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School Report

by Adrian Gillan for Fyne

As LGBT educational support and lobbying group Schools Out! celebrates its 30th anniversary this month (3rd Oct), Adrian Gillan asks founding light Sue Sanders to look back on three decades of helping LGBT staff and pupils, effecting change in the cultural fabric of our schools.

What does Schools Out! do?

We support LGBT educators and lobby government to help effect change in school cultures so all sexual identities within a school community are equally accepted and celebrated.

Have you been involved from the start?

Yes, since 1974.

Are you needed as much now as 30 years ago?

There have been exciting and positive developments recently: partly driven by recent European legislation, the government is now ready to listen and take action. But much needs to be done - and fast - to capitalise on these opportunities or else: "so near and yet so far". There is still a great lack of understanding and many stereotypes abound.

What have Schools Out!'s main achievements been over the last three decades?

For me, two things stand out: lobbying and helping to open up a dialogue with government; and the way our website (www.schools-out.org.uk) has evolved into such a valuable and much-used resource. Also: even though their reps still need educating on LGBT issues, it's great that some of the big unions are now finally offering teachers their support.

And a real low-point? The late 80s media back-lash over Clause 28?

That was both a low and a high. On the one hand it set schools back into the dark ages. On the other, it helped forge solidarity within an LGBT community and spurred us all into action.

Don't some teachers still think C28 is alive and kicking and applies to them?

Unfortunately, a year on since it left the statute books where it never actually applied directly to schools anyway - yes! Government should do more to communicate the current reality. The same goes for the recent European Employment Directive which provides LGBTs with legal protection: there is still low awareness of the defence it truly offers and, where known, still little confidence in harnessing it against offending schools.

Don't more schools now at least have LGBT-specific EOPs and Anti-Bullying Policies?

It is still very patchy. Schools are relatively autonomous - like little fiefdoms. The government has issued guidance on things like Anti-Bullying Policies but monitoring must improve. I sat on some regional DfES Anti-Bullying Charter Panels that are now completed and one proposal arising was to introduce new anti-bullying advisors who could visit schools to counsel and monitor on bullying issues, including LGBT ones.

And what else should the Government do?

Apart from better monitoring, there needs to be more training - especially of Head Teachers - and more encouragement. I think the government should also issue guidance to schools on using more inclusive classroom materials - like books and posters - whilst simultaneously "educating" the educational publishers themselves. Like with race issues a few decades back!

Recent European legislation protects teachers who wish to "stay in" as well as those who "come out": what do you say to the vast majority of LGBT teachers who "stay in"?

I'd never say, "Come out, come out wherever you are"! I'm acutely aware of the wide variety of very real and frightening issues that might keep a teacher "in". But I will say that their being "in" will impact on their students, LGBT or otherwise. Pupils have an acute ability to suss when you're being vague on certain issues and will end up with the firm impression that being LGBT is less acceptable and taboo. So - put crudely - silence is colluding with homophobia. The truth is that there is a price to be paid whether "in" and colluding or "out" and either facing possible personal danger or perhaps even being seen as a one-issue token-queer.

Isn't the treatment of LGBT issues in schools still largely confined to Sex Ed - and where lucky, Citizenship - classes, rather than to the entire school fabric?

Absolutely. Handled in such relative isolation, it's all such a big deal, whereas LGBTs are simply part of the community - both school and wider - and as such we need to "usualise" our existence in every lesson and out-of-class activity. An acceptance of diverse sexual identities must be a "whole school" thing. It must become embedded in the school's whole culture.

And where does the responsibility for that largely rest?

With Head Teachers driving change through strong leadership! I believe this is so central and crucial that all Heads should get compulsory diversity training, not just courses on balancing books! All police officers get it. Why should education trail so far behind the criminal justice system? Head Teachers need to be driving change and be seen to be driving it. That needn't even always involve lots of money and effort. Just as it costs nothing for a government minister to make the odd positive noise in a speech, so what's to stop a Head making a few warm, positive, explicit and encouraging remarks in a school assembly?

How do LGBT issues differ in primary schools, with younger children?

Young classes should be taught about the diversity of the modern "family unit" - failure to do so sends out homophobic signals, however unintentionally. Also, many primary teachers confuse sexual identity with actual sexual behaviour, an area they may feel uncomfortable discussing with younger children - but being "gay" is not really about what you are doing with whom, but simply about who you are! And then, of course, there's always language: "gay" is still commonly used - unchallenged - in order to hurt, in a way "nigger" is no longer accepted.

Which has the greatest impact on a young person and their attitudes to sexuality, whether their own or others': family, school, friends and peers, media or celebrity?

I doubt much hard research has been done into this but I'm sure all these factors are highly influential and overlapping. Regardless, schools - and there are 26,000 in England alone, containing over 35,000 LGBT teachers and staff and 100,000s of LGBT pupils, only a small fraction of whom are out - clearly have a massive impact, on both individuals and society at large.

