  

It’s been a really eventful time for primary schools up and down the country. So much has been going on and school staff have had to bend, flex and adapt like never before. Funnily enough, we’re pretty good at it. But even primary school teachers have their limits. No-one is really talking about the well-being and mental health of the staff that have kept essential and key worker services going over the coronavirus pandemic (which isn’t over yet). I’m guessing that’s because people assume we are beyond human and have a never ending well of emotional and psychological resources to get through any life-threatening crisis. I mean, there’s nothing like watching friends being able to work from home and keep themselves safe when you have to continue to go to work everyday. Then again, it’s better to have been able to keep a job when so many people have lost theirs. I think I’ve done a pretty good job in not totally collapsing, but have noticed in the last couple of weeks that my ‘well’ is running dry. I’m tired. Not just a little bit tired. But tired to the very core of my bones. There’s nothing left – at the weekend, I try to read in the afternoon and find myself falling asleep. For a little nap. A four or five hour nap. On both days. During the week, coffee has become my best friend and my nemesis. My best friend in terms of jolting my body awake in the morning so that I can function – to a greater or lesser degree. And my nemesis because, if I have one too many, that perky morning pick-me-up quickly descends into a jittery state of anxiety, with my mind whirring at a hundred miles an hour with thoughts of falling sick, self-doubt and inadequacy. In other words, it’s all a bit doom and gloom. Usually I’ve got enough resources to keep those types of thoughts at bay. But lately, the defences are down and they just keep on coming. I’m not looking for sympathy. I know I’ll be okay in the long term. And it helps to talk (or write) about it. Shaking off the demons and all that. I have no problem admitting that I’m struggling. Even as a school leader. Some people might argue that in my position I shouldn’t show ‘weakness’ or vulnerability. I disagree on both counts at the best of times. So right now, talking about feeling fears and anxieties I think is completely acceptable. It’s also a good reminder that perhaps other staff are feeling the same way. We’re human after all, not machines. 

So, given my anxiety and vulnerability at the moment, I am very thankful to be in a school where the staff have embraced our work on equality and diversity. The pupils have amazed me with their reflections and responses to the death of George Floyd, and their passion for a fairer and more just society. The posters, banners, demonstrations, letters, artwork and poetry show a sophisticated response to Black Lives Matter, and to hear such young children clearly articulate how it makes them feel has been deeply moving and encouraging. And credit needs to be given to the teachers who followed the children’s lead, who didn’t try and dodge what is a very sensitive subject, but metaphorically sat with the children in states of questioning and exploring that was often challenging and uncomfortable. There can’t be true progress until we acknowledge and recognise the pain, suffering and violence caused by systemic racism and, if white, question our role in perpetuating this violence in inequality through our choices and actions. Tough pills and all that. 

As I explored in my previous posts ‘Hijacking or Highlighting’ and ‘Sharing the Rainbow’, there came a point over the past few weeks when LGBTQ+ equality came up in relation to Black Lives Matter. After some open discussions between staff on the meaning of the rainbow and who ‘owned’ it as a social signifier, we realised that it was LGBTQ+ Pride month. All over the globe there would be marches, protests and events (this year largely online) that would highlight the continuing inequalities affecting, as well as celebrate, LGBTQ+ lives. And as Black Lives Matter’s manifesto includes LGBTQ+ BAME people, then segueing into Pride seemed a natural progression. Exploring Pride had the potential to broaden the discussions around BLM (who is included and why) and also to critically examine the image of the rainbow (what it represents and to whom). We like to do a bit of critical thinking with our children. Education, education, education. 

So, on both a personal and professional level, I found it extremely liberating when our headteacher said that we ought to be doing something to acknowledge Pride. Let’s just put this into context. I’m 48 years old. I’ve worked in primary schools for over 15 years. I’ve studied resistance to LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum for a Masters degree and explored the experiences of LGBTQ+ teachers in primary schools in England for my doctoral thesis (did I mention that I’m a doctor?…). And I know that many, many schools still do not include LGBTQ+ people in their curriculums. I know because for the past 15 years I’ve had to tread lightly, make suggestions, keep bringing up the exclusion of LGBTQ+ lives in the curriculum and have had a variety of responses. Sometimes it has been a straight (excuse the pun) ‘no’. Sometimes it has been to make it personal – ‘Imagine if some of the parents knew you were gay!’ (I think that was supposed to be supportive, but it’s really not). Sometimes it was about it ‘not being the right time’. That the school in question had more important priorities. And sometimes there was a concern about the parents. Would they be offended? Would they object? What would their reactions be? (This is one of my particular favourites as it can often mean that school leaders’ latent homophobia can be hidden behind the parent community. Where to even begin unpicking the classism, racism and homophobia that unconsciously exists within such a response). So to have a headteacher who simply said ‘we ought to do something’ was huge. I jumped straight onto the computer, typed out some suggested books with ideas for different year groups, and circulated it to staff. All within an hour. Quite easy to do when the books and lesson plans are all sitting in the cupboard waiting for the ‘green light’. 

To say that the staff embraced the work is an understatement. They used age-appropriate texts and language (I hate the fact that I’ve used this phrase, but I’ve included it just in case there are any bigots reading this who honestly believe primary school teachers would do anything but….) and engaged the children in critical discussion and debates around LGBTQ+ lives. With younger children it was about discussing different types of families, what it means to be a boy or girl, and making rainbow flags. With the older children, there were discussions around the intersections of faith, race and sexuality. What does it mean to be BAME and LGBTQ+? Are all religious people homophobic? Are identities more complex and nuanced than overly simplistic assumptions and generalisations? What is LGBTQ+ equality? What were the Stonewall riots? Who was Bayard Ruskin? And why hadn’t children heard of him? So at his point in time, I find myself working in a primary school that mentions LGBTQ+ beyond the narrative of homophobic bullying. That understands the intersection of our lives across different identity labels. That asks questions to prompt critical thinking in children rather than giving simplistic answers. Identity, equality and diversity work is complex. And our children can handle it. So, I find myself working in a school where staff talk about LGBTQ+ lives in a positive and historical way. Liberation, liberation, liberation. 

And so came the inevitable. The issue of ‘coming out’. Should I? Should I not? What would be the purpose? What does it even mean to come out? And what am I coming out as? It might sound like the answers to these questions are quite simple, but it is far from that. Education has been described as being a particularly hostile profession towards LGBTQ+ people. Let’s not forget Section 28. And let’s not forget the lack of commitment to, or knowledge of, the Equality Act (2010). And finally, let’s not forget the ‘debates’ around the new RSE curriculum and the demonstrations that the new curriculum sparked. To argue that education has moved on and is less hostile would be to deny the violence in the recent debates, language and protests. It would also be to deny the ‘pick and mix’ approach to equality that the new RSE curriculum risks creating. It also denies the homophobia that exists in the lack of clarity from the DfE. 

