Acceptance: Still so much work to be done.

Kelly Richens portrait

Written by Kelly Richens

Programme Director, BASCITT. BASCITT is proud to celebrate diversity and promote equality and inclusivity (see here)

Applying to train to teach is a daunting enough task; the whole construction of your personal statement and how it defines you, all of your work experience, your qualifications and who will be your referees. All wrapped up in the deep emotions of taking this huge step towards becoming a life-changer for young people.

If this wasn’t searching enough in terms of self-exploration and presenting yourself, there is a section that says ‘Criminal Record and Professional Misconduct’ in which an applicant can make any relevant declaration. 

I had an email confirming an application in which there had been such a declaration. Imagine my horror when I opened the webpage to view the application and read: ‘I am unsure whether this is a safeguarding issue, however I feel it necessary to raise and protect myself and others from misunderstanding. I am transgender.’

A flood of emotions ensued: rage that this applicant had felt being transgender could be a safeguarding issue; sadness that whilst she wanted to share this information, she had chosen to include in in a section labelled ‘criminal record’; fear that there are groups of people without the psychological safety to just be who they are without recourse of judgement; and the smallest amount of pride that she had actually been brave to share at all. 

So rather than my first conversation with this applicant about her potential qualities as a teacher, I had to have a difficult conversation of reassuring and coaching her that she was in safe hands with us. What a shame that we could not talk instantly about her joy of her subject, or why she was applying to us. Her being transgender was a huge distraction from this and that is wrong.  

Whilst I reflect on this, and have since interviewed and offered a training place to this lovely individual, based on her merit, I am still left without an answer of how do we stop this happening again? Keep promoting inclusivity?  Keep the courageous conversations going? Keep educating and keep that positive momentum going on how we can continue to aim for a world in which an individual does not fear themselves being viewed through a judgmental lens? Instead a place where everyone can be celebrated for who they are and what they have to offer our pupils. 


The Time is Now

Matthew Savage portrait

Written by Matthew Savage

Former international school Principal, proud father of two transgender adult children, Associate Consultant with LSC Education, and founder of #themonalisaeffect.

I write this as a father, and as an educator. I am angry, and I am scared.

Occasionally, partly as an experiment, I will share simultaneously on Facebook a) an innocuous post with a smiling photo of me; and b) a ‘call to action’ in support of my two trans children in an alarmingly transphobic world. The former consistently attracts lots of engagement, and the latter virtually none. My inference, corroborated by conversations I have had, is that a majority of people do not want even to enter what they see as a polarised and toxic debate.

This seems to me to be a victory for transphobia, and the ‘gender-critical’ right wing: that it is now widely accepted that we need to debate this at all, when any debate over the human rights of any other protected characteristic would be widely deemed abhorrent. Therefore, whilst some would argue that now is the time for calm debate, and for pause and reflection, this post is none of these. For I would argue that there is also a time for advocacy and allyship, and for activism and action. And the time is now.

I was young enough to experience the acidic effect of Section 28 as a teenager. Growing up in the 1980s, I was oblivious of the identities and expressions of the LGBTQ+ community: in part, this was due to a cowardly and shameful lack of representation in the media, sport and public life, and, in part, to the ignorance and fear of the blinkered society which tried to bring me up; but it was also due to the inability and incapacity of educators even to talk about those lives, even as so many of those same lives were being decimated by a new, deadly virus.

This violent clause was repealed in Scotland in 2000 (it seems the nation I now call home was ever ahead of its southern neighbours), as one of the earliest pieces of legislation enacted by the nascent Scottish parliament and, eventually, by Westminster in 2003. Peace had defeated violence, and love had vanquished hate. However, violence and hate, it seems, had not been beaten, but had merely lurked, waiting for their renaissance; and a new Section 28 lies on the horizon.

At the time of writing this, just over 205,000 people have signed a parliamentary petition calling for the government to “Remove LGBT content from the Relationships Education curriculum”, and this is now awaiting a date for parliamentary debate. Meanwhile, just over only 92,000 people have signed a counter-petition calling for that same government not to do so, and the government is only obliged to ‘respond’. 

That is 120% more hatred than love, and 120% more violence than peace.

