Recently another pupil asked me “Why do we even need this diversity week?”
The simple answer, to me, is that our school should try to to help normalise different sexualities and gender identities. Secondary school is the time where identity is discovered and questioned, so by supporting different paths, my school helps pupils feel safe and comfortable with how they identify. The school has not done anything like this in the past, so it’s time now. Sadly, so many people in the UK still believe these paths are wrong. This deeply upsets me. I don't understand why some people are so full of hate that they have to project it onto people who are just trying to be happy. Why should someone's preferences affect their lives?
To tell you a bit about my school: firstly, it’s in the countryside. We are based in Cumbria in the outskirts of the Lake District. I still find the attitudes to LGBTQ+ people negative, and hearing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic abuse is common. In fact, some students even said they might be taken out of school for the week (although this didn’t happen in the end).
Dallam School has supported me to help establish Diversity Week in our community. We organised bake sales, movie viewings and a non-uniform rainbow day to help raise money. There were meetings with the Deputy Head, as well as the sixth form student leadership team and their deputies, where we established how to best educate pupils and show them that the LGBTQ+ community is to be supported and protected.
I created a presentation for the staff briefing on Thursday morning on how to make lessons and the community in Dallam more inclusive for different communities. Then I worked on a performance for assembly with some other students in order to help the pupils see the importance of supporting the LGBTQ+ community, showing the treacherous past of homophobia, conversion therapy and the journey made through the Stonewall riots, decriminalisation and same sex marriage. We did this to show that Diversity Week is a time to celebrate, recognising steps towards normalising differences and working for equality.
I also made a presentation for each class to be shown to help them understand the meaning of the pride flag, a summary of key statistics on LGBT+ mental health, and information about where in the world homosexuality is still illegal or punishable by death. I hoped that other students would realise the history of being marginalised that the LGBTQ+ community has had to deal with, and that we are still dealing with today. I hoped that they would realise the change isn't going to just magically happen - it needs to start with them.
It was only fifty years ago that the Stonewall Riots took place. Fifty years ago that people chose to stand against what they were told to do, and decided that they deserved to be treated with dignity. I am proud to say that I have been an activist and helped make the week happen in my school. When I was sent the explanation about what Just Like Us is doing and our school’s plans for the week, I was crying and shaking reading it through. It is so necessary to make these steps. Some people may not approve or actively work against it, but I feel so much joy being able to say I am part of this step, this advancement, this movement in our school.
Some students decided to protest against the measures being put in place to keep LGBT+ people in our school community safe, so there is definitely still a long way to go. People have told me that there is only one sexuality (heterosexuality) and that they don’t recognise other sexualities. But I am hoping the school will allow me to continue trying to help, because we can already see the positive changes.
When I was putting up Just Like Us’s posters, I’d just put up one saying 'bisexuality is normal'. A student who I know is bisexual walked over to me with a giant grin on her face, and couldn't stop telling me how happy she was. Even when some people pulled down the posters, I saw other people going trying to help put them back up. One girl came and high-fived me when she saw what I was doing and said 'I'm glad, it's finally time.' These are people this week is most important to, and I'm happy because of them. Over time I hope we will see that School Diversity Week has made even more of a difference and impacted the way students think and treat others.
Where are we going from here? Next year I will lead an LGBT+ group in our school, and I can’t wait to create an even safer and more accepting environment for everyone.