Overly simplistic notions of coming out are based on the assumption that coming out is a universal and homogenous process. That all LGBTQ+ people experience coming out in the same way. That we all have the same internal and external resources to make coming out a possibility. Overly simplistic notions of coming out also conflate outness with ‘authenticity’. Ouch. I guess it depends on what is meant by an ‘authentic’ life. Is remaining in the closet because coming out might risk your life not an authentic response? Or, from a position of privilege (for those people who have successfully come out) is there a demand to come out regardless of the consequences, regardless of the risk to life, regardless of whether or not the individual has the internal and external assets to do so? You can probably tell that I have a few issues with the conflation and over-simplification of ‘outness’ = ‘authenticity’. Who decides when somebody is being authentic? Let me give you a little bit of background so that I can explain further. The following section comes from my thesis. 

The coming out imperative

‘Gay brothers and sisters, … you must come out… come out only to the people you know, and who know you… break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters…’ (Harvey Milk cited in Shilts, 1982: 368)

Gay rights activists in the early 1970s constructed the closet as oppressive and ‘coming out’ as playing an essential part in claiming a healthy and full sexual identity, moving from a place of secrecy to acknowledging one’s true, and therefore ‘fixed’, identity (Woods, 2016; Vaid, 1995). Coming out became a collective responsibility (Sedgwick, 1990; Woods, 2016; Vaid, 1995) and was constructed as a means of making things better for the next generation, challenging homophobic discourses and feeling better about oneself. The benefits were both collective and personal. Pro-LGBTQ organisations continue to call for ‘authentic role models’ and encourage individuals, particularly teachers, to come out (Brockenbrough, 2012). And the language used describes such ‘out’ teachers as ‘trailblazers’, ‘authentic’, ‘rising to the challenge’ and ‘courageous’ (deLeon, 2012). Teachers that don’t can often be labelled as lacking honesty, as not being prepared to face the risk (Formby, 2013), as being ‘part of the oppression (Patai, 1992) and as living a false life (deJean, 2008). Critics of coming out argue that, in order to be accepted as legitimate and non-threatening, some LGBTQ teachers arguably mirror acceptable heterosexual norms through a ‘politics of assimilation’ (Warner, 1999) that is couched in homonormative discourses of an ‘acceptable gay’ (Connell, 2015). Neary (2014) argues that LGBTQ teachers who are married, in relationships or in civil partnerships have access to normative traits that potentially make coming out easier. This new-found legitimacy risks excluding those ‘who do not fit neatly into the lesbian/gay binary’ (Neary, 2014: 58-59). The coming out imperative can therefore create further psychological pressures on LGBTQ+ teachers as emotive language obscures personal histories and leaves little room for individual agency over collective responsibility. As Connell (2015) writes: 

….anyone who does not comply with the imperative to come out risks being marked as a traitor to his or her sexual community. This directive – be out and proud or else – helps fuel the dilemma faced by gay and lesbian teachers (Connell, 2015: 25).

Resisting the coming out imperative

‘… for whom is outness a historically available and affordable option?…For whom does the term present an impossible conflict between racial, ethnic or religious affiliation and sexual politics?’ (Butler, 1993: 173). 

deJean argues that there is value in hearing stories of LGBTQ teachers having been successfully ‘out’ in school contexts (deJean, 2008; deJean et al, 2017). However, such stories are arguably problematic if they do not also include a critical analysis of the assets that make it possible and/or easier for some rather than others. As outlined above, the coming out imperative risks subjugating LGBTQ teachers for whom being out is not a preferred option (Rasmussen, 2004). Gray argues that gay rights discourses have conflated silence with shame and being out with pride. Given the emotive language used as outlined above, ‘shame’ can be generated, at least in part, by the discourse of the coming out imperative itself. Individual choice, agency and context are significant factors in making outness possible. As the language of LGBTQ authenticity demands an allegiance to a sexual identity as an individual’s primary identity marker, the coming out imperative risks marginalising or obscuring other identity markers that might motivate LGBTQ teachers in their work. For example, Brockenbrough’s (2012) study focuses on five US black male elementary school teachers who chose to maintain their sexuality invisibility within their settings. Coming out was not as important to them as addressing social justice issues surrounding black children’s education. Although aware that remaining closeted was in part due to the homophobia exhibited in the community, their ‘outness’ was not a significant feature of their teacher identity or seen as relevant to their professional motivations. For these teachers, the closet did not reduce their capacity to be impassioned teachers, but rather heightened it. In their context, coming out risked erasing their racial and social class identifications.

Critics of coming out further argue that resistance to the heterosexist ‘demand’ for LGBTQ people to come out equalises LGBTQ sexualities with heterosexuality (Youdell, 2006). Silence can be a form of ‘active resistance’ by challenging the ‘naturalness’ of heterosexuality and by demanding a ‘naturalness’ for LGBTQ sexualities through ‘undeclaring’ (Ferfolja, 2014). Ferfolja writes:

‘…one is not necessarily in or out of the closet, but may move between or even straddle these constructed spaces. Hence, depending on context, one may be in or out, or in and out; regardless, one is present’ (Ferfolja, 2014: 33). 

‘By presenting gay and lesbian educators as either in or out of the closet, some scholars wash over the complexities of negotiating the ‘closet door’… some scholars take a more realistic approach of portraying ‘out’ as a continuum or process with fits and starts’ (Jackson, 2007:9). Ferfolja (2014) further argues that LGBTQ teachers who do not come out are not necessarily ‘oppressed’ but are navigating their ‘outness’ in different ways.

Tensions posed by the silence as resistance discourse

Regardless of whether silence is enacted as a resistance strategy, the resultant LGBTQ+ teacher invisibility is the same as that which results from silence demanded through heterosexist and homophobic practices. Russell’s (2010) research with three Canadian teachers highlights the tensions generated between role model and LGBTQ-as-threat discourses. Whilst wanting to support pupils, her participants’ hyper-awareness of the LGBTQ as danger discourse contributed to fears of being labelled a pervert and impacted on their reluctance to engage with and support queer students. Rejecting the role model subject position can be emotionally and psychologically challenging and her participants had to negotiate their own sense of failure and guilt in doing so. For Russell, both pro-LGBTQ and homophobic discourses can subjugate and oppress. She writes that:

‘As long as queer-as-threat is entrenched within schools, queer teachers must continue to recognise ourselves as spoken into existence in order to envision a new way of speaking which is not based solely on the archetype of role model or predator. Both invariably harm us and our students’ (Russell, 2010: 153). 

Wowsers!! So not quite so simple after all. Clearly the closet is a contested concept. What exactly is it? When is it deployed? Is it the same for everybody? Are there times when it is used strategically by somebody who is LGBTQ+? Is the closet always oppressive? Is coming out always liberation? 

Where do these questions leave me and what did I do? If I answer the question, then am I succumbing to a heterosexist or a pro-gay rights demand to be out? If I answer that I am out in school would the readers of this text read it differently? Would readers give the text more ‘authority’ and listen in a different way? Do I become a ‘legitimate’ and ‘authentic’ LGBTQ+ teacher full of courage, willing to take ‘risks’ and be a ‘trailblazer’? And if I said ‘no’ would readers dismiss my arguments, claiming that they are invalid as they are written by somebody who is, by default ‘inauthentic’, a ‘coward’, and somebody who is complicit in their own oppression? If I don’t come out, am I really exerting my ‘queer resistance’ to the coming out imperative or am I simply afraid of the heterosexist violence I might experience if I do? Is my silence actually a succumbing to the homophobic demand to stay silent and invisible? How do I navigate these complexities and tensions that, I would argue, are unique to LGBTQ+ primary school teachers given the nature of the profession? 

