George White portrait

Written by George White

George White is an experienced teacher of RE and a Diversity & Inclusion Lead at a Catholic secondary school in Leicester. He holds a BA in Philosophy and Theology from Heythrop College, an MA in Global Ethics and Human Values from King’s College London and a Secondary PGCE in Religious Studies from the University of Cambridge. As an openly trans and Catholic educator, he has delivered conferences on LGBT+ Inclusion in Catholic Schools to the NEU as an LGBT+ rep for the East Midlands, Schools Inclusion Alliance, ASCL and more.

The official teaching of the Catholic Church, found in the Catechism, states that ‘[LGBT+ People] are to be accepted with sensitivity, compassion and respect. Any form of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’ 

One of the greatest privileges I have had in the last 12 months came from my role as one of the committee members at Quest, the charity aimed at LGBTI Catholics and their families providing pastoral support. In the summer term of last year, we hosted an online conference titled ‘LGBT+ Inclusion in Catholic Schools’ with Fr James Martin SJ who has always been a vocal advocate for the LGBT+ community despite the vast number of threats he receives online.  In spite of that, he has received commendation from Pope Francis for his ministry towards LGBT+ Catholics when he said, ‘I pray for you and your work’ in a letter received in 2023 and prior to that Pope Francis thanked him for his ‘pastoral zeal and ability to be close to people with the closeness Jesus had’ in reference to his LGBT+ ministry.  I was able to interview Father James Martin SJ in a conversation that lasted the best part of one hour and thirty minutes in which time he gave several helpful ways in which schools – and all Catholics – can be more inclusive of the LGBT+ community. I was set with my questions and after the interview has finished, I tried to process this into some simple tips that anyone might be able to take away from the session. I have settled on the following three, some of which have even been picked up by the Holy Father in the last few months. 

Firstly, as Catholic educators and ministers, we are invited to listen to the stories and experiences of the LGBT+ community. In particular, we are invited to listen to the language that the community uses to describe ourselves and our stories. Pope Francis is the first Pope to say the word ‘gay’ instead of the outdated phrase in the catechism ‘homosexual’. When we listen to the stories of others, we are more easily enabled to accept with compassion, sensitivity and respect. Pope Francis encourages us to reach out to those on the peripheries – and very often – LGBT+ people can feel as though they are there. In the school resources provided by each diocese for Synod 21-23, pupils are asked the question, ‘who are the people who feel excluded and left out of the church?’ In my experience, lots of pupils labelled the LGBT+ community amongst others. From what we have seen of the synod responses, the contributions of LGBT+ people and women have been recorded, visibly – perhaps most obviously included for the first time in the history of the Church. I invite my fellow educators to recognise the language they are using in schools; use the preferred names of trans pupils, use ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ instead of ‘homosexual’ and invite LGBT+ Catholics to tell their story to pupils and staff. Reprint lanyard cards with pronouns and new photos for pupils who come out. Use LGBT+ people and symbols in marketing material. I was fortunate enough to be selected to be in a campaign for the Department for Education’s ‘Get into Teaching campaign where I spoke openly about being a transgender and Catholic teacher of Religious Education. These visible signs help pupils and staff who are LGBT+ to know that they are welcome and accepted, as church teaching says that we should be. 

Secondly, there are many opportunities in the academic calendar that are fitting for both Catholics and the LGBT+ community. Fr James Martin SJ spoke about meeting young people where they are, accompanying them and celebrating their journey in life with them. For example, he has written that Catholics can absolutely celebrate Pride month, providing the focus is on human dignity. There are many ways to celebrate and/or remember the LGBT+ community throughout the year. For example, in my own diocese, we hosted a mass with the intention of remembering ‘Transgender Day of Remembrance’ on November 20th. This is a day where we remember those who have lost their life due to their transgender identity; whether by murder or suicide. We pray for the souls of the departed and also pray for an end to the persecution that they may have faced which led to their death. We wrote bidding prayers with this in mind and came together to remember this event with trans people and allies in our community. In addition, you may choose to look at material that goes out in February which is LGBT+ History Month. We wrote prayers for our morning registration in which we included the scripture from Psalm 139, ‘I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made’ and we invited the school to come together for an end to LGBT+ persecution around the world. This kind of education helps us to prevent discrimination which might be directed towards the LGBT+ community especially from a religious perspective. 

Finally, and perhaps the most obvious way to help contribute to the avoidance of persecution, we are called to stand up for the legal rights of our LGBT+ communities and relationships around the world. Pope Francis recently publicly spoke about the great injustice in several countries in the world who give a prison sentence or death penalty to those who are LGBT+. Prior to this, the Pope has advocated for legal same sex unions saying that LGBT+ couples have a right to be protected as families. This is perhaps a little harder for us to easily translate into life at school but not impossible. For a start, we can use clips of Pope Francis talking about these things to educate pupils on the realities of the world and what this means for LGBT+ people. We can also use it to guides our policy writing. As published by the Catholic Education Service in 2018 ‘Made in God’s Image’ we should deal with homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying the same way we do other discriminatory bullying. Our policies should clearly state that these types of behaviours will be treated in the same way as racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. If we do not treat homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in the same way, then we are guilty of breaking the law. Policies (such as those around uniform/make up and behaviour) should be gender neutral so that they apply to all students fairly. 

The conversations I have had around LGBT+ Inclusion have led more generally to a review of the way in which we talk about diversity, equality and inclusion for all in our school. We host two ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ weeks a year where we have sessions from outside visitors as well as students sharing with their peers on things like race, faith, gender identity, sexual orientation, mental health, neurodiversity and the intersectional nature of lots of these characteristics. It has helped us to reassess the way in which we raise awareness to and celebrate our own diversity as a Catholic school community. We were commended in our recent Ofsted inspection as being an ‘inclusive’ school and we now have a dedicated staff and pupil group working towards our initiative to celebrate all human dignity in our community and ensure that everyone has a place – and more importantly a voice – at our table. We are guided by the principles of Catholic Social Teaching; solidarity, common good, participation and, of course, human dignity.