Could schools and family work closer together on LGBT issues?

Some primary schools bridge the gap brilliantly - there's one fantastic primary school in south London which LGBT parents almost fight to get their little ones into - but more can be done.

Could youth clubs do more to tackle LGBT discrimination?

We can always do more. I've helped train youth workers and the principles are the same as in schools - in the end, it's simply a duty of care you have to any young person in your charge, be they gay, black, overweight or all three. There are lots of obvious practical things all youth clubs can do - posters, leaflets, discussions and talking-points - and youth leaders should use inclusive language and flag up any "gay" name-calling.

What impact will your much-mooted first LGBT History Month have next February?

We hope it will be like Back History Month and help widen LGBT campaigning so we aren't only highlighting problems, but are also starting to publicly celebrate and explore our history and how this relates to the present day and wider society. And this should benefit and interest everyone, not just LGBTs.

But won't "the Month" primarily focus on schools rather than on wider society?

Schools Out! is taking the lead on things, partly since someone has to, but partly since schools - potentially at least, with government support - provide a vast framework within which to conduct many of the Month's activities. But - we agree - that isn't enough! Schools are part of the community and initiatives should take in other areas like libraries, museums or theatres. We hope local newspapers will also help us reach an even wider mainstream audience.

What kinds of events are planned and are people getting on board?

We hope schools, colleges, councils and communities will initiate a variety of projects and events that will promote knowledge of LGBT achievement: plays, readings, book displays, poster competitions, quizzes, film shows, videos, commissioned theatre, oral history - the scope is endless! We're already getting several calls a week and momentum is growing.

BOX-OUT 1:
The implications of the new legislation for school leaders and staff
The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations became law on 1st December 2003. They make it unlawful to discriminate (directly or indirectly) in employment or vocational training on grounds of sexual orientation.

The new legislation means schools - as employers, irrespective of size - now risk legal claims from staff who:
Have been treated less favourably than others - from recruitment to dismissal - because they are, or are presumed to be, LGB (Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual) or because they associate with LGBs
Are disadvantaged as a group by workplace practice and policy - say, if they fail to qualify for certain benefits - because of their sexual orientation
Have been offended or harassed, however unintentionally, by the homophobic actions or comments of the school as employer, employees, pupils or any third party entering the school to deliver services

Note:
The new laws apply fully to teacher training
The new laws fully protect LGB staff in faith schools (according to a recent "case law" judgement)
All benefits and discounts previously offered to heterosexual non-married partners of school employees must now also be offered to same-sex partners
"Harassment" includes telling an employee they can't be "out" or divulging information about a person's sexual identity without their permission, however unwittingly

Compiled with especial thanks to Stonewall and Schools Out!

BOX-OUT 2:
Culture change: Practical steps for a more LGBT-friendly school, for staff and pupils
To ensure a workplace culture compatible with the new legislation, schools can and should:
Internally publicise the existence and significance of the new legislation
Stress that the old Clause 28 never did apply to schools or teachers directly and was scrapped last autumn anyway
Review all practices and policies - notably the EOP and Anti-Bullying Policy - to ensure LGBTs are explicitly protected or catered for
Provide ongoing staff training on recognising and tackling homophobia as well as specialist leadership training on culture change for Heads Teachers
Advertise for recruits in LGBT media; include explicit EOP/inclusion statements in all adverts and application packs; deliver LGBT diversity training in all staff inductions etc
Provide positive images of LGBT citizens - past and present, famous or otherwise - in all relevant contexts
Develop the curriculum - not just Citizenship and PSHE, but also subjects like History, English, Drama and Media - to include LGBT experience
Ensure PSHE (and S&RE) openly and positively covers the whole range of sexual orientations and relationship scenarios
Mark LGBT anniversaries like the Stonewall Riots in assemblies; invite guest LGBT speakers etc
Use inclusive imagery and language in all posters, newsletters, school social invites etc
Ensure email filters don't block LGBT-related words
Display posters and leaflets for local LGBT clubs, events and help-lines
Organise LGBT interest groups, for staff and/or pupils, both for support and consultation
Review support procedures for LGBT staff and pupils who wish to 'come out'
In everything you say, do or write, don't assume everyone is heterosexual!

Compiled with especial thanks to Schools Out!

BOX-OUT 3: Some useful contacts
Schools Out! - For practical tips on culture change within schools; template EOP and Anti-Bullying statements and other essential resources; or for details of Schools Out!'s 30th Birthday celebration to be held in Manchester on Saturday 2nd October: www.schools-out.org.uk
Stonewall - For Stonewall's Guidelines for Employers & Employees: www.stonewall.org.uk
EACH (Educational Action Challenging Homophobia) - For support and training resources on homophobia experienced by young people and teachers: www.eachaction.org.uk or call their confidential national helpline 0808 1000 143
For advice and a list of LGBT youth groups in your area: www.gayyouthuk.co.uk
Send your comments to the Department for Education & Skills: www.dfes.gov.uk