I am going to try and resist answering such questions in an overly simplistic way. I may have some normative traits that make it easier for me to come out in school. I may use those traits in conversations both with pupils and parents to ‘out’ myself in different contexts. I may respond when children ask if I’m married or have children, with the language of civil partnerships, mentioning my ‘husband’ and stating his name. When a child exclaims that ‘You can’t marry a man!’ I might simply respond with, ‘Yes, it is possible. Men can marry men and women can marry women’. I may also wear endless ‘rainbow themed’ t-shirts (the children’s favourite being the rainbow dabbing unicorn) and have a rainbow lanyard as a subtle, yet visual, resistance to silencing. No, I don’t work for the NHS. It’s a gay thing. I may do all of these things. But, I may not. Some days, I may be exhausted and simply not have the energy or psychological resources to engage. I may be feeling vulnerable and decide that the situation is too hostile and that ‘coming out’ in that moment is not conducive to my own well-being. I may simply decide that I do not want anybody in the school knowing about my personal life (some heterosexual teachers do this too). All of these are possibilities. And possibilities aren’t fixed. They aren’t final. Possibilities are fluid and contextual. Possibilities might overlap, collide and intersect. Possibilities might mean that I am standing in the foyer of the school and be ‘out’, ‘in’ and ‘in-between’ the closet at the same time. Out to those people who know me. In the closet to those people who don’t. And in-between to those who ‘suspect’ or who have read the signs. I don’t greet everybody who enters the school building with ‘Hello, welcome to our school. My name is Glyn and I’m gay’. (Some colleagues might argue that the t-shirts are a bit of a give-away, but I could just be an ‘ally’. Depends on who is ‘reading’ the t-shirt I guess). Then again, maybe I do by dropping in a one liner about my husband (see how that asset makes coming out so much easier. So much harder if you’re single). Maybe being a deputy head gives me a sense of security that I can come out whenever I feel like it that I didn’t have when I was an NQT 17 years ago. Maybe the asset of being on the SLT and not feeling so vulnerable just ‘being’ a new teacher helps. 

What is clear, is that being ‘out’ is relational. It demands an ‘other’. We can’t be out sitting in a room by ourselves. Or can we? Am I ‘out’ if I go to a shop, meet a cashier and don’t tell them that I am gay? At that precise moment, am I whoever the cashier assumes me to be? Am I back in the closet or not? If I go to the supermarket with my partner, do I ‘cash in’ on my normative traits and assume that I’m out to everyone we encounter? What would happen if I were single? Do I have to try and make it more obvious so that I’m out all of the time? I don’t think I’ve got enough rainbow t-shirts in my collection. 

My point is that ‘outness’ is fluid and contextual. Yes, there is a collective history and one to which I am truly grateful. But to assume that all LGBTQ+ people have the resources and traits to make being out a possibility is misleading and oppressive. To also demand that LGBTQ+ teachers ‘should’ come out risks becoming oppressive, regardless of the demand coming from pro-gay rights organisations. Using language such as inauthenticity, lacking honesty or living a false life is abusive. (Butler also questions what it means to have an ‘essentialised’ sense of self, but not enough time to go into this here. I’ll come back to it – promise). Placing LGBTQ+ equality in primary schools on LGBTQ+ teacher ‘outness’ also takes responsibility away from school leaders, including LAs and the DfE, from ensuring that all primary school curriculums are LGBTQ+ inclusive. By making LGBTQ+ teachers ‘responsible’, schools that do not have any LGBTQ+ teachers can continue to be make LGBTQ+ lives invisible within their curriculums. And, as the DfE guidance suggests, they can introduce LGBTQ+ ‘issues’ when the school leaders feel that it is ‘age-appropriate’ to do so. Suggesting that something is ‘age appropriate’ also suggests that it might be ‘age inappropriate’. There’s that old virtual equality again. I think the tensions here are clear. School leaders are given control of LGBTQ+ ‘outness’. If they feel that being LGBTQ+ is not ‘age appropriate’ are they then implying, not so subtly, that LGBTQ+ teachers should stay in the closet. Has the patrolling of LGBTQ+ teacher lives simply passed from clearly homophobic policy such as Section 28, to a more subtle form of homophobia where school leaders and parents, through the language of the new RSE curriculum, create and patrol the closet? What would it be like to be an LGBTQ+ NQT in such a school? Hardly the safe, nurturing environment all teachers deserve and should experience. 

Until all primary schools embrace a fully inclusive curriculum, primary education will continue to reinforce violently homophobic and heterosexist attitudes and behaviours. Focussing on teacher ‘outness’ will mask the heterosexist violence still taking place in primary schools in England. Demanding ‘outness’ risks becoming a part of the violence. Replacing the demand for teacher outness with the demand for an inclusive curriculum is the only way to stop primary schools being potential sites of violence towards LGBTQ+ teachers. 

And so yes. My defences might be down. I might be exhausted by the events of the last term and demands placed on us by the responses to the coronavirus. I might be experiencing negative thoughts and self-doubt. But at the same time, there is such hope. I’m surrounded by teachers who embrace equality and diversity and who are doing great things with the children. So I’ll celebrate that I work in a school where the staff continue to reflect on and develop an inclusive curriculum. I’ll adjust to what it feels like to be in a setting where children learn about Pride and the history and injustices faced by LGBTQ+ people. I’ll enjoy watching children learn about Bayard Ruskin and how he was part of both the black and gay civil rights movements. I’ll adjust to what it feels like to be acknowledged and to not be seen as a ‘threat’, sometimes by well-meaning colleagues. And I’ll take a moment to acknowledge how far we’ve come as a school. 

I’m going to resist telling the reader how ‘out’ I am and leave my ‘outness’ in the realm of possibilities. I need to adjust to this new feeling of liberation where my outness isn’t a ‘thing’. It’s strange and might take a little time. But just in case anybody demands that I ‘should’ be in or out of the closet let me be clear. I’ll be out, I’ll be in and I’ll be everything in-between. I will choose to speak or not speak depending on my own history, the assets that I have that might make it easier, the context, and my own state of well-being. I will ignore demands to be ‘out’ as the curriculum is the focus for LGBTQ+ visibility, regardless of my presence. After all, a truly inclusive curriculum shouldn’t be about me. If it is, where does that leave primary schools where ‘I’ am not present?

