Tackling homophobia in schools

How teachers can make their schools LGBT-friendly by Elly Barnes, available at The Guardian Teacher Network

I became actively involved in LGBT (which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans) work in 2005 as a direct result of challenging the widespread homophobia in my school by co-ordinating LGBT History Month.

From very small beginnings of an assembly and a year 7 LGBT music scheme of work the project has grown into a national strategy called “Educate and Celebrate”. This is a one-day program I devised for educators to give practical advice, confidence, resources, policies and lesson plans to make their own schools LGBT friendly.

Since opening our school as a Diversity Training Centre for teachers, we have caused a lot of media attention and have been recognised by Ofsted as a centre of best practice for successfully challenging homophobic bullying.

I am very keen to dispel the myth that LGBT inclusion in the curriculum causes more work for teachers, in fact what we found was that the LGBT content was already there, we were just not emphasizing the “LGBTness” of our projects. For instance the humanities department were studying the treatment of the Jewish people in the prisoner of war camps, so we extended the project to include the treatment of LGBT people.

The music department were performing the songs of Joan Armatrading but not highlighting the fact she was a black lesbian singer/songwriter. Art were already studying Keith Haring, Grayson Perry and Frida Kahlo, who all fit perfectly in to our LGBT history month celebrations each February.

The first actions we took at Stoke Newington School, in north Londion, were to create a sanction for homophobia, train the staff, put up relevant display, develop an LGBT curriculum, invite role models to perform and create a united ethos of challenging homophobic language.

The idea is not to confront students with LGBT issues but to seep LGBT people into their consciousness through inclusive lesson plans along with simply giving young people the facts.

The reason students laugh and giggle and use words in a derogatory manner is because they don’t know what they mean. After they know the facts, they use the words in the correct way. We have lots of conversations about, “Is it legal to be a lesbian?” Some kids don’t actually know if it’s legal or not, so it is up to us as educators to inform them. Also many times I hear “Is it legal to get married?”, “Can gays adopt children?”, “How do lesbians have children?”

The importance of LGBT History month and building awareness are vital to creating a cohesive community. If there’s nothing in the curriculum that represents LGBT people then what role models are there for those young LGBT people in our school? Our curriculum must reflect our community – the same goes for all the equality strands.

Through working with other schools and teachers across the UK, I have built many links with other organisations and spoken at many events. These include the TUC, LGCM, DFE, Foreign Office, ABA, NSPCC, DFID, London borough Councils, GEO and Goldsmiths University along with attending LGBT professionals’ events at Downing Street.

I have taken my students to perform and present LGBT work from our curriculum with a view to educate and encourage everyone to take part in LGBT History month and reap the benefits of an enlightened and safe environment in which to work and thrive. It is this outward facing work that empowers all educators to deliver confident LGBT lessons with the added knowledge of the legal back-up that underpins the diversity work within the curriculum. It is essential that our schools curriculum reflects the community we live in; LGBT people are part of our community.

We have reached a point where we have happy “out” staff and “out” students who are NOT bullied – this is our evidence of success.

This year we held a Mini-pride march and a concert as part of our celebrations, you can watch the video here.

You can download a really interesting teaching pack written by Schools Out on the Guardian Teacher Network: Tackling homophobia and creating safer spaces.

And lesson plans for all key stages and all subjects can be found in The Classroom the new Schools Out website

Web Link