There is no debate, when it comes to deciding who has human rights and who does not. There is no calm when some of the most oppressed, attacked and marginalised children, young people and adults in our society are under attack. There is no reflection, when the facts and the statistics instantly destroy the hatred, on the too few occasions they are shared. And there is no pause, when children’s and young people’s very lives are in danger.

I write this as a father, and as an educator. I am angry, and I am scared.

Please give your voice to peace and love, both through this petition, and through literally any other means possible.

The time is now.


What if we replace toxic masculinity with intersectional masculinity?

Zahara Chowdhury portrait

Written by Zahara Chowdhury

Zahara is founder and editor of the blog and podcast, School Should Be, a platform that explores a range of topics helping students, teachers and parents on how to ‘adult well’, together. She is a DEI lead across 2 secondary schools and advises schools on how to create positive and progressive cultures for staff and students. Zahara is a previous Head of English, Associate Senior Leader and Education and Wellbeing Consultant.

In 2021, I led a conference at Beaconsfield High School on how schools can overcome toxic masculinity by revisiting their gender behaviour policies. 16 schools, students and parents heard from Hira Ali, Harry Moore, Leila May Lawrence, Aaron Pandher and the Global Equality Collective, The Terrence Higgins Trust and Headteacher, Peter Tang, on how we can create equitable behaviour policies and create a culture of respect in secondary schools. Over a year on, the discussion continues as schools are now tasked with tackling the rise of online hate and misogyny fuelled by Andrew Tate. 

In schools, amidst the pressures of a recruitment crisis, a cost of living crisis and exam period, education about misogyny and sexism is being called on. As someone who is heavily involved in leading, researching and writing about this area, I worry, as an educator, as a parent and as a human, we’re talking more than we’re listening. An uncomfortable opinion perhaps: in the age of social media, content consumption, likes, comments and information overload we are overwhelmed with the problems, the dangers and fear. Whilst these feelings may be justified, we are looking for quick solutions before we understand the problems of toxic masculinity. 

For those of us who parent and teach, we know young people can be insecure sponges, looking for a sense of belonging, validation and acceptance. Amidst the doom and gloom of school, online comparison and tackling their mental health, they’re also looking for fun.  We know how impressionable young people are. We know for the most part, they just want to fit in – and therefore they look and listen for where this might be. So many have found a sense of belonging, entertainment and acceptance online with accounts and material that perpetuates – in this case –  historic and systemic misogyny. The conference I led and articles I’ve written are tools to support schools to resolve this. What I realise now, though, is I was yet again facilitiating a great deal of information (albeit, valid and necessary) without listening to those it affected: the boys. 

Professor Scott Galloway explains that our understanding of masculinity has been misconstrued and in many ways, caught up, in toxic masculinity – or what we perceive to be toxic masculinity. The data, research and case studies show that young men need support, whereas social media and the news imply masculinity is the problem – this all becomes a vicious cycle of information where many of us end up none the wiser. 

Of course, as a woman and a woman of colour, I am well aware of the whataboutisms, counterarguments and rebuttals that may be flung my way. For the sake, success and safety of all our students, we now need to pause and create space for intersectional male experiences of our young people. 

I say this because, as simple as it may sound, every young boy we come across has a different lived experience and whilst we hurry to find out how to make sure our children are safe, educated and staying away from the vile content they come across online, are we actually listening to them? 

  • Are we listening to the boy who has sisters he loves and respects, and knows exactly how to ally with women – because he is surrounded by strong people? 
  • Are we listening to Black and Asian boys who are still living amidst the trauma of George Floyd’s murder, and recently, the tragic murder of Keenan Anderson
  • Are we listening to Muslim boys who feel their faith and identity are constantly under a negative spotlight, or a spotlight entrenched in patriarchy and misogyny? 
  • Are we listening to boys who don’t like sport, but don’t know where else to go on the school playground? 
  • Are we listening to boys who are gay and don’t know where to turn, who to talk to, out of fear of what may happen? 
  • Are we listening to boys who are constantly told to be strong, but don’t know how?
  • Are listening to boys who are vulnerable, without dismissing their feelings? 
  • Are we listening to boys who are struggling with their mental health but don’t know where to turn? 
  • Are we listening to boys who are told they will take on responsibility for the family once they’re old enough? 
  • Are we listening to girls who have wonderful relationships with their fathers and brothers and are collectively working together for equality and equity? 
  • Are we listening to boys and girls who share healthy relationships? 