References and further reading: 

Brockenbrough, E (2012) Agency and Abjection in the Closet: The Voices (and Silences) of Black Queer Male Teachers (International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 25:6, 741-765)

Butler, J (1993) Bodies that matter (Routledge, Oxon)

Connell, C (2015) Sch

Connell, C (2012) Dangerous Disclosures (Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 9, 168-177)

Connell, C (2015) School’s Out – Gay and Lesbian Teachers in the Classroom (University of California Press, California)

deJean, W (2008) Out gay and lesbian K-12 educators: a study in radical honesty (Journal of Lesbian and Gay Issues in Education, 4:4, 59-72)

deJean W et al (2017) Dear gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teacher: letters of advice to help you find your way (Information Age Publishing, North Carolina)

deLeon, M et al, (2012) Cycles of fear: a model of lesbian and gay educational leaders’ lived experiences (Educational Administration Quarterly, 49:1, 161-203)

Ferfolja, T (2014) Reframing queer teacher subjects: neither in nor out be present (in Queer teachers, identity and performativity, Gray, E et al, Pallgrave Macmillan, Hampshire)

Formby, E (2013) Understanding and responding to homophobia and bullying: contrasting staff and young people’s views within community settings in England (Sexual Research and Social Policy, 10:4, 302-316)

Neary, A (2014) Teachers and civil partnerships: (re) producing legitimate subjectivities in the straight spaces of schools in Queer teachers, identity and performativity ed. by Harris and Gray (Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire)

Olson, M (1987) A Study of Gay and Lesbian Teachers (Journal of Homosexuality, 13:4, 73-81)

Patai, D (1992) Minority status and the stigma of ‘surplus visibility’ (Education Digest, 57:5, p35-37)

Rasmussen et al (2004) Youth and sexualities: pleasure, subervsion and insubordination in and out of schools (Palgrave MacMillan, Hampshire)

Russell, V (2010) Queer teachers’ ethical dilemmas regarding queer youth (Teaching Education, 21:2, 143-156)

Sedgwick, E (1990) Epistemology of the Closet (University of California Press, California)

Shilts, R (1982) The Mayor of Castro Street, the life and times of Harvey Milk (St Martins Griffin, New York)

Vaid, U (1995) Virtual Equality: the mainstreaming of gay and lesbian liberation (Anchor Books, New York)

Woods, G (2016) Homintern: how gay culture liberated the modern world (Yale publishing, USA)

Youdell, D (2006) Impossible bodies, impossible selves: exclusions and student subjectivities (Springer, The Netherlands)

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Why We Need Anti-Sexist Language Resources in the Curriculum

Sophie Frankpitt portrait

Written by Sophie Frankpitt

Applied Linguistics undergraduate at the University of Warwick

A culture of sexual- and gender-based violence is being enacted through our words. But we still aren’t listening – and we still aren’t talking about language.

In June 2021, the government published a review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges. It showed us that sexual- and gender-based violence is rife, and that girls are disproportionately affected. The figures were stark, but for many of us that did not come as a surprise. What came as a surprise for me is that – as far as I’m aware – no-one pointed out that most of the sexual harassment was perpetrated through language. 

I’m a Linguistics undergraduate, which means that studying language is what I do. Ever since the review was published, I’ve spent days rereading it, trying to work out how to articulately say that this survey shows us how important language is. It is through working with Our Streets Now for the last few months that I have been able to work out how to say what I think needs to be said. 

The review stated that 92% of girls thought sexist-name calling happens a lot at school, and 80% thought that unwanted sexual comments are a regular occurrence. Other recent studies have also shown us that sexual- and gender-based violence are often perpetrated through language. For example, in 2018, Plan International reported that 38% of girls experience verbal harassment at least once a month. This is likely to be higher amongst women of colour and those in the LGBT+ community. In the National Education Union’s (2019) study, over a quarter of teachers hear sexist language daily at school. On Our Streets Now media, the campaign against Public Sexual Harassment, you can see various testimonies that explain the effects of verbal (and other) harassment. 

You might say that sexist language is the least of our problems, and that we should be dealing with things like physical harassment. But sexist language establishes a conducive environment for sexist behaviour. It enacts and builds a culture in which sexual- and gender-based violence is standard. This means that, by using and hearing sexist language, a culture of sexual- and gender-based violence is normalised. There are many, many studies that have shown the detrimental effects of sexist language on wellbeing. And this is why language is important. 

Part of the reason language is powerful is because it shapes our worlds often without us even realising. Within our words lie our values, our beliefs, and our identities. Because of this, language has a massive role to play in the fight for gender equality. 

The first step is recognising how important language is – and thinking and talking about it much more than we currently do.

Secondly, we can incorporate teaching about anti-sexist language use into the curriculum. Our Streets Now currently has – and is working on – resources for schools that examine the role language has to play in combatting Public Sexual Harassment. The resources educate about Public Sexual Harassment, ranging from topics like being an active bystander to recognising victim-blaming narratives. 

And finally, we can make Feminist Linguistics more mainstream. Language affects all of us, so it’s damaging to keep it confined within academia. Every day and for everything, we use language – so we should all understand the power that words hold. There are a few resources that can help us to learn a bit more about language. I’d recommend starting with the blog language: a feminist guide, taking a look at Our Streets Now’s website, and learning about feminists (such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Amanda Gorman, Laura Bates –Every Day Sexism and many more) who use language to empower, uplift, and educate.

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Being Transgender in the UK, Transphobia and How to be Inclusive

George Hughes portrait

Written by George Hughes

Senior Education, Training and Strategy Officer currently working for EqualiTeach. Having previously worked as an English teacher, George has a passion for writing. They are currently studying an MA in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and hope to one day publish their own children's novel.

With roughly 200,000 – 500,000 trans people living in the UK (Government Equalities Office, 2018), and more celebrities coming out as gender diverse, trans people have become a popular subject for discussion. While many transgender people are celebrated around the world, discrimination and transphobia is still being faced daily with devastating consequences. This blog is about being transgender in the UK, what we mean by transphobia, and what we can do to be inclusive of all members of the community.  

First of all, what is meant by the term transgender?  

The word transgender is a term which describes people whose gender identity is not aligned with the sex they are assigned at birth.  

What is gender identity?  

A person’s gender identity is their personal and internal sense of who they are regardless of their hormones, internal and external sex organs, and chromosomes. Gender is no longer regarded as a binary model wherein people have to identify as either man or woman; it is instead a spectrum in which a person is able to freely identify themselves as one of over 60 different gender identities.  (Abrams and Ferguson, 2022)  

What is transphobia?  

In simple terms, transphobia is negative feelings, attitudes or actions against people who identify as transgender. It also covers those who identify as nonbinary, transsexual or androgyne. Transphobia can be seen in many different forms and can range from inappropriate language, prejudice-related bullying, to full-blown violent attacks.  

The transgender community have become a topic more frequently discussed by the British tabloids. Panic and prejudice have been propagated by the press and gender critics. Research carried out by Forbes (2021) has claimed that 375 transgender people were murdered in 2021 – twenty five more than the year before. According to records, this is the ‘deadliest year of violence against gender diverse people since records began.’  

In August 2020, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report which showed the public’s attitudes to trans people. From the data, it is clear that many people do show a positive attitude. When asked to choose words to describe their feelings towards trans people, many chose words such as ‘respect’ and ‘admire’. However, there is still a percentage who selected ‘pity’, ‘fear’, ‘disgust’ and ‘resentment.’  

