Farewell LGBT History Month 2013 - how quickly it seemed to pass. I must confess that I have always held certain reservations about these themed days, weeks and months, especially when applied to educational settings. I would much rather see schools be required to offer fully embedded inclusive curriculums representing heritage and diversity each and every day of the year. However I fully appreciate the need for focused high profile opportunities to raise awareness and to celebrate the achievements of people who others have sadly chosen to deny, ignore or at worst smash down as a result of their own fear of difference. It was an absolute joy to see so many great people and organisations doing so many wonderful things to celebrate LGBT History Month. Well done to Sue Sanders and all concerned.
I attended and was privileged to speak at a number of history month events this year, ranging from police events to lectures at teacher training establishments.
Two recurring debates particularly stood out for me.
Firstly were the varying objections to use of the initialism 'LGBT' from a number of people who identify as Queer, Questioning and Intersex who felt sadly precluded. At one event I was speaking at an 'LGBT' history month event, run by an 'LGBTQ' group, yet there were Intersex attendees in the audience who felt rightly ignored.
It is not uncommon for me to get queried on own use of 'LGBT' by those abroad who use 'GLBT' or 'LGBTQ' or 'LGBTQI' so I always try to stress that the name of my initiative is 'Inclusion For ALL.'
Reaction to the inclusion of an abbreviation for Transpeople varies as well; the placing of 'T' in 'LGBT' causes offence to some Trans people I have met, as can placing it separately as in 'LGB and T' as it serves to separate Trans people. Of course there remain some LGB groups who prefer not to include Trans at all, which I think is a shame. It is not hard to see why Trans and Intersex people have to strive so hard to fight their corner and be represented and celebrated.
Of course none of these debates about initialisms are new (and the fact that we are still having them makes me wonder if we will ever find consensus) but the fact that they were so focussed on labels really made me think about how I prefer to be represented. Increasingly I am known as 'that gay teacher' rather than Shaun, and this has happened for a reason, but it does not (I hope) define me. I chose to identify as 'gay' because it provides me with a common point of reference to explain to other people that I was born preferring men to women. Yet I have had girlfriends and sexual relationships with women, therefore should really I be labelling myself as bi-sexual? Others have implied that I should. However if my identity is 'Shaun' then why does it matter anyway?
And what of the ladies in my lovely old village back in the Midlands, both widowed after many happy years of marriage and then boasting about their fantastic relationship together in the pub over Sunday lunch. 'We're not lesbians' they would chortle, 'we just know when it feels right and when it is good'.
Ladies I raise my glass to you, I know myself most truthfully as 'Shaun' because it feels right, any labels I stick on myself or have stuck on me are done so for the sake of mass public consumption and a kind of media shorthand.
It happen in schools too often as well, the 'special needs' child, the 'gifted and talented' child, the 'class clown', the 'low aspiration white working class free school meal' children; as practitioners we are forced into using labels every single day of our working life as it enables us to access funding and support and be answerable to OFSTED. So often I find myself saying 'Can we talk about individual children please' to education professionals who look at me as if I am from the planet Zog.
Aside from these debates around initialism and labels, I was also party to a number of high powered debates around the use of word 'phobia' in homophobia, transphobia etc.
Again there are many valid points to be made around what phobias are and what they are not and we could debate that for a very long time without actually changing anything.
Surely what matters, is the appalling fact that young children are being made to feel terrible and unsafe in their schools, communities and homes across the world and surely our energies are better spent striving to prevent this from happening. We can argue about labels, about word use and never reach a point where we agree -in the meantime how many more children have cut themselves or have seen their life chances impaired by fear, ignorance and hate? We all know what it looks like when children are horrible to other children, whatever label we give it we are surely better off spending time trying to prevent it happening in the first place.
So as I move forward into Spring, I find myself increasingly dropping 'LGBT' and 'GLBT' and 'LGBTQI' (all of which I really struggle to say anyway) and instead I look to that most colourful of symbols that many of us in Pride all around the world; the Rainbow.
Rainbow People in our schools should be free to be who they were born to be, without being made to feel bad about it or be damaged for it. If we can truly achieve this (yes it will take some time, but the Equality Act and current OFSTED framework are helping so we need rigorous action now) then maybe in the future our History Month truly will last 365 days.
So thanks for a wonderful month of celebration Rainbow People everywhere.
And before you say it- Rainbow People is merely another label, but I kind of like it anyway.
For whoever we are, and whoever we identify as,we can all stand under a rainbow with a smile and dream there is something truly lovely at the end of it.