I could go on, and on and on. And, I know the same questions apply to women – intersectional feminism is perhaps a more well known term than intersectional masculinity. Equally, there is an absolute understanding and appreciation that intersectional masculinity is systemically privileged and of course, within that hierarchy of privilege, some men are more privileged than others. Having taught boys for a good few years and now, parenting a boy, I think part of the solution here is not just to teach them, but to listen. To understand who they are and who they want to be; to listen and then question their understanding of social norms, gender stereotypes and more. To understand their relationships, their communication, their hobbies. 

There is research to suggest teenagers fare better in group therapy; the best conversations I’ve had with boys is in small groups, in the classroom. It’s the best place to listen to their lived experiences, challenge and discuss their views and form trusting and safe relationships – for them and young female students, too. Plus, the banter can be pretty entertaining. 

Listening is a part of a wider solution and I know we are all still trying to figure out what that is. For now, though, let’s change their algorithm and introduce them to positive online male role models such as:

  • Steven Bartlett
  • Vex King
  • Jay Shetty
  • Marcus Rashford 
  • Ali Abdaal
  • Dr Alex George

…and I’m sure the list can be much longer. There is absolutely a need to rid systemic and social structures of misogyny. Part of that battle – perhaps, part of the solution –  is to listen to the experiences of young men too. 


“Andrew Tate is a father figure to me” - lessons learned from talking to young people in schools

Bold Voices logo

Written by Bold Voices

Bold Voices is an award-winning social enterprise preparing and empowering school communities to recognise and tackle gender inequality and gender-based violence through the delivery of educational talks, workshops, training and resources for young people, teachers and parents.

On January 3rd, the Bold Voices team arrived for our first staff training of the year. We love delivering staff training in schools, and we were excited to be back, if slightly unprepared for the early start and January rain. The session ran smoothly and the staff were engaged and passionate, all seemed as usual until we asked if there were any questions. Dozens of anxious hands shot up and they all had the same question – what can we do about Andrew Tate?

It wasn’t a surprise to any of the team, especially after the most recent news over the Christmas break, but the number of times his name has come up in schools in January has been unprecedented.

Back in July 2022 we began to hear students talk about Tate, and in order to get ahead of what we could see was a growing issue, Bold Voices released our Parent and Staff Toolkits to equip adults with the skills and confidence to have conversations about the ‘King of Toxic Masculinity’ with the young people in their lives. As the education sector catches up with the fact that this popular figure is not going anywhere anytime soon, we have seen a whole range of approaches to dealing with his popularity amongst teenage boys.

One strategy which we’ve seen is the blanket ban – sanctions for anyone who says his name in school. Another approach is whole school assemblies to speak about the harms of his content and messages. The young people we’ve spoken to don’t feel this works; they either say they feel silenced, or that the school is making too much of it. It is completely understandable that this is how many schools are responding. We certainly don’t have all the answers at Bold Voices, and we are always keen to hear back from other educators and parents who have found effective ways to address this issue (please let us know!) but for now we are encouraging schools to focus on one method that we know can have an impact: starting a conversation.

However, the reality is, these conversations are not easy. Here is a snippet of how they normally go:

“Miss, can I ask you a question? What’s your opinion of Andrew Tate?”

“Well, I’m much more interested in your opinion – what do you think of him?”

“He’s a top G miss. He teaches men how to be men. He makes money. He gets females. He’s a fighter. He is a traditionalist. He has four Bugattis. Those trafficking charges are lies. Those things he says? Taken out of context. Miss, it’s the Matrix. He’s a father figure to me.”

These conversations don’t always feel possible, or respectful, because these young people have internalised the message that anyone arguing against Tate is an idiot, hasn’t woken up to the truth, or they’re simply wrong. This makes it much harder to do our jobs – but we have seen success. In a school which had banned any mention of his name amongst pupils, when we opened up a conversation in a classroom, the feedback we received afterwards was: “I thought Andrew Tate was good but I realised what he does and all the hate against women.”