So why is there a growing level of fear-mongering and intolerance?  

Shon Faye (2021) states, “By and large, the transgender issue is seen as a ‘toxic debate’, a ‘difficult topic’ chewed over (usually by people who are not trans themselves) on television shows, in newspaper opinion pieces and in university philosophy departments. Actual trans people are rarely to be seen.” As a trans person, it is hurtful to have my existence debated by people without any lived experience. How often do we see ourselves reflected in the media, and not being spoken about by a cisgender person? 

As someone who has recently come out as trans, I am getting used to the daily microaggressions and comments about people’s ‘transness’. People have a lot of questions! The most common questions are “When you are having surgery or taking hormones?” as that is what people assume is everyone’s next step. It is not enough that we exist, we have to exist in a way that everyone expects us to.  

What is it like being trans in the UK?  

While there is lots of support, it is also incredibly difficult. In order to even be diagnosed with ‘gender dysphoria’ (the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics) and start medically transitioning, you have to be assessed by two psychologists with expertise in the area of gender development. These can be in excess of £1000 and that is just to get a piece of paper with your ‘diagnosis’ on. If you were to go through the NHS, wait times for the first appointment alone are a minimum of eighteen months – and that is if you are fortunate. Once you have your referral, you are faced with more waiting to see a specialist in that area. Even privately, waiting lists for hormone replacement therapy are a year long. So, while some of us will be going through hormone therapy or surgery, each time we are asked, it reminds us of the long waiting list ahead and the months to follow where we still don’t feel at home in the body we are in.  

How can people help? 

One way, is to avoid gendered language 

Reflect on the language you are using. Using gendered language such as ‘boys and girls,’ ‘lads’ and ‘ladies and gentlemen’ can be alienating for those who identify as gender non-conforming and gender diverse. Being referred to as ‘miss’, ‘ladies’, or ‘madam’ makes me feel uncomfortable every single time.   

To avoid this, use vocabulary such as: 

  • Everyone 
  • People 
  • Folks 

These terms are more inclusive and do not focus on someone’s gender or gender identity.  

Use chosen names and correct pronouns 

A person’s chosen name and pronouns are an important part of their identity. If someone has asked you to use these, ensure you are doing so in order to respect the person’s gender identity, and to ensure that they feel included and valued. Chances are, someone has spent a lot of time thinking about their name, so please use it!  

If you’re not sure of someone’s pronouns, ask! I have always really appreciated it when someone has asked me what my pronouns are. It immediately puts me at ease. If you are struggling to remember, have a go at saying their names and chosen pronouns aloud.  

For example:  

Sam is a trans man, he is using he/him pronouns.  

Jamie identifies as non-binary. They use they/them pronouns.  

What is a deadname? 

A deadname is the name transgender people may use to refer to the name they were given at birth. Some people may refer to it as their birth name. You should not ask what their deadname or birth name is, unless it is for legal or financial reasons. If someone wants to share this with you, they will. If you know someone’s birth name, don’t use it. Use the name that the individual asks you to use.

What if I call the person their birth name or use the wrong pronouns? 

People make mistakes all the time. It’s okay! If you happen to do this, apologise and move on. If someone corrects you, say ‘thank you’ and move on. It may take a while to remember if you have known the person a while. The most important thing is to show that you are trying.  

What if I’m talking about someone before they transitioned? 

Always refer to the person using their chosen name and pronouns unless they tell you otherwise. It is respectful to only use what the person is happy with. 

And finally, if there is a question that can be answered by Google, search for it! 

I started out thinking I had to be everyone’s guidebook to being transgender. I misplaced nosiness for support and said that I was happy to answer any questions at any time. I have since realised that it is not my duty to educate others; that is something that has to come from them. While I am more than happy to have conversations on being transgender, rights, discrimination and equality, I am not here to help people understand what being transgender means. It is tiring.  

If I was to use a metaphor to describe being trans, it would be this:  

Being trans is like floating around in a rubber ring in the ocean. You can see everyone else on their islands happily being themselves and being free. No matter how hard you paddle, you can’t get there. You’ve never visited and you don’t know how to. People keep telling you to visit, but you still don’t know how. Accepting you are trans allows you to start building a bridge from your rubber ring to the island. With each step you take to becoming yourself, another part of the bridge is added, until it is finally completed. When people call now, you can then cross the bridge and live on that island. It is then that you feel like you’re home.

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Conversion therapy is a safeguarding issue for educators

EJ Francis Caris-Hamer portrait

Written by EJ-Francis Caris-Hamer

Mx EJ-Francis Caris-Hamer is a PhD student at the University of Essex within the Department of Sociology. Ze has worked, as a qualified teacher, within the education sector for 20 years, working in both 11-19 sector and Higher Education.

I woke up this morning to read the news that a leaked document shows the government decided to U turn on their commitment to ban conversion therapy. In 2018 the conservative government pledged to ban the practice (Government Equalities Office, 2018) and this was confirmed in the Queen’s speech in 2021 (ITV News, 2022). My heart truly sank hearing this news because it felt as though the U turn was a decision based on political interests rather than an evidence-based health decision (Cramer et al, 2008; Independent Forensic Expert Group, 2020). Fast forward to the BBC News, 46 minutes ago, the updated stance reads that the conservative government now does plan to ban conversion therapy practices in England and Wales for sexual orientation identity, but will remain legal for transgender identities (BBC News, 2022). 

What is Conversion Therapy (CT)?

Conversion Therapy (CT) is also known as ‘Cure’ therapy or ‘Reparative’ therapy. It is any “form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or supress a person’s gender identity” (Stonewall, 2021). These therapies are both unethical and harmful to the person undergoing such treatment and have been condemned by the World Health Organisation and NHS (The Guardian, April 2021) and the United Nations in June 2020 (Stonewall Survey, 2020).

Why is CT a safeguarding issue for educators to be aware of? 

The charity Galop surveyed 5000 LGBTQIA+ people in February 2022. They found that 1/3rd of those surveyed suffered abuse from a relative due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and for 2/3rds this started when they were under the age of 18, worryingly 30% were under the age of 11 (Galop, 2022). If you identify as trans or non-binary, you are more likely to be subjected to abuse (43%). Abuse includes verbal threats, harassment, facing threats or actual homelessness, and even physical violence. 5% reported relatives subjecting them to conversion practices and the statistic increases to 11% if the person identified as trans or non-binary. Thus, it is essential that the government should also include gender identity when considering a ban of CT. 

As educators, it is essential to have an awareness of these statistics and practices, just as we perceive FGM, we should be perceiving the findings from Galop and CT practices as coercion and abuse. As Leni Morris, CEO of the charity Galop, states:

“Anti-LGBTQIA+ abuse from family members is often misinterpreted by statutory services as ‘generational differences’ or having ‘different values’ rather than seeing it for what it is really is – domestic abuse” (Brooks, 2022). 

