Our LGBT+ club sends school leavers out into the world empowered and secure
Matthew Knowles is an English teacher at a London secondary school, where he facilitates a LGBT+ school club.
Just before our very first cohort of Year 13 students left to complete their A levels, some of them asked if we could have one final meeting of our LGBT+ school club.
Our LGBT+ Awareness Group is a lunchtime club, held every half-term, to support LGBT+ students and allies. The meetings are designed as safe spaces to raise awareness of issues around LGBT+ inclusion – and to eat lots of biscuits! Most of the Year 13 students who attend these meetings have been doing so since we first set them up, nearly 5 years ago. When we started running these lunchtime events, I’m not sure we quite understood the importance they would hold for students and staff across the school.
Our school opened seven years ago, so our first cohort of Year 13s leaving was always going to be a milestone.
Throughout their time with us, this year group have often been referred to as our “trailblazers”, and many of the LGBT+ students have really lived up to this moniker. Sadly, identifying as LGBT+, or even as an ally, in a British secondary school can still be a challenging and sometimes frightening prospect.
We have found that many of our students, even if they are out at home (and many aren’t), do not wish to be out at school because of the possible repercussions. Yet, despite this, students have made their way to our Awareness Group meetings every half term, even when friends have questioned why they were going; they have offered to take part in assemblies, even though they were worried they might be laughed at; they have helped create displays, even if they feared they might be vandalised. These students have even helped to deliver staff CPD training on what it is like to be an LGBT+ student at our school.
“All of the assemblies and lunchtime meetings helped me so much when I was in the younger year groups, sometimes surrounded by homophobia… The meetings have helped me, and so many other LGBT+ students, to feel more supported and less alone.”
— Year 13 pupil
In the final LGBT+ Awareness meeting for our Sixth Formers, many of them said that their confidence to be able to do these things came directly from knowing that they had support within the school; knowing that there was a safe space for them to discuss ideas and raise issues, and knowing that they were being listened to.
One Year 13 student said: “All of the assemblies and lunchtime meetings helped me so much when I was in the younger year groups, sometimes surrounded by homophobia… The meetings have helped me, and so many other LGBT+ students, to feel more supported and less alone.” This was echoed by another student, who said: “School has become a place where I don’t have to pretend not to be different, because of the effort that has been put into making it so inclusive.”
Being an out teacher in a school is not easy either; you can often be faced with the same prejudices and misconceptions as the students are. However, on hearing these comments from our founding cohort, we realised how worthwhile our LGBT+ Awareness programme was.
“If one student feels helped and supported, or less alone because of this programme… then you know it is all worthwhile.”
— Matthew Knowles, English teacher
It is easy to feel that you are sometimes swimming against the prevailing tide when it comes to LGBT+ rights in education, but when students say, “I will continue to advocate for LGBT+ rights in the future, thanks to the influence of these meetings”, and are positive about their futures, be that university or the workplace, then you do feel that progress is being made.
If one student feels helped and supported, or less alone because of this programme; if one new member of staff sees a Pride flag on a noticeboard and feels that this is a safe environment to work in; if one parent sees a display at an open evening and knows that their child will be respected and cared for, then you know it is all worthwhile.
As we begin the new school year, I would strongly encourage school staff to consider running an event or setting up a LGBT+ club in their school, even though it might feel challenging to do so. You will almost certainly find that there are many other colleagues who feel the same as you and want to get involved.
And if, like us, you see your Year 13 students leaving for their futures with a confidence to continue to advocate, and a sense that their identities are valid and respected in the world, then you know that there will be a lasting benefit not only to your school, but to your entire community.
Just Like Us’ Pride Groups programme is a national network of lunchtime or after school clubs in secondary schools, helping you run your new or existing LGBT+ school club with tailored support and ready-to-go resources.