Our ambassador Malik delivered this speech at the parliamentary launch of School Diversity Week 2019 , at Speaker's House in Parliament.
Thank you all for being here to help celebrate the launch of School Diversity Week 2019, and thanks Taz and Tim for asking me to speak today!
My name is Malik, and I’m an Ambassador for Just Like Us.
According to a recent study commissioned by JLU, only 51% of LGBT+ young people feel optimistic about their future. School Diversity Week is here to show these young people that there is a light at the end of a sometimes seemingly long and dark tunnel.
I started volunteering with Just Like Us in October 2018, and the past 9 months have been nothing short of eye-opening. I’ve had the opportunity to go into secondary schools to deliver assemblies and workshops that champion LGBT+ equality, I’ve spoken on the radio about the backlash to the ‘No Outsiders’ programme and how it is damaging to LGBT+ young people and to the reputation of the Muslim community, and I sat down and shared my coming out story on camera, which is something I’d never even imagined I’d be saying out loud.
From what I’ve experienced, seen, and heard, growing up LGBT+ can be anywhere from a walk in the park to an uphill struggle - and for many of us (including myself) I know the latter to be true. When you’ve grown up hearing ‘gay’ being associated with the lesser, it’s difficult to think of yourself in any other way. At the start of secondary school, I didn’t even know what ‘gay’ or ‘LGBT+’ meant, but from my first day onwards for the next 5 years, I was asked if I was - and not out of curiosity either, in a mean-spirited way in which the only acceptable answer I could’ve given was ‘no’.
I'm sure this won't come as a shock, but as an LGBT+ person of colour, I often don't see people like myself represented well in our community or in the media, the same can be said for gay women, asexual, trans, bisexual, and non-binary people,
to name a few.
The only exposure I had to LGBT+ people as a young person was the melodramatic ‘coming out’ storylines in soap operas, in which families were torn apart and lives were ruined. This can make it difficult for LGBT+ young people to see a positive future for themselves, especially if they’re already from a minority background. Just Like Us is working to show young people that this is not the case. By diversifying its team of volunteers, JLU is providing students with a multitude of positive role models of different sexual orientations, gender identities, ethnicities, and faith backgrounds, something that would’ve helped me immeasurably at school.
Because of CEO Tim Ramsey’s vision for Just Like Us, and the work of educators like Andrew Moffat - who pioneered the ‘No Outsiders’ Programme - schools and the government are finally beginning to see that our stories matter.
The first school I visited as a Just Like Us ambassador was Cedar Mount Academy in Manchester. I was slightly terrified because I was half-expecting the experience to not be so different from what I remember at school, but I was pleasantly surprised. Myself and the two ambassadors I was working with were shown to our first workshop, and the corridor was showered with pride flags and posters that celebrated LGBT+ diversity in the school - I was assured they weren’t put there just because we were visiting. This was the first of many times throughout the day that I could’ve burst into happy tears. These young people were so engaged and intrigued by what we were teaching them; they asked questions about our ‘coming out’ stories, they created posters informing other pupils how to be good LGBT+ allies, and they even inquired about creating pride groups in the school.
Thankfully, we’re far past the days of Section 28, meaning that Just Like Us’ School Diversity Week can flourish. But because of that, people have begun to ask “why do we still need pride?” Even today, we have politicians, parents, and the BBC ‘debating’ whether or not teaching children that we exist is ‘morally right’; LGBT-phobic hate crimes in the UK have doubled in the past 5 years; and a Just Like Us study has discovered that 85% - almost 9 in 10 - LGBT+ young people have experienced anxiety or depression.
But it doesn’t have to be this way forever. School Diversity Week is providing schools and colleges with the tools to allow young people to see beyond labels, to bust stereotypes, and to see that there is more that unites us than divides us. It’s creating an environment in which young people of any sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression can feel safe and thrive.