Thankfully and rightly so, today we would never accept such justifications in relation to domestic violence. We need to consider Anti-LGBTQIA+ abuse in the same sense. 

What can we as educators do to support young LGBTQIA+ people?

As part of safeguarding, we need to demand from school leaders the time and space to understand the potential harm that families and CT practices can cause the students we teach. We need to recognise the signs of students who could be vulnerable. It is important to recognise that identifying as part of the LGBTQIA+ community is not a safeguarding issue per se, but Anti-LGBTQIA+ abuse including CT practices is a safeguarding concern and the harmful impact it has on students. Even more importantly, students need to be empowered to spot the signs for themselves, or their peers (in support of the ‘no bystander’ agenda). This can only be achieved through awareness. 

As a PhD researcher addressing queer inclusion in education, I have heard stories of teachers explaining how students have been threatened with CT by their parents or other authority/guardian figures. As a qualified teacher myself, I also recognise the time constraints that educators have when trying to find the time to research and become increasingly aware of the issues surrounding abuse for LGBTQIA+ young people. As a result, I attach two resource documents as a starting point:

Document one – This is for all staff working in education. This document is to inform you regarding the impact of CT practices and support organisations for young people. This document can be used to inform you as an educator to discuss with students and can be converted into a CPD session under the umbrella term safeguarding. 

Document two – Lesson plan which can be delivered to students as part of PSHE/RSE and Citizenship. This increases their awareness and helps them to maintain safeguarding for themselves and their peers regarding CT practices. As educators, we should be campaigning to ensure that such lessons are taught within PSHE. 

Sometimes to ensure effective safeguarding practices, we have to embrace our roles as trailblazers, reaching beyond the limitations of current legislation. The right thing to do is always the right thing to do. 

References:

BBC News (2022) Conversion Therapy: Ban to go ahead but not cover trans people.  Available: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-60947028 Accessed: 01/04/2022.

Brooks, L. (2022) Third of British LGBTQIA+ people experience abuse by relatives. The Guardian. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/01/third-of-young-british-lgbtq-people-experience-abuse-by-relatives   Accessed: 01/04/2022.

Cramer, R.J. Golom, F.D. LoPresto, C.T. Kirkley, S.M. (2008) Weighing the Evidence: Empirical Assessment and Ethical Implications of Conversion Therapy, Ethics & Behavior. 18(1), 93-114. DOI: 10.1080/10508420701713014

Galop (2022) LGBTQIA+ Experiences of Abuse from Family Members. Available: https://galop.org.uk/resource/lgbt-experiences-of-abuse-from-family-members/ Accessed: 01/04/2022.

Government Equalities Office (2018) LGBT Action Plan. Available: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_da ta/file/721367/GEO-LGBT-Action-Plan.pdf Accessed: 27/09/2021.

Independent Forensic Expert Group (2020) Statement on Conversion Therapy. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. 72 Available: https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S1752928X20300366?token=8C9A2BA4EA68E779A55552541F25EF74A6AC11D3BD64468097DE1C0B9C2A010FAA1064483ABF807884D555610390F27B&originRegion=eu-west-1&originCreation=20220402095216 Accessed 01/11/2021.  

ITV News (2022) Exclusive: Government ditches ban on conversion therapy, according to leaked document.  Available: https://www.itv.com/news/2022-03-31/exclusive-government-ditches-ban-on-conversion-therapy-leaked-document-shows Accessed: 01/04/2022.

Stonewall Survey (2020) Conversion Therapy and Gender Identity Survey. Available: www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/2020_conversion_therapy_and_gender_identity_survey.pdf Accessed: 08/09/2021. 

Stonewall (2021) Conversion Therapy. Available: www.stonewall.org.uk/campaign-groups/conversion-therapy Accessed: 07/09/2021. 

The Guardian (April, 2021) Why are gay conversion practices still legal in the UK? Available: www.theguardian.com/news/audio/2021apr/02/why-is-gay-conversion-therapy-still-legal-uk Accessed: 07/09/2021. 

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A Call for Action

Esther Mustamu-Daniels portrait

Written by Esther Mustamu-Daniels

Esther Mustamu-Daniels has 20 years of teaching experience working in London and the Middle East as a Class teacher, Education officer, Middle Leader and DEI Lead. Currently working at British School Muscat, Esther co-leads the DEI work across the whole school.

I read the most horrific story of a child being sexually assaulted by police in her school. Her teachers did nothing to protect her. Her parents were not called. She was strip searched while in the middle of an exam while on her menstrual cycle. She was not allowed to clean herself after. She was not checked upon to see if she was ok and then she was sent back to her exam to continue it. All by people who are supposed to protect and look after her. All I kept thinking about was what if this was my child? This happened two years ago and the conclusion of the investigation is that ‘racism was likely to have been an influencing factor’. 

Unacceptable. The child is now in therapy traumatised by these events and now self harming. 

What if this was your daughter? What would you do? 

I have been thinking about the reports of Ukraine. How our children feel hearing these reports. Not only of the African students who have been denied entry on to trains and through borders but also of the reporting. How black and brown lives are deemed lesser and how this is normalised in our media. What impact is this having on our children? On all of them? How wars in certain countries are acceptable but in others ‘horrific’. How western media is more sympathetic towards a ‘type’ of refugee. What are we sharing with our children? With all of them? What are we teaching them? What kind of world are we showing them exists? 

There are so many stories in the media that show our children the unjust and prejudiced way of the world; how can we counteract this? How can we show them that they are all important? That their lives matter? Put yourselves in their shoes and think about the messages that they are receiving. Think about what you can do to counter that. 

If you are a teacher, what do you show your children? The stories and images you choose to share have a huge impact. The authors you share and the lessons you teach that include positive role models, narratives and histories will all have an impact. Are you considering the impact that current events are having on your children? What are you doing to support them? Are you calling out if you see racist or biased behaviour?

If you are a leader, what are you doing to counter these messages? Are you holding spaces for people to share and raise concerns with you? Are you actively trying to ensure that your establishment does not reinforce these messages? What policies do you have in place? What training do you have in place? If you are not aware or are not sure how to navigate these situations, are you seeking support and advice from those who do know?

This is a call for action to break these biases. Are you aware of what some of your children and colleagues may be facing? Are you aware of some of their experiences? Could you even be responsible for some of their experiences?  Imagine it was you? Imagine it was your family? What would you do? What will you do? What action will you take? What will you do today to support our future generations and all of our children and adults who are impacted and continue to be impacted by the traumas they witness?

Take action for what is right in whichever area you occupy. We all have the power to take this action and make a difference so that the bias stops. So our children and our communities are safe; psychologically and physically. What will you do? 

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The Non-Linear Road To Recovery

Bianca Chappell portrait

Written by Bianca Chappell

Bianca Chappell is a Mental Health Strategic Lead, Cognitive Behavioural Coach and Mental Health First Aider.

When things go awry, we like to know what to do and how to do it, so that it can be sorted out – it’s a totally natural response. With some illnesses, the treatment is simple and we are able to move on. Unfortunately, mental ill health isn’t so straightforward, and to make it even more frustrating, recovery is hardly ever linear either – we don’t experience feeling better in a nice, neat, straight line.

