Tris is a former Student Leader of a Pride Group in a school in Wolverhampton and was one of our 2020 LGBT+ Student Role Models of the Year. He has recently finished his studies and progressed to university.
As a young person who has just recently left school for university, it’s great to be able to look back on those seven years and see how big an impact our Pride Group has had on our school community and my fellow pupils. When I started my secondary school in Wolverhampton we didn’t have any LGBT+ club or Pride Group so I decided to change that. In Year 10 I approached my Head of Year to ask if I could start one. At first, I did everything by myself from organising what we talked about to even buying the Pride Flags we used for decoration. As we grew, I reached out to Just Like Us for support.
The support from Just Like Us was fantastic. From the training day to fortnightly resources, it has helped me to plan and deliver exciting content and gave me confidence to push for changes within our school. Winning their 2020 LGBT+ Student Role Model Award was a huge boost not only myself but to our whole group. It showed them being LGBT+ should never hold you back and was a real eye opener for the school that supporting LGBT+ pupils should be a priority.
I remember the first few months when there were just ten of us sitting having a chat in a science classroom or in the library. But soon word spread and we began to grow until eventually those rooms weren’t big enough. By the time I had left Year 13, we had to make use of a lecture theatre because of health and safety concerns over how many of us there were in one space! I’m very proud of not only how the group grew but the sense of belonging between its members and the opportunities we received from working with Just Like Us. We had people dip in and out but slowly we became a regular support group for LGBT+ pupils and allies in our school. I believe that our little group has helped change our school community for the better.
A whole school community
Three words which sum up our group are diversity, community and happiness. Our Pride Group was a mixture of all different pupils and experiences and that was a really big part of how we made it a success. No one in our group was judged and we worked together to make sure it was an open and relaxed environment. We are a diverse range of ages and identities - LGBT+ and allies, Year 7s and sixth formers.
That diversity was part of what made us a safe and happy ‘mini community’. Not only could we help one another when we needed it but because we had older and younger pupils together, a lot of Year 7s or 8s had someone they could look up to and rely on for advice and guidance. For many pupils, our Pride Group was a release to be themselves and be surrounded by others who had similar interests or experiences. When I attended Just Like Us’ training day, I really enjoyed hearing about other people’s experiences and what ideas they had that I hadn’t thought of before for my own group. It was great fun going back to my group and discussing ways in which the group could evolve from what I had learned from other people.
I’m really thankful that I was a Student Leader because it has given me a lot of life skills. For example, I used to be really nervous about public speaking. It was nerve wracking when every week I’d stand up and speak to the group, but after a while, it became normal - I even stood on stage and made a speech when I received my Student Role Model of the Year award last February!
So many of the skills I’ve developed from being a Student Leader are valuable to put on my CV and I can back them up with real examples. Being a Student Leader made me be organised every week, which in turn has made A-Levels, UCAS, managing my revision and preparing for mocks a lot easier because I am used to having to manage my time effectively.
As someone who had A-Levels going on at the same time as being a Student Leader, the fortnightly resources provided by Just Like Us were really helpful. If I had a really busy week, whether it was due to mocks, a lot of essays or university prep, I could easily access materials for our next meeting. The resources were both a timesaver and a great source of information - they helped everyone to get involved regardless of age. Lastly, they were a useful source of inspiration for me when designing and delivering anything myself.
Making changes at the top
Pride Groups make positive change across the school, as well as with the pupils who attend the weekly meetings.
During the Just Like Us training (see left), I had a lightbulb moment during a discussion about how one group can have a positive impact on the wider school community. This conversation helped me to feel comfortable to go back to school and make this happen.
A visible group is a sign to everyone that LGBT+ people are welcome in your community. I feel we helped to educate the wider school little by little. We made use of posters and display boards to spread positivity and I can remember writing little messages on Pride Flags and sticking them up for the first time - no one had ever done that before in our school - it felt like such a great step. As we were able to get our message across, it encouraged conversations. I’m proud that we did our bit to help non-LGBT+ pupils to learn more and my main message was always “you don’t have to be LGBT+ to come through that door and join us”.
Our group advocated for changes at a senior level in the school. We really pushed for policy shifts in how the school approached LGBT+ issues in class. We spoke to staff to encourage them to start to highlight LGBT+ voices in curriculum lessons. Originally, our school had only one Citizenship lesson on being LGBT+ but I worked with teachers to broaden that and we now have a lesson on gender which I helped to run for the first time with the Year 8s,
Last, but by no means least, we pushed for more staff understanding on LGBT+ topics to help everyone feel comfortable in school being themselves. There is now more understanding around preferred names and pronouns - how some young people may use one in school but not at home for example - and how this should be applied to everyone equally and not just to older, A-Level aged pupils.
I recently left secondary school and have moved on to university but our Pride Group will keep going without me because pupils value having a safe space to meet others just like them. We’ve been able to build and maintain our group to be a safe environment for pupils, helped by Just Like Us’ training and resources. The training session run by Just Like Us helped me become a better leader and it helped bring us closer together as a community in the school.
Even though I’ve left, I still feel a part of the community we helped to build and I think that is at the heart of what a good Pride Group is all about - keeping people up to date, maintaining links and knowing that the support of your fellow members goes beyond school. I know that the friends I made in the group are only