Breaking the LGBT+ legacy of silence

My mission to make the school I work in LGBT+ inclusive was sparked by these simple questions from a pupil in a lesson I was covering: “Miss, are you gay?”, and, “How did you first know?”

For many teachers of my generation who grew up in the shadow of Section 28, we would never have dreamt of asking this question, knowing even the most sympathetic of teachers would be reduced to an awkward silence. Being LGBT+ wasn’t something you talked about. Ever.

Even when I began teaching in 2009, long after the repeal of Section 28, there seemed to be a legacy of silence around the mention of LGBT+ wellbeing or rainbow families. So in the interests of the emotional wellbeing of the pupils at school, as well as their desire to express their identities, I founded a group where anyone with a protected characteristic or who was an ally could meet for support and to reach out to the school community.

Our school group, “S.H.I.E.L.D.” (Supporting Hellesdon’s Inclusion, Equality, Love and Diversity) run a host of events to mark LGBT History Month, we are Stonewall School Champions, attend our local Pride and of course participate in School Diversity Week. With an emphasis on student voice, the pupils take on much of the responsibilities around planning activities and speaking as ambassadors for the LGBT+ school community.

This year for School Diversity Week we:

  • Ran a Pride bookmark design competition

  • Sold rainbow cakes and biscuits in our school canteen

  • Screened the film Love, Simon

  • Put up new displays in the library and SHIELD HQ with suggested reading material and helpful numbers for local charities and youth groups

  • Signed pledges, promising to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language when we hear it

  • Created a special film featuring staff and students stating why Pride and diversity are important to us

So far this year, School Diversity Week has prompted questions from pupils around the impact of the language they use and the negative potential consequences in deciding to use homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language. We’ve also talked about how LGBT+ rights and protective laws vary between countries, which shocked some pupils because they hadn’t realised that sometimes LGBT+ have to carefully select travel destinations to ensure they stay safe!

It has been gratifying to see how many staff have expressed an interest in supporting the ethos of the week and have talked to each other about the challenges they’ve faced so far. For example, a member of staff sought advice from me and others on how to handle resistance from a minority of pupils to taking part in School Diversity Week.

But for most, there's no opposition: the words interspersed throughout this blog are the voices of students and staff at Hellesdon High School on what School Diversity Week means to them.

You can find out more about the work of SHIELD at Hellesdon High School on our blog.

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