SEND students deserve LGBT+ inclusive education too

by Charlie Middleton
July 2022

Ambassador Charlie Middleton

SEND students deserve LGBT+ inclusive education too – as a trans man who is also autistic, I wish there was more understanding of this.

You might not have thought about students in SEND schools possibly being LGBT+. However, we know from research that LGBT+ disabled people of course exist.

Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity, is trying to close that gap by helping schools to be more inclusive. We need to reach disabled LGBT+ young people who are often very underrepresented. 

SEND students deserve LGBT+ inclusive education too

No LGBT+ person should ever have to face anti-LGBT+ attitudes – whether they are SEND students or not.

In fact, SEND students may well face more challenges, which is exactly why we need to take an intersectional approach to the ways we approach education too.

That’s exactly why, as a Just Like Us ambassador, I volunteer to speak in schools about my experiences as a LGBT+ and autistic person.

Speaking in a SEND school

The first time I did a school talk was in an SEND school and it was one of my most treasured experiences yet. It was in a rural part of Wales and LGBT+ education was limited there. 

Teachers at the school were so welcoming and grateful that we’d reached out to them and expressed how vital this type of education was.

Charlie Middleton on SEND students
SEND students deserve LGBT+ inclusive education too, says Charlie Middleton

The talk was all the more personal and relatable because many of the young people didn’t often get opportunities to meet other LGBT+ people.

Pupils were welcoming and very intuitive. It’s an experience I will never forget. The students listened attentively and also learnt a lot about allyship. 

The mountains that surrounded the school made it such a picturesque place and their kindness really made me feel welcome. I felt empowered as a trans man, and I could relate to some of the students with having autism, too. 

SEND students felt ’empowered’

Most importantly, the students felt empowered to open up, ask questions and support their LGBT+ peers. 

It was clear that the students had learnt a lot from the talk, and they had a much better understanding of communities that some of them didn’t know much about. 

Not only were the pupils inspired to become better allies, their knowledge around being LGBT+ was strengthened. I was so glad to hear the impact went beyond just that one day. 

Following our talk, the school started running their own Pride Group and said they wanted to celebrate School Diversity Week every year.

It is those types of experiences that have made me feel more positive every day. Not only do school talks benefit the students, but they also benefit the ambassadors who deliver the talks.

LGBT+ inclusive education creates safer environments for SEND students to be themselves. It also allows them to see themselves reflected in their learning. Plus, it helps students to better understand the diversity of the world around them. 

Disabled LGBT+ role models

Growing up with little positive representation, especially those also with disabilities like mine, I struggled immensely. Everyday felt like waking up to a battlefield, and school was where it hit most. 

I had no role models, but I knew that by volunteering for Just Like Us, I would be able to be that role model that I desperately needed throughout school. 

The support that the students had at this school from peers and teachers was so encouraging and really made my heart melt. 

SEND students need a safe, accepting place to learn

For some students, school is the one of the safe haven’s that allow them to escape certain aspects of their lives. If it is not somewhere they feel welcome or comfortable, then where are young people supposed to feel safe?

Feedback that I had received from the school students was overwhelmingly optimistic. It gave me hope that other SEND schools and small rural villages can progress in such a constructive way. 

Being an ally does not just apply to able bodied people, it applies to everyone.

Small steps towards creating a brighter and better future for LGBT+ people is the way forward. 

Now when I deliver a school talk, I always think back to this experience. I feel so positive thinking about how more school students now understand how to be LGBT+ allies. 

To help build strong allies, and proud LGBT+ people, we need positive reinforcement and fully inclusive education.

Being an ally does not just apply to able bodied people, it applies to everyone.

Work in a SEND school?

Just Like Us provides school talks – like Charlie’s – as well as a Pride Groups programme and free resources as part of School Diversity Week.