School Diversity Week is vital for children of LGBT+ parents like me
Martin Boyle, an LGBT+ parent and managing director of iCandy, sponsor of School Diversity Week, discusses why LGBT+ inclusion is so vital in primary schools.
School Diversity Week takes place every June across the UK. It is a celebration of LGBT+ equality, showing all young people that being LGBT+ is nothing to be ashamed of.
This year, more than 6,000 schools, including more than 2,400 primary schools, are signed up to take part in School Diversity Week (26 – 30 June).
Martin Boyle and his husband Graham have two children, Fallon and Kellan, and he told Just Like Us why LGBT+ inclusion in primary school has been essential for his family.
What was it like being LGBT+ at school when you were growing up?
Not so good. Ireland in the 1980s was certainly not gay-friendly and there was nowhere to turn to for advice or help.
There was a lot of shame associated with being gay, so I hid who I was for many years. Children can be unkind to each other, and I was often bullied for being different.
I used to dread going into school (both primary and secondary) and simply focused on my studies. Now a 50-year-old man, there are specific bullies I remember by name still to this day. My teachers had no literature or advice for helping me figure out who I was, and there was no opportunity to just be myself at school.
Did any of your experiences impact your feelings about your own children going to school?
Absolutely! It was one of the factors my husband and I talked about when we were considering having children.
My husband was also bullied at school, so we wanted to explore what it might be like for children of gay parents. We were concerned that if other children or parents found out that our children had two dads, they may be discriminated against, somehow, or bullied. I did have a conversation with our children when they were of school age about what other children might say, but I have to say we’ve actually experienced the opposite.
We met with the headteacher when we were choosing a school, and one of the main conversations we had was about school diversity. We were a little concerned that we were, as far as we know, the only gay parents with children attending the school. Although the school did not have a specific policy on LGBT+ issues, they were happy to be open and educate all years. Our children were treated the same as every other child, and were and still are invited to parties and sleepovers. However, understandably we are feeling a little bit more apprehensive about when they go to secondary school!
Why is School Diversity Week important?
School Diversity Week is important to me for several reasons.
Firstly, there needs to be more education around anti-LGBT+ language being used in the playground; even if young people are “joking”, or if it’s not directed at a specific student, this normalises negative language. Other children hearing this may form negative opinions about themselves or other children trying to find their place in school.
School Diversity Week supports all children’s mental health, no matter how they identify. It educates children who may not normally learn about these topics, and also helps children to educate their parents or extended family on the correct language to use. It exposes the older generation to the issues faced by the LGBT+ community, and helps parents and carers understand how they can better support young people through having open and honest conversations with their children about what they have learned that week and any feelings they have around the topic.
It also helps teachers and headteachers to become more aware of the issues children could face in school and highlights the need to be inclusive of everyone. iCandy is proud to be a sponsor as we ourselves are proud to support the LGBT+ community and our diverse extended family. We work with an increasing number of LGBT+ influencers, celebrities and parents and ensure they’re represented throughout our communications and platforms.
Quite often I speak to parents and they don’t know anyone gay other than my partner and I, or they use negative language, such as asking us: “Who’s the man and who’s the woman?” I feel that talking to children and young people about LGBT+ topics can only help society now and in the future to be more inclusive and open about every walk of life.
What would be your message to teachers or parents who feel nervous about LGBT+ inclusion in school?
To teachers, I would say that the children they teach are our future doctors, politicians, builders, footballers and, more importantly, parents. Therefore to me, one week a year to highlight LGBT+ issues doesn’t actually seem enough. However, if it’s only a week, this means we have to ensure it’s the most fun, optimistic and informative week and try to take moments from this week and thread it through the rest of the children’s academic lives.
To parents, I would say you are sending your children to school and trusting they will be educated and given opportunities to develop successful careers and progress in life. Please allow them to also to become educated in kindness and inclusivity towards the LGBT+ community, and teach them that to be ‘different’ is normal.
We all get one shot in life to be who we are, so inclusivity in our schools and communities is vital.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I am delighted to be working with Just Like Us. I remember how lonely it was to be gay when I was growing up, and I applaud Just Like Us for all the work they have done and continue to do to make the next little Martin, or any child of any minority group, feel less lonely and more part of the whole.
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