A month of Pride kicked off on the 8th of June 2019 and kick-started the celebration of LGBTQ rights and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
It culminated in a weekend celebration of Pride on the 6th of July whereby many people of various backgrounds and organizations attended the event. This was not just to celebrate the importance of people being able to be who they are, and who they wish to love and be, - but to reinforce the idea that everyone deserves to be equal and should be treated accordingly.
With the recent declaration by Brunei to stone people for having gay sex and defending its decision in a letter to the EU, it is crucial that the fight for equality and protecting the LGBTQ community is continued by all those passionate about human rights.
The furore in Birmingham caused by the teaching of the No Outsiders Project, created by Andrew Moffat, to deepen children’s understanding of equality and diversity, is concerning. Leaders of all organizations, both public and private, particularly educators and school leaders - need to advocate events like Pride. This is to ensure that LGBTQ needs, and the needs of any vulnerable group for that matter, is protected and awareness is highlighted on an everyday basis.
Pride should not just be for a month - it should be celebrated and endorsed 356 days in the year.
Even now many countries in the world still do not accept gay couples and instead have draconian laws which are unacceptable. In the UK, which is more advanced than other countries in advocating gay rights, the fact that Melania Geymonat and her girlfriend, Chris, were attacked on a bus in north London, for refusing to kiss each other when asked by a group of young men - on the 30th of May 2019 demonstrates how challenging things can be for the gay community.
So what happens next? How do we sustain the momentum and continue working on the equality agenda and further develop the rights for the LGBTQ community? It has to start with educators and school leaders!
Most organisations always have a written policy or two about inclusion and the importance of equality for all. They have to these days. However, it is the everyday challenge of ensuring everyone is treated with respect and equality, no matter who they are, as well as developing and sustaining inclusivity for all kinds of people that is vital.
It has to come from leadership and resonate clearly within all levels of every sector. It most importantly needs to start in classrooms with educators, as that is when long-lasting change can happen and it can grow from strength to strength organically.
As educators, we are in charge of the future and it is our job to protect the rights of all humans and teach the importance of equality and the strength in diversity.
Moreover, we need to ensure that our pupils and parents and carers, some of whom may be gay have the right to be who they are. They need to be able to express themselves freely without having to worry about how it may appear to people or whether certain religions or countries accept it or not.
So here are some ways school leaders and educators can support the fight for equal rights and ensure LGBTQ rights are protected.
P: Passion, perseverance, protection, policies, PRIDE!
All these "P" words are needed to instil any change and habits. As school leaders, it starts with us and we need to ensure that we are passionate about promoting LGBTQ rights and it is evident around the school. Making it a priority is key and the celebration of Pride and its history needs to be marked out on the school calendar just like Eid, Christmas or Black History is.
We also need to persevere even if challenged by parents or carers. It is our job to ensure that the policies we draw up are not just words. Any homophobia needs to be stamped out and sanctions need to be given swiftly and robustly to any pupils or parents or carers that are homophobic. Anyone who is LGBTQ or has parents/carers who are or are advocates of their rights need to know that that they will be protected.
R: Resilience, research, remembrance, recruitment!
With anything that needs to be embedded, there has to be resilience. LGBTQ friendly policies need to be embedded by school leaders and have to be a priority.
Next year, 5-year-olds will be taught about same-sex relationships – a welcome move by the government in ensuring tolerance is taught from an early age. School leaders will need to think about what that will look like in their school and how it will be translated and embedded both in the short term and long term.
Recruitment policies and adverts need to ensure that the equal opportunities agenda is maintained. As a school leader, think about whether you have a diverse staff and also whether there is diversity on your leadership team. How are LGBTQ families, staff or pupils’ rights and needs catered for in your school? What policies do you have if someone wishes to "come out"?
Research, research, research! Like anything, staff subject knowledge needs to be paramount. Ensure your staff are knowledgeable about the LGBTQ community and the challenges they face. Appoint a champion who will advocate rights for the LGBTQ community. They don’t have to be gay to be a champion of gay rights just like you don’t have to be a certain colour or be disabled to fight racism or advocate rights for the disabled. Get speakers in and carry out assemblies on the LGBTQ community.