Life is mostly unpredictable and there’s only so much that we can control. Our mental health can take a knock-back from the things which go on internally for us, but also the things which happen externally.

We may have been going along all hunky-dory and then something happens to cause one of those sinking-stomach rough patches that we work so hard to avoid. Similarly, we might have had a long murky spell and then find that something happens to give us a lift.

Our mental health isn’t stationary, it’s transient and a counter reaction of so many individual factors. It’s difficult to always know what’s helping and what’s not, to be able to make changes to rebalance and create new habits to feel settled again. 

It’s hard work and sometimes we’ll put time and effort into something that isn’t quite right for us which can be demotivating and use up energy which is in limited supply. The very nature of mental ill health is that it depletes our energy resources, so we’re always having to weigh-up where we are, with where we’d like to be, but to also be mindful that we’re not using up all of our future energy supplies. It’s a never-ending puzzle.

Life in itself is full of ups and downs. When we add mental ill health to the mix, those lows can feel extraordinarily painful and crushing. We’re working so hard to move forwards, towards good health, and those setbacks can really dent our hope and confidence. We might find ourselves in a spiral of ‘well I’ve tried so hard and things are still going backwards so everything is hopeless and I’ll never get better so there’s no point in trying any more’. It can be very easy to get into this spiral and it is very hard to get out of it again. Hitting a blip doesn’t mean that everything is hopeless and it certainly doesn’t mean that all of our hard work is for nothing. When it all feels a little much, take some time out to hunker down and up the self-care. It can feel counterintuitive but energy, hope and motivation aren’t in limitless supply, we often need to stop, to take stock and top-up.

On the face of it, it often seems as though there’s no logical reason for our mental health deteriorating. But there’s usually something, however small it might seem, which has affected how we feel.

It can take a bit of work to figure out the sorts of things that might be contributing to our mental health dipping; habits, boundaries, obstacles, lack of support, triggers etc. We might need some help with identifying what our triggers are and in learning how to handle them. One of the things which can help is to keep a mood diary – this helps us to see patterns but also gives us an in-time reflection on what was what for us at any given time.

The more knowledgeable we are about our stressors, the more equipped we are to make decisions which are right for us and our mental health.

When our mood dips again, or we use behaviours we haven’t used in a while, it’s easy to feel hopeless, useless, and frustrated. We might find that we feel like nothing has changed, as if we’ve not got anywhere, and nothing is any different from last year, or the year before that, or the year before that.

Relapsing doesn’t erase our recovery. All the things we’ve achieved – keeping our mood stable for a while, going for a period of time without using behaviours, or something else – are still achievements.

When we look back, it’s the grotty and the great that we see – but the in-between stuff is just as valuable; there’s important knowledge we’ve gained and lessons we’ve learned which help us to be more informed going forward. Every time we go through a rough patch, we can take an insight from it to aid our recovery. Even though it might not feel like it, we will be in a different place from the time(s) before. We have more experiences and more skills than we’ve had in the past. We never go right back to square one because we’re approaching each rough patch from a slightly different place.

Mental ill health isn’t something we’d choose and it’s definitely not a stick with which to beat ourselves up about. We didn’t choose to be mentally ill in the same way that we don’t choose to catch a cold. When we punish ourselves for how we feel, it makes us feel worse and plays into the hands of the illness we so want to be free from.

Not being okay can be hard to cope with, we so desperately want to be okay, but it is okay not to be okay. Nobody can be okay all of the time and recovery will always be full of ups and downs as we learn new things. It’s when we own-up to our not-okay-ness that we find ourselves in a place more accepting of help, more likely to ask for help, and more open to changes, self-care and being gentler to ourselves.

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How East Stanley Primary School used Rainbow Laces to build a more inclusive environment for its pupils

Adam Walker portrait

Written by Adam Walker

Adam is a Primary Teacher at East Stanley Primary School in Durham and is a member and advocate of the LGBTQ+ community.

‘The number one thing is the inclusivity benefits of the resources. Not having pupils question who is playing football and building a much deeper level of respect for each other.’

Creating an inclusive environment for pupils is a top priority for many teachers and their schools. As we celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month, Adam Walker, a teacher from East Stanley Primary school tells us about how using the Rainbow Laces resources, from Premier League Primary Stars, helped create a more inclusive environment for his pupils – increasing their understanding of gender stereotypes and the LGBTQ+ community. 

“We had an incident at a football match a few years ago where a pupil from our school called a player from another team a homophobic slur. It was at this point we realised that we needed a solution that we could use to support our pupils in understanding the importance of being inclusive. After a long search to find the right solution, we came across the Rainbow Laces resources from Premier League Primary Stars. A bank of free resources that could educate our pupils around the importance of inclusivity, challenging stereotypes and being a good ally – it was exactly what we were looking for.

At East Stanley we are seeing more girls wanting to get involved in sport. So it was great to see Premier League Primary Stars use male and female professionals in their resources to show balanced representation of real sport. Activities such as ‘Do it like a…’ and ‘Be an ally’ have been popular with the pupils. It has especially given the girls something to look up to and through challenging stereotypes we have mixed teams playing football with a deep level of respect for each other.”

East Stanley has used the Rainbow Laces resources in PSHE lessons at the school to create a more open environment: “The Rainbow Laces resource pack helped us in our PSHE lessons when talking about what it means to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community or discussing gender stereotypes. Now all the pupils are aware of different types of representation; they know that it doesn’t matter if you are homosexual or heterosexual, a boy or a girl, your ethnic descent, or what your first language may be.”

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Adam appreciates the difference that resources like Rainbow Laces make: “Now that I have these resources I reflect and think that if material like this had been available when I was in school, it would have helped me to identify and feel more comfortable as a result of inclusive topics being spoken about openly. The more we use material like this in primary schools, the more we will create a better environment for everybody to live freely. It is only going to have a positive influence.”

Speaking about whether he would recommend the resources to fellow teachers, Adam said: “I would 100% recommend them. Knowing how the PSHE curriculum works, Rainbow Laces has been great for us. For other teachers who are looking to increase inclusivity at their school, we have loved the outcomes the resources have given us. Premier League Primary Stars has a wide variety of resources too and there is also the opportunity to build Rainbow Laces – and others resources – into additional lessons around Maths, English and PE. We have seen a real difference and our pupils are happier as a result.”

At the end of 2021 and during the Premier League’s Rainbow Laces campaign, Premier League Primary Stars launched a new resource pack called ‘Rainbow Laces – This is everyone’s game’. The pack, perfect to build into PSHE lessons this LGTBTQ History Month, includes an educational film, and supporting resources, celebrating LGBTQ+ football fans and showcases the power of football to bring people together. The film tells the story of a young Sheffield United fan and member of the LGBTQ+ community, who talks about what football means to her and how it has played a part in helping her to feel proud of who she is. 