So what can we do to make more of those conversations successful? How can we move from fear of even starting a conversation, and those that go nowhere, to helping young people to choose for themselves if they want to continue to support Tate and his harmful messages?

Our response is three things (and they’re not easy):

STEP 1: TALK ABOUT HIM – BUT DON’T CONDEMN HIM

This can feel extremely difficult when the messages Tate puts forward are so explicitly dangerous and incite violence, but the more we condemn his words, the more we play into a right or wrong binary that pushes defensive teenagers even further away. Narratives around the Matrix incorporate the idea that there is a “great lie” going on, and figures like Tate (and Trump and other populists who brand themselves as anti-establishment) use this condemnation to push the idea: “that’s what they want you to think”. Break out of this binary by opening a dialogue and empowering young people to see all sides and opinions and to have the autonomy to make their own decisions about who they follow and believe. The aim should not be to have our children believe everything we believe because it’s scary when they don’t; we want to raise a generation of critical thinkers who can form their own opinions.

STEP 2 – MAKE ANDREW TATE UNCOOL AGAIN 

This ties into avoiding condemnation – when we stand up and tell young people he is dangerous we give him notoriety and power. Andrew Tate has branded himself as the antidote to cancel culture, so his popularity is not tied to his morality. Not only that, his messaging around gender roles mean that he can discredit those who speak out against him with misogynistic myths – case in point, I asked a student if he would stop liking him if Tate was convicted for the trafficking charges and he said “well, the women are probably just lying for money and attention.”

Attempts to laugh at Andrew Tate have been more successful in damaging his reputation than pointing out how dangerous he is. The closest to this that I’ve seen is this twitch streamer’s video and Greta Thunberg’s infamous tweet. What I don’t like about these tactics is that they use old tropes of emasculation to put a pin in his puffed up performance of masculinity. Relying on his tools to tear him down won’t create meaningful change in the long run (we’ll just see a newer version of him spring up to his place).

STEP 3 – ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

This brings us to the most important point – we need to change what questions we’re asking about Andrew Tate – instead of asking “what can we do about him?” we need to ask “what is it about him?” And “what is it about this current climate that allows his version of masculinity to thrive?”

His brand of masculinity is what draws people towards him: words like traditional, realist, role model for how to be a man. To most adults he looks like a cartoon of all the most ridiculous tropes of toxic masculinity; the cars, the money, the ideas about mental health. The alleged trafficking of women, the misogyny. So when we’ve looked at why he’s so popular the next question needs to be, what is the context and climate that means he is appealing?

When having these conversations I like to zoom right in, then all the way out. Instead of arguing his actual points with evidence or debating his intentions, I ask questions about what he represents, then look at the bigger picture, and ask why is that appealing right now?

The context in which boys are gravitating towards Andrew Tate is one in which they feel victimised and powerless. As an educator in the gender-based violence sector this can feel frustrating. But ignoring it and saying, “suck it up”, men have had power since the beginning of time, is not helping anyone.

Conversations around violence against women have completely transformed since I was at school less than 10 years ago. In a way that we can see paralleled with the movement for racial justice, conversations around gender-based violence have been radically shifted by events of the past decade: The #MeToo movement, Everyone’s Invited, Ofsted investigations, Sarah Everard’s death and many more. It’s confusing for young people.

Girls, trans and non-binary pupils have more awareness and knowledge than ever (thank you TikTok) about the ways in which they are victimised within a culture of gender-based violence. And they still suffer many different forms of this. But boys feel under siege too. They feel more under threat of being falsely accused than ever. Andrew Tate offers them a different narrative from the one in which they feel they’ve been cast as the baddies. There are no alternative models of masculinity on offer. We go into schools and tell young people that what Andrew Tate puts forward is an unrealistic stereotype of masculinity that ultimately harms everyone. Sometimes they see that, but when we exist in a system that punishes those who don’t fit a stereotype, we construct a reality where it is preferable to be an Andrew Tate rather than a man who can express his emotions and show weakness and vulnerability.

The quote at the beginning says it all. “Andrew Tate is a father figure”. This is how teenage boys feel when there aren’t any other role models for masculinity that seem valuable in today’s world.

