Last week, I asked a group of Year Seven students to close their eyes and raise their hand if they’d ever heard anything homophobic. I watched as hand after hand went up. "Now, open your eyes," I said. There was a ripple of audible surprise as they looked around. Almost every student had raised their hand.
In reality, they shouldn’t have been surprised. Growing up lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) remains unacceptably tough: 86% regularly hear homophobic remarks at school and 52% say that bullying has had an adverse effect on their plans for future education.
More schools are realising that tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying matters. The Department for Education and Ofsted's commitment to supporting and assessing how schools combat HBT bullying has been a vital part of this. However, we need to do more if we’re to ensure that every child can be themselves and realise their potential.
We’re talking about a lot of young people
If the average secondary school mirrored the UK population, you'd expect there to be at least 55 LGBT students at the school - almost two whole classes. When we ask teachers or pupils how many LGBT+ students they know, you can usually count them on one hand. That means dozens of students in each school are still hiding who they are.
For young people, not being able to be themselves at school impacts upon their performance and wellbeing. Half of LGBT have reported self-harming, and 44% have thought about suicide. But, creating an environment where LGBT+ young people feel able to be themselves doesn’t have to be difficult.
Be a role model
Growing up LGBT+ without a role model can be lonely and make coming to terms with who you are even harder. Our work connects students to role models they can immediately relate to: other young people, just a little bit older and a little bit wiser. We train young people to share their experience growing up LGBT+ in talks and workshops. They address the fears and anxieties many LGBT+ young people experience and empower straight students to champion LGBT+ equality.
But it's not just our ambassadors who can make an impact as role models. Everyone can be a role model. We need straight teachers and Headteachers to be role models as LGBT+ allies and support LGBT members to know they can be themselves at work.
Empower your students
It's easy to only engage with LGBT+ issues negatively - telling young people not to use the word gay negatively or not to be judgemental. Of course, reacting to bullying is critical, but we also need to educate young people to understand why LGBT+ equality matters and empower them to be allies.
Our national campaign, School Diversity Week (3-8 July 2018) will do just that. Our free resource pack support students to run events during the week that celebrates why LGBT+ equality matters. We enable them to use their talents - music, drama and sport - to send a positive message to LGBT+ young people that they should feel able to be themselves. In 2017, over 250,000 young people took part - a sure sign that we're heading in the right direction.
Whether you’re a teacher, headteacher, governor or pupil, you can be a role model. By championing LGBT+ equality and challenging prejudice, we can ensure LGBT+ young people live awesome lives and realise their potential at school and beyond.