Premier League Primary Stars has a wealth of dedicated LGBTQ+ and Anti-Discrimination resources – all free – for teacher to use in the classroom linked to English, Maths, PE and PSHE here

About Premier League Primary Stars

Premier League Primary Stars is a national primary school programme that uses the appeal of the Premier League and professional football clubs to inspire children to learn, be active and develop important life skills. Clubs provide in-school support to teachers, delivering educational sessions to schools in their communities. Free teaching materials ensure the rounded programme, which covers everything from PE and maths to resilience and teamwork, is available to every primary school in England and Wales. 

The Premier League currently funds 105 Premier League, English Football League and National League clubs in England and Wales to provide in-school support for teachers. 

For more information about Premier League Primary Stars or to register, visit: www.plprimarystars.com

You can also contact Ben Lewis-D’Anna on blewisdanna@everfi.com or 07590465455. 

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Anti-bullying beyond Anti-Bullying Week

Hannah Glossop portrait

Written by Hannah Glossop

Head of Safeguarding at Judicium Education. Previously a Designated Safeguarding Lead and Assistant Head, Hannah now leads audits and delivers training to support schools with all aspects of their safeguarding.

2021 was yet another year where we saw a raft of deeply worrying examples of bullying. Research from the Anti-Bullying Alliance highlights that bullying continues to play a big part in young people’s lives: “Data we collected from pupil questionnaires completed between September 2020 and March 2021 also showed that one in five (21%) pupils in England report being bullied a lot or always.” High profile cases such as the institutional racism within the cricket world show that bullying in relation to our nine protected characteristics is a problem that goes far beyond schools. 

Anti-Bullying Week 2021 brought with it a range of wonderful resources, tweets and articles in relation to anti-bullying back in November. As we march through the academic year, it is essential that we do not lose momentum and that we pay particular attention to tackling any bullying related to protected characteristics. So how can you do this?

1.Involve your pupils. 

Consider an anonymous survey of your pupils, asking how many have witnessed bullying at school. This will give you a much clearer picture of how much is going on at your school and which groups are particularly targeted. Show students that you are taking bullying seriously and involve them in the policy decisions. Create a version of the bullying policy that is accessible for younger pupils.

2.Embed a culture of vigilance.

Empower both staff and students to act when they see or hear bullying taking place, either in person or online. Review the ways in which bullying is reported at your school-will all staff know how to progress bullying disclosures? Do students recognise that many nasty remarks may violate the Equality Act? Do students have a way to report bullying which avoids them having to speak face-to-face to a member of staff? Promote your anti-bullying work around the school, share it online and tell parents and carers. If pupils know you are taking it seriously, they are more likely to report it.

3.Identify hotspots.

Identify any particular areas in school, times of the day or online platforms where bullying seems to be taking place more frequently. Where possible, increase supervision in worrying areas or at problematic times of the day. If much of your reported bullying is taking place online, use external resources such as your Safer Schools Officer to explain when online abuse crosses a line and becomes illegal activity-for example hate crime and blackmail. 

4.Curriculum. 

Educate young people around the protected characteristics, what the Equality Act means and what impact this Act has on everyday life. Ofsted have recently updated their guidance on ‘Inspecting teaching of the protected characteristics in schools,’  noting that “No matter what type of school they attend, it is important that all children gain an understanding of the world they are growing up in, and learn how to live alongside, and show respect for, a diverse range of people.” In addition, the Proposed changes to Keeping Children Safe in Education 2022 include a new section on schools’ obligations under the Equality Act 2020, adding schools, “should carefully consider how they are supporting their pupils and students with regard to particular protected characteristics – including sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment and race.”

5.Record and review. 

Paragraph 78 of the Ofsted’s School Inspection Handbook lists the “Information that schools must provide by 8am on the day of inspection” and includes:

  • “Records and analysis of bullying, discriminatory and prejudiced behaviour, either directly or indirectly, including racist, sexist, disability and homophobic/biphobic/transphobic bullying, use of derogatory language and racist incidents.”

Rather than seeing this as a mere Ofsted “tick box” exercise, use these records to fully explore which forms of bullying are happening within and around your school. Ensure that each reported bullying instance is recorded, using your behaviour management or safeguarding reporting mechanisms.  Investigate any trends in these reports, share these with governors and senior leaders and take meaningful action to address these. For example, if disability-related bullying is becoming prevalent, think about what resources are needed to both educate children and show them that this form of abuse will not be tolerated. 

Over the coming months ahead of the next annual Anti-Bullying Week, bear the above in mind and remember that embedding some of these ideas could make many of your students feel much less segregated from school life and much more likely to thrive. 

 

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Belonging, safely

Gemma Hargraves portrait

Written by Gemma Hargraves

Assistant Head (Pastoral), Deputy DSL and History Teacher.

Reflecting on several sessions from the recent Diverse Educators virtual conference it struck me that so much of our EDI work is also vital safeguarding work. As a Deputy DSL I spend my days balancing pastoral care, safeguarding, History teaching and various other responsibilities. Until now I actually hadn’t realised how my EDI work is complementary to my safeguarding work. 

All readers will have heard that “you can’t be what you can’t see” and this need for recognition and role models extends to safeguarding too. Pupils need to know they are in an environment where they are valued and celebrated in order to feel truly safe. It strikes me that a pupil may not disclose various issues if they feel they would not be heard, understood or believed. Beit a neurodiverse pupil struggling with issues around consent, an LBGTQ+ young person experiencing unkindness, a disabled child faced with ableism daily or a person of colour dealing with regular microaggressions. Of course having a diverse staff body, including in senior positions, may help ensure all pupils feel safe and a sense of belonging but active allies have a vital role to play here. Pupils in the first presentation said “ignorance breeds intolerance” and I would build on that to say in safeguarding terms ignorance is dangerous. We all need to be professionally curious whilst being respectful. @AspringHeads gave some examples of shocking things Black teachers have been asked, including endless comments about hair, skin colour or names, and comments of this nature to Black pupils would absolutely be considered a safeguarding concern. 

A key part of safeguarding is also accurate and timely recording of incidents; this is key to tracking trends and understanding context to actively promote inclusion. If we are to ensure all pupils are safe and can thrive, we need to have a clear picture of incidents or challenges faced. We have a duty to ensure that pupils are not negatively labelled or stereotyped based on any characteristic and teachers have high expectations of all pupils. Safeguarding is also about preventing harm to children’s development and taking action to enable all children and young people to have the best outcomes – here EDI is clearly vital and we can see tangible returns on investment in diversifying the curriculum. Of course, we reinforce this by the displays around school, the books studied, the trips that are offered etc but the culture individual teachers nurture in their classrooms is key to both EDI and safeguarding. 

As was made clear at Diverse Educators recently, good intentions are not enough. We must act. EDI requires resourcing, time and energy. It must not be an afterthought in another year of TAGs marking and administration, staffing issues and COVID challenges ad infinitum. Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility and so is EDI. We need to recognise and respect cultures, traditions and changes but with clear red lines in terms of safeguarding to ensure everyone can bring their whole self to school and be safe. Sometimes we hear “I don’t see colour” but surely we must see it, value it, celebrate it and protect all children regardless. 

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