The options are; see the problem with masculinity and try your best to not embody it, or go sit with Andrew, the realist, who can show you how to stop apologising for being a man in a world where stereotypes are just ‘the way things are supposed to be’. 

As educators on this subject we can tell you that having these conversations on the ground is hard work. It’s a painful slog that feels unrelenting and sometimes futile. Watching boys copy his physical stance, treat me with suspicion, shout down my logic and questions and cling to their idolisation of him makes me realise something; they are clinging tightly because he makes them feel safe and understood. And taking that away is difficult and can feel cruel when we aren’t offering good enough alternatives. If it was anybody but Tate, I would never question a vulnerable year 9 boy’s father figure and role model. I’m so glad he has that. I wish it wasn’t one who would teach him that depression isn’t real, that he should value women as possessions, and that his worth is measured in what he can win, and how dominating he can be. I want to give him a hug.

LET’S COME BACK NOW TO OUR THREE SOLUTIONS.

1- Talk about him, don’t condemn him. At Bold Voices we will keep going into schools and having these conversations. And if you have young people in your life please use our toolkits to start having these conversations too. This part is the intervention and it’s more necessary than ever. The aim is not to condemn and create a right or wrong, it’s to open a dialogue where there is more than one narrative to choose from.

2- Make Tate uncool – but not him specifically and not through emasculation. Instead through promoting other role models of masculinity who seem more appealing than Tate. We look to people like Marcus Rashford, Stormzy, and Steph Curry (get in touch if you have others you promote!)

3- Look at the conditions that make Tate popular. Ask questions and don’t stop asking.

WANT TO LEARN MORE? 

HOW CAN WE HELP?

Bold Voices is an award-winning social enterprise preparing and empowering school communities to recognise and tackle gender inequality and gender-based violence. 

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What are the key educational challenges faced in the classroom by teachers in working-class schools and how much time and space do you have to address them?

Darren Crosdale portrait

Written by Darren Crosdale

English and Media Studies-trained teacher, currently working in a large Liverpool comprehensive

I could list the oh-so-obvious issues faced by teachers in working-class schools but if you’re reading this, it’s likely you have already read similar compilations on a blog or a Twitter thread. So, I decided to do things a little differently.

In over twenty years of teaching, I have had students disclose a wide variety of issues. That they are trans. That their parents are separating. That they had unprotected sex with a neighbour’s lad while their mothers were downstairs chatting. That they were smuggled into the country in the back of a lorry and almost froze to death. The list goes on.

I have never, however, had a student tell me they are poor. That they are hungry. Or that the weight of poverty on their young shoulders was unbearable. Never. And I know from colleagues up and down the country, this situation is replicated.

Occasionally, students ask me to pay for their lunch (and I know I am not the only teacher, sadly.) Every now and again a student will say ‘Those apples look nice sir,’ pointing at the apples on my shelf. (I am known for having a Pink Lady at break time. I will always hand one over.) Never, however, has a student divulged that they are ‘poor’ or ‘struggling’ or ‘disadvantaged’ as our teacher parlance states. There is an immense shame attached to poverty in our society. A shame that is rarely spoken about or directly confronted by staff and students alike.

One of my favourite lessons asks students to think about how much the government thinks their education is worth: not some flimsy philosophical description but raw numbers, please. We start off by discussing the world-famous private school, Eton College. Its fees are approximately £46,000 per year. When students begin to brainstorm how much your average secondary comprehensive receives from the government for each child, you can see lights twinkling in eyes. I sit back and listen carefully.

“I reckon the school gets £50 for us,” a girl said recently.

“Per year?” I reply.

“That can’t be right,” retorts a lad. He’s good at Maths.

“Actually,” another student asks, “Do the teachers’ wages and the leccie bill and glue sticks come out of that money too?” She’s better at Maths.  

“Yup,” I reply.

“So, it has to be more than £50!” another student snorts.

And so, the discussion continues. This is one of those lessons all teachers enjoy: the students are teaching each other; they are thinking, critically, about our society; it’s one of those lessons where they question the way in which inequality works. Invariably, the students’ suggestions about how much their education is worth moves up from £50 but they can never settle on a figure. Whatever total they hover around, however, it is far, far away from £46,000.

