People are often shocked when I say I've suffered parental school gate bullying as a gay dad. And every so often I get challenged on why I feel there is a need to promote LGBT and LGBT family inclusion. The perception remains that LGBT rights have come a long way and that events such as gay pride or International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) are unnecessary. I agree that LGBT rights have come a long way, but having rights does not equate to acceptance and inclusion in society at large. You'll note I have not used the word 'tolerate'; tolerance is for bad TV and poor service in a restaurant; not for LGBT people and families.
LGBT rights are protected under the UK's Equality Act 2010 which provides a consolidated source of discrimination law. When it comes to schools, there are clear statutory obligations to eliminate discrimination, advance equality and to foster good relations among students.
As a parent, I work hard at teaching my son about the wonderful diversity in our world and to accept and embrace difference as a positive. But the reality is that he spends most hours during his formative years in a school environment taught by educators who may not see the world from as inclusive a perspective as I do. Whether we are parents or not, we all need schools to have an ethos and culture of dignity and fairness where children learn to respect and accept differences and to become good citizens respecting human rights. I would have thought no case needs to be made for that.
I am excited about a first of its kind resource being made available to parents and carers to assist them in assessing a school's commitment to diversity and inclusion. Inclusion Matters is a guide that provides background on English state and independent schools' statutory obligations under the Equality Act and explains how these schools are formally assessed on diversity by Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate. The guide shows how case law supports parents and carers having a voice in shaping a school's commitment to diversity and more importantly inclusion.
The guide's launch was recently featured in mainstream UK press given the guide is useful to all parents or carers who seek an inclusive and diverse educational environment, not just those who are LGBT. If a school has been successful at LGBT inclusion, it will likely be successful at other strands of diversity (such as gender, race or religion) which have been part of the school curriculum for longer than sexuality.
Reader commentary on the article reminded me how far we have still to go in making our world accept diversity. One reader criticised LGBT inclusion practices for indoctrinating children to believe same-sex orientation is the norm, another that promoting inclusion is repulsive, and a third that children should not be brainwashed. As a gay dad, the most upsetting comments were those promoting the message that same sex couples cannot be 'parents' given a heteronormative view that a family requires a man and a woman.
I say LGBT family inclusion is not about sexual education; it's not teaching children about the birds and the bees; it is about teaching that families come in different shapes and sizes and accepting that families are about love, care and trust. Being a family has nothing to do with having one mother and one father. With 20,000 dependent children being raised by same sex families in the UK, and over 1.25 million people in the UK identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or other, LGBT and LGBT family inclusion matters. And in fact, it is required by law. So, while people like me have rights, that is not enough.
Acceptance and inclusion has a long way to go and that is why we continue to need events such as gay pride and IDAHOT. Most importantly, we need to ensure that the next generation is learning early on to embrace difference as a positive; children are remarkably open minded, and just need to be armed with the right, truthful information. Teaching children in schools to accept inclusion isn't a nice to have - it's the law, and parents should feel empowered to stand up and demand it. The end result can only be a generation with less hate and bullying.
Inclusion Matters is a free informational resource available in e-book format here. Written by educators, educational specialists, consultants, diversity practitioners and parents, it offers practical questions in an easy-to-use checklist format to help empower parents and carers to consider and discuss diversity and inclusion in a school environment. The guide is a joint publication of P3:Proud.Professional.Parents and Diversity Role Models, with the support and guidance of lead educational consultant Helen Semple.