I: Integrity, initiative, insistence, impact!
While I am an advocate of LGBTQ rights, it took my fellow assistant headteacher, who was gay, to make me think deeper and harder about the challenges faced by the LGBTQ community. As a straight woman, I hadn’t fully understood the difficulties faced by them fully and the impact it had on their lives. Without a doubt, it was an eye-opener.
Take the initiative and use events like Pride to highlight the work of famous people and the history behind the fight for equal rights for gay people.
Children need to know about the work of people such as Bayard Rustin, a gay civil rights activist and close advisor to Martin Luther King and Barbara Gittings, (the Mother of the LGBTQ Civil rights movement). Gittings with Frank Kameny was instrumental in homosexuality being removed from the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental disorders. Discuss the work of Alan Turing who will be the face on the new £5 note and talk about the challenges faced by him as a gay man in a time when it was illegal.
D: Diversity, determination, dedication, drive!
For any positive change to succeed, determination and dedication are needed. The teaching of LGBTQ lessons still faces controversy. – The events in Birmingham illustrate this. It is all the more important for school leaders to take robust steps to protect the needs of their diverse communities and this includes the LGBTQ community.
For any school, whether or not it is diverse, the understanding and teaching of SMSC – (spiritual, moral, social and cultural) are crucial. The teaching of LGBTQ rights or any strategy linked to the equal opportunities agenda cannot be done as a one-off or series of lessons. It needs to be driven by leaders and built into everyday practice, where children can talk and discuss issues such as the rights of the LGBTQ community etc. openly and comfortably. Furthermore, they need to know that these rights will be protected and celebrated.
E: Excellence, enjoyment, everyday practice, equal opportunities!
Sometimes, one of the hardest things to evidence is excellence and enjoyment and how the school promotes the equal opportunities agenda. However, for me, it has always been about the everyday practice where children, who are the evidence themselves, can talk eloquently and articulately about the need for tolerance and equality and can cite why these are essential values.
It is down to educators and leaders to create an ethos and atmosphere that enables a child to talk comfortably about LGBTQ rights or their sexuality. Of course, like all things, lessons need to be age-appropriate and delivered with excellence and enjoyment at all times.
When we become educators, we are teaching children about the world we live in. We have a duty to ensure that everyone is celebrated and respected and people can be who they are. More importantly, pupils need to be aware that they will be treated equally, and similarly, need to treat everyone equally and with compassion.
Recent research carried out by Stonewall in 2018 indicates that :
- More than a third of LGBTQ staff (35 per cent) have hidden that they are LGBTQ at work for fear of discrimination.
- Nearly two in five bi people (38 per cent) aren’t out to anyone at work.
This is one of the many challenges faced by the LGBTQ community and as educators, we have to ensure that the children we teach can grow up in a world where those issues are eradicated and no longer exist.
Much is made of the fact Mr Moffat introduced the “No Outsiders” programme and that he is a gay deputy head. Well, I am a straight, Muslim educator and former deputy headteacher and I would be encouraging staff to implement and embed the teaching of the No Outsiders in Our School programme.
The sad thing is that the programme also teaches children about equality, diversity and tolerance- much-needed values in these challenging times. Schools need to take ownership of the curriculum and the ethos they want to portray and develop. Being gay is about people's lifestyles and choices - not just about sexuality.
It will take time to make a long-lasting change for the better. That’s why we need educators who are advocates of LGBTQ rights and are passionate about promoting and addressing their needs.
I am one of them! I am Jasmin Choudhury and I am passionate about ensuring LGBTQ rights are celebrated and protected at all costs!
About our Community Expert
Jasmin has extensive experience of working in a variety of settings which have included being recruited to work schools in special measures and concern as well as outstanding.
Jasmin has been qualified as a teacher for over 20 years and has been a Deputy Head, working mainly in some of the most deprived and challenging schools in the UK.