Because these regular comprehensive students simply feel they are worth less than those who attend Eton.

Because they know Eton and their comp are both schools but that one is so very different from the other.  

Twenty of the fifty-seven prime ministers the UK has had, went to Eton, including Boris Johnson. Our illustrious former prime minister is in the news as I write this. He earned £1m in just six weeks for after-dinner speeches. It also turns out he is living, rent free, in a phenomenal London town house as well. (https://www.gbnews.uk/news/boris-johnson-living-for-free-in-20m-home-in-britains-poshest-street-despite-earning-1m-in-six-weeks/422207) Because of course he is.

Parents will tell you that one of the fascinating aspects of raising young people is around their acquisition of language. My young people do not yet have the power to say “the myth of meritocracy makes our lives more difficult”. (https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/01/the-myth-of-meritocracy-according-to-michael-sandel/) But they can damned well draw a link between Boris Johnson attending Eton, becoming Mayor of London, failing upwards to prime minister, getting caught bending the truth, time and time again, stepping down, only to earn more in six weeks than they ever will in their lifetimes.

I haven’t even mentioned the pandemic yet. Ask any teacher and they will tell you there is a clear demarcation between Before and After two years of lockdowns. Things may have been tough Before but After is a whole other thing. Lockdowns were damned difficult if you were in a comfortable house, worked from home, took regular exercise and did not lose anyone to the awful disease. For those who were already struggling, however, lockdowns were perhaps a last straw. All inequalities were magnified – health, finances, education. A friend who teaches in London told me he insisted during a lockdown lesson, that everyone in his A-Level Biology class turned their cameras on. He was desperate to boost morale and add that human touch so very missed during those dry, dry lessons. A student reluctantly, finally turned on her camera, only to reveal a tiny bedroom with six other siblings wearing headphones, trying to focus on their own online lessons. “That’s OK everyone,” he said, heartbroken after a few seconds of realisation, “You can turn them off if you want.” She immediately clicked that small camera icon off. 

The worst of it is that, although our new normal is acknowledged – poor mental health, widespread substance abuse, clear mobile phone addiction – these issues have simply been tacked onto the other issues the most vulnerable in our society have been fighting with for decades.

So, no, I didn’t discuss list the typical list of problems working class school face – recruitment and retention, teachers’ pay, non-sticky glue sticks and a Michael Gove-created exam system that is clearly linked to British children ranking as some of the most unhappy in the Western world … but all of that is in attendance too.


‘There was no one left to speak out for me’

Matthew Savage portrait

Written by Matthew Savage

Former international school Principal, proud father of two transgender adult children, Associate Consultant with LSC Education, and founder of #themonalisaeffect.

Over the past week, most of the candidates for the leadership of the UK government have been seeking power in part through rabidly attacking an already marginalised and vulnerable group, in scenes reminiscent of some of the most repugnant moral panics in the darkest corners of history.

Every day, my two adult trans kids wake up to a world whose media and politicians render their very existence problematic, dangerous and contingent. This week, along with the hundreds of thousands of other trans and non-binary people in the UK, they are especially under attack.

In order to help my children, and an entire community, gain and retain protected access to the very same things you would wish for yourselves and your family – the right to be, love, and be loved unconditionally – I would like to invite you to consider some of the following steps:

🏳️‍⚧️ LEARN: In a time where lies run rampant, read and discover the truth about trans identity and what it means to be trans or non-binary today. I provide training for schools across the world on this, and I am happy to signpost resources on any possible question you might have too. 

🏳️‍⚧️ LISTEN: Listen to the voices of trans and non binary adults and young people. Here is a very powerful, short film which makes this point far more powerfully than I can: bit.ly/3yHxGJ2. And listen to my podcast, “Jack and Me”, on Apple (apple.co/3HI5SXA), Spotify (spoti.fi/3MqC3OU) or wherever you get your podcasts. 

🏳️‍⚧️ CHALLENGE: Once you have listened and learned, be brave enough to challenge and inform others. This is where the most potent activism happens – in everyday conversations. This is where minds are changed. 

🏳️‍⚧️ ADVOCATE: Speak truth to power. Our government and our media need to be held to account. And give voice to the voiceless. There are lots of ways we can do that, from letters to petitions, and in the very choices we make.  

I believe that our country is so much better than this. I believe that, in years to come, we will look back at this time with the same horror and shame with which we remember the provenance of Section 28.  

But I also believe that the only way that the benevolent many can drown out the noise of the hateful few is if we do not stay silent. In this, I am reminded of Niemöller’s 1946 poem: 

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

 

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

 

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

 

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

 

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me

 Please stand with me, and speak out for my two children too – because #TransRightsAreHumanRights. 🏳️‍⚧️


Parents overwhelmingly support LGBT+ inclusive education and students want it, so how do we get started?

Rob Ward portrait

Written by Rob Ward

Education Programmes Manager at Just Like Us

LGBT+ inclusive education has a history of being intensely scrutinised.  Social media continues to bubble away, highlighting the dynamic landscape of support for, and respect of, LGBT+ people, meanwhile educators grapple with exactly what is classed as “timely” and “age-appropriate” for LGBT+ inclusive education within RSE.  

Without skipping a beat, Ofsted is fulfilling its commitment to reviewing schools for their adherence to RSE guidance – guidance which became compulsory for schools in the midst of a period of upheaval in education and wider society not seen in living memory. Educators currently find themselves juggling advice from exam boards, a student body still reeling from isolation and disruption over the last two years, and ever-growing working hours to try to bridge the gap between the two. The backdrop that LGBT+ education finds itself in today could not be more crowded, with competing stakeholders from across society offering opinions on what should be happening in our schools.  

Independent research published by Just Like Us on the most varied stakeholder of them all – children’s parents – has found that the overwhelming majority is supportive towards LGBT+ inclusive education. 82% of UK parents believe that it is ‘important’ for their children to learn about LGBT+ families, such as some pupils having gay parents. However, parents also reported a lack of resources to help with this – only 34% said they felt their school was adequately resourced to help educate their children and 33% have never spoken to their child about what LGBT+ means.

In the context of increased commentary and scrutiny on LGBT+ in education, these findings highlight the importance parents place on fully inclusive education for their own children. It’s a clear signal that parents are looking for teachers to take the lead and support them in providing high quality, fully LGBT+ inclusive education for their children, as they do across other areas of the curriculum. Students report the same; previous research has highlighted how the majority of young people are looking for LGBT+ inclusive RSE education, alongside subject curriculums that embed LGBT+ inclusion throughout (79% and 67% respectively). More than half of LGBT+ pupils are looking for support from their teachers to set up inclusive initiatives like Pride Groups for LGBT+ and ally pupils to help a wider network of their peers.

When taken together, these findings should represent a green light to educators to push for inclusive education. Parents are expecting it, students are asking for it, and all the while Ofsted is continuing to check for it. So how can teachers go about it?  

Engaging in visibility days, LGBT+ History Month and School Diversity Week throughout the year can be powerful, visual ways that a school can demonstrate its commitment to building safe, inclusive environments for all its students. Sue Sanders’ work on usualising vs actualising LGBT+ topics within subject curricula also offers a strong framework to review and edit schemes of work to embed a variety of stories and viewpoints within existing topics across the school.   

Beyond engaging in visibility days and reviewing who and what gets taught about, setting up LGBT+ and ally groups is the best way to make long-term change. We help schools to set up and run these on Just Like Us’ Pride Groups programme, by providing staff and Student Leader training as well as ready-to-go resources for just £99 a year. Pride Groups also help to incorporate inclusion and celebration of LGBT+ lives within a school’s ethos, and provide a platform for student voice to help guide further development of inclusivity within schools long term.

While the backdrop for LGBT+ inclusion may be loud, dissonant and confusing right now, educators are used to cutting through this. Parents want their children to be educated about LGBT+ lives, while students continue to show a desire to learn about them. More than ever, teachers should feel empowered to explore how they can incorporate LGBT+ stories within their teaching and dispel misinformation, putting their fine-tuned teaching practice and pedagogy to use to meet their students where they are, helping them along their journey to exploring and celebrating the LGBT+ lives and history around them.


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.


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)


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.