Last week marked the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia and I spent much of the week delivering related keynotes and workshops. I usually share my experiences of surviving (and yes I use that word most precisely) childhood homophobic bullying. I then explore strategies for shifting culture within organisations to a preventative state in order to reduce prejudicial behaviours not only towards LGBT+ people, but also those perceived to be LGBT+ (which occurs far more regularly than is perhaps discussed.) In fact my inclusion work is intended to help anyone who is different in some way (as of course we all are.)
Since 2010, I have addressed well over 9,000 education professionals in the UK alone, in addition to recounting my journey to many thousands of students of all faiths and of none in assemblies. My LGBT+ inclusion work unexpectedly arose out of a 'light-bulb' moment in November 2009 due to an urgent need to take a stand for the safety and well-being of the young people in my own primary school and community, the majority of whom told us they were experiencing direct homophobic bullying and language on daily basis. At this point, sexual orientation was not yet designated a 'protected characteristic' in the Equality Act 2010, neither were Her Majesty's School Inspectorate OFSTED inspecting schools on this aspect. Stonewall even expressed reservations to me about undertaking LGBT+ inclusion work in the primary education context for fear of negative reaction.
However faced with a majority of local children being affected by prejudice related bullying and language, I felt morally compelled to act, not just as a school leader, but also as a concerned human being. I was prepared to face the consequences on their behalf if it resulted in safer, authentic, happier and more successful young people. Having written the 'Inclusion For All' training (IFA) programme for teachers over Christmas 2010 I first delivered in within my own school to great effect) before offering it out to other local schools. Very soon I was training teachers and teacher trainers right across the UK and beyond and found myself invited to speak at anti-bullying, hate-crime and LGBT Pride events.
In the absence of formal funding I used letter writing, social media, blogging (thank you Huffington Post) made You Tube videos and made free resources on Apps to help get my hopes for LGBT+ inclusive education out to the wider world. To my surprise I was able to reach a much greater audience than I could have ever imagined; my work has now been reported globally and increasingly I am invited to speak overseas including the Isle of Man, Hungary, Armenia and the USA. I feel strongly that not only should all young people be made aware of their Human Rights from the entry point of formal education, but that we should also be teaching them positive use of social media in order to facilitate social change. One shouldn't have to be a 'hero' or 'activist' to try and right what is wrong, one just required a a strong vein of passion and to care about the rights and freedoms of others.
Last week I was unexpectedly honoured with three major awards, culminating in a Point of Light award from the UK Prime Minster at 10 Downing Street- without doubt the most surreal experience my life. Tweeted from Number 10 to millions of followers, I sincerely hope this act of recognition for the messages I have been trying to disseminate might send a sign (however small) to some of those who still oppose LGBT+ inclusion in education (such as 40 of the 53 Commonwealth member states who continue to criminalise homosexuality) that such work in schools and communities is vital and lifesaving. As far afield as Australia, LGBT+ inclusion in education is facing resistance, with the government making changes to its Safe Schools anti-bullying programme in the light of opposition. Ultimately it is not about awards, but the rewards of knowing all young people can safely be themselves.
At home too there remain those who perceive the joyous diversity of human existence as something to fear, believing that LGBT+ inclusion work is 'promotion' as opposed to 'education and information' a persistent lie perpetuated by those who would rather see human beings destroyed emotionally and physically, rather than letting them experience the authentic lives, loves and identities they deserve.The ongoing lie that schools working to prevent homophobic, bi-phobic and transphobic bullying are somehow influencing young people to somehow magically 'turn themselves LGBT+' needs to be laid to rest for good. Teaching and learning about LGBT+ people in schools will only serve to make many young people safer and more included.
Since 2009 I have been privately informed of so many heart-breaking stories of victims of bullying, discrimination and hate whose names will never be known publically. I have the honour of working with professionals selfless enough to place their own prejudice and anxieties aside, in order to place the needs of young people first. I have too over time, seen progress within our education system, from the pernicious piece of legislation 'Section 28' which made my own life hell in the 1980s, to a time and a place where UK schools (including faith schools) are now openly criticised for not advancing LGBT+ inclusion. Two million pounds was set aside by the Government to fund LGBT+ inclusion work in UK schools last year, with another million pounds to be released in the coming year. Encouragingly there are now multiple providers undertaking this work utilising varying entry points, I worked with Show Racism The Red Card last year to deliver government funded training.This can ultimately only be beneficial to our young people -provided quality is maintained. It is also vital as we forge ahead as a nation with this journey that we take the time to reflect, to measure impact and to celebrate and disseminate not only examples of the kinds of work being undertaken in early years, primary, secondary, further education and faith schools settings, but also to highlight the positive impact upon young people's mental health and well-being, attendance, attainment and achievement.
Three million pounds however (whilst a welcome starting point) is merely a drop in the ocean compared to the size of the problem that still exists in our schools and communities. Government funds must be set aside each and every year and a national strategy developed for consistent initial teacher training. We must also remain mindful of those young people, teachers and parents are right now be being taught in schools to 'say the right thing' about LGBT+ people, whilst still retaining covert prejudicial behaviours and viewpoints. As educators and communities we must now work harder at developing greater empathy and engage in more open critique of gender roles and heteronormativity and harness the power of our intersections
It is also the time for us all, including the LGBT+ and non LGBT+ communities to be honest about our own prejudices and take greater responsibility for what comes out our mouths. There is enough darkness in the world about now, expending negative energy on one group of diverse human beings who we might not fully understand is quite honestly energy better invested elsewhere.
We are all in this together, yet there is much still to be done. If as parents and educators we uphold the Right to an Education for all young people (Article 28 UN Convention of Rights of the Child) then there can be no exceptions, no get outs just because a child happens to be LGBT+.
Three million pounds can never replace the countless nameless souls we have lost, both in the UK and around the world since formal education began, whose lives were terminally compromised by prejudice, discrimination and hate. It is to these people that I wish to dedicate my recent awards and honours, in addition to everyone who has invited me along to speak or supported my work.
This really is only just beginning; sadly we have so much to catch up on and we still have so very much more to do.