Over the past year, Josh and Elana have been helping to facilitate a Pride Group (an LGBT+ group) in St Olave's and St Saviour's Grammar School in Orpington. They are both Just Like Us ambassadors who have been supporting the school staff and student leaders coordinating the group.
Just Like Us aims to empower LGBT+ young people and raise awareness about how to be a great ally. As part of their Pride Groups programme, we went into a secondary school to support a group where students (LGBT+ and non-LGBT+ alike) can feel comfortable and confident being themselves, have a place to meet other people like them, learn about being LGBT+, and just have a safe place to have fun together. We worked with the group every fortnight, but they still met when we weren’t there. This meant that the students led the sessions themselves and took ownership of the group, but we were still there to support them every other week.
When planning a session, we always asked ourselves the question: will this be fun, and can it be adaptable on the day? We were never short of things to do. We ran quizzes, hosted a lip sync battle, watched an LGBT+-focused film while decorating cookies, had a Christmas party, and never forgot the all-important snacks (including gluten free and vegan options). In our more reflective weeks, we had some in depth discussions about ‘realness’ and gender performativity, a Trans+ awareness week, and told our coming out stories.
The group had over twenty members, thanks to students and staff getting the word out. While it can be nerve-wracking to publicise an LGBT+ group, it really will help grow the group and make it fun the more people know about it. We found that the most successful ways to publicise the group were through assembly announcements and emails to the students inviting them along. As for the location, we found it was best to meet in a room a bit out of the way, to make sure people felt safe coming to the sessions without outing themselves to the whole school if they weren’t ready. We operated a ‘what happens in Pride Group stays in Pride Group’ policy, although a teacher was always present to follow up on any safeguarding concerns.
We were surprised how quickly the students felt able to open up. To help make people comfortable, we were ourselves open from the very beginning, sharing our own stories in the first session. By the second session, the students were engaging in deep discussions about trans+ issues, even telling anecdotes from their own lives. By our coming out stories session, the students were eager to share their stories, knowing that the group would be welcoming and open.. This session is one which we will never forget. Their stories were diverse and inspiring, and we were impressed by their explanations of how they were able to come out to others as soon as they had come out to themselves.
The students told us that the more awareness created in the school, the more the homophobic, biphobic and transphobic environment decreased. The group were always working to change things in the school like the school uniform, which they tried to make less gender specific (and more inclusive of LGBT+, and gender nonconforming students in general). They also planned and delivered a successful LGBT+ assembly for their whole school, and through these measures, have felt their school has become a safer and more open place.
Leading a Pride Group has helped us build so many skills: leadership, listening, planning, public speaking, teaching, and just becoming more empathetic and caring people. It truly is an invaluable experience. As for those in the group, they had a safe space to socialise with LGBT+ people and allies, to be themselves, and speak more articulately and confidently about their identities. Starting a Pride Group at your school will be a fantastic experience for you and everyone involved in it! It will help LGBT+ people and the school as a whole to become a more accepting and loving place, and - we promise - the sessions will soon become your favourite part of the week.
Are you interested in setting up a Pride Group at your school or college? Let us know and we may be able to support you.