School Diversity Week lets young people know being LGBT+ is something they can talk about

This speech was delivered by Emma, a Just Like Us Ambassador, at a special reception in the Houses of Parliament, sponsored by JP Morgan

Thank you all for being here to celebrate the launch of this exciting week! My name is Emma and I’m an ambassador for Just Like Us. I am 21, I study Geography, I love Theatre, and I go into schools to talk about my experience growing up gay. And that’s what all Just Like Us’ ambassadors do, we go into schools and talk about our personal experiences of being LGBT+ and clear up any misconceptions people might have.

My school was a rural state school called Hartismere. It equipped me with an excellent academic education and a set of exam results that allowed me to pursue the further education and career I wanted to.

What I didn’t leave school with was the ability to fully be comfortable being myself. It is absolutely exhausting to censor everything you do and say, and is something no child should feel they have to do. I didn’t come out at school. Not because there was a significant homophobic presence, but because there was almost no conversation at all.

When I first started to question my sexuality at school, I thought... no. That’s not me. I’m not one of THOSE people. No-one I knew was one of THOSE people. If I really was one of THOSE people I’d have to make new friends, wear different clothes and change how I acted. What I didn’t realise was that there is no one way to be LGBT+ and that most of the time, people react very little when you come out. Most of my friends didn’t really care, though one said I had absolutely no choice in whether I get married or not as she insisted on being Maid of Honour at my ‘gay wedding’...

For all the help schools provide with academic and biological development, there is often little in place to support conversations about exploring one’s sexuality or gender. I went to school with the same people for 12 years. In environments where children have limited opportunity to meet new people, it is the responsibility of those around them to offer new and challenging perspectives of the world.

And that’s the opportunity I think school diversity week provides. Unintentionally, school environments can possess this stale aftertaste of Section 28 where being anything other than a cisgendered straight person is almost completely invisible and undesirable. School Diversity week opens up a much-needed conversation. Everyone whether LGBT+, non, or still figuring it out need to be able to talk about sexuality and gender in an open and respectful way.

So as well as supporting School Diversity Week, I hope you take its message into your own families and communities. Open up a conversation, let your children know that this is something they can talk about... with you, with their friends, with their teddy bears.

Thank you very much.

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