We were all in year 10 when the Diversity Group began, a name chosen to ensure both protection by anonymity and inclusion. Another girl and I approached the Head Teacher with a letter and met for an interview to discuss its opening. Right from that moment we had 100% support.
With our teacher's help, the meetings began, slowly at first while we work out our direction, but gaining momentum and members by the week. We share LGBT+ news stories, our personal stories and problems, songs that move us and ideas on how to move equality forward. We got louder and more confident and found strength in each other, and soon moved out of our cosy little room and into the wider school.
That first assembly was terrifying, standing in front of your peers, vulnerable and exposed. But the hall was silent, everyone’s eyes on the slideshow until the end, when we were met with applause. I told myself I could deal with the few looks and sniggers if it meant that someone else learnt something, or a questioning kid could look up and see someone like them and didn’t feel so alone.
Now we were known to the school, they’d seen us, and we were there. But the first time everyone was included was School Diversity Week. It was such a great opportunity for everyone to take an active role in celebrating diversity, because of the range of activities that were available. There was something for everyone. And I mean everyone; there were very few that didn’t participate in our non-uniform day.
Though the main emphasis was on the diversity and inclusion of peoples’ sexualities, we made sure to expand the reach to all, by encouraging them to find an aspect of themselves that they are proud of and want to share with others, especially if that quality wasn’t something they often got to show. This could have been religious or cultural attire, sports gear, book characters they loved, anything they wanted, and everyone was so creative and excited to find something unusual about themselves, which was exactly our goal.
People came to talk in classrooms for School Diversity week: Sarah Dollard, a writer for Doctor Who, poet Keith Jarrett, boxer Stacey Copeland, MP Paula Sherriff and swimmer Jonathan Booth all described the value of acceptance of LGBT+ people in their respective fields, among other interesting stories. These people, from different walks of life showed us not only are we capable of doing and being whatever we want, but also the sexuality and gender does not define us, but rather enrich us.
Outside of this week have been so many chances to reach new audiences with the group. We’ve been asked to train staff members of both secondary and primary schools on how to best support their LGBT students. We’ve given a lesson to every year 7 class and primary class about the basics, which they’ve told us was really interesting – they had a lot of questions, they really want to know this stuff. The Samaritans Listeners came on a Saturday to learn from what we had to say. ITV news came in to school to find out about our group during Diversity week, and we won the Stonewall Gold Award at the end of last year, helping set up and run this group is one of the things I am most proud of.
We are looking forward to our second Regional Diversity Conference on 10 March, where we have speakers from charities and supporting organisations talking to each other and anyone else that wants to come along. If anyone is interested in speaking or contributing, or knows someone else that would, we’re looking for people to help out, contact Just Like Us. Our next School Diversity Week is already being planned.
And even though I’ve left that school now and moved onto college, I intend to stay involved in its amazing work, because I’ve seen the difference it makes and am honoured to be a part.
Martha Hughes won the LGBT+ Student Champion award at the 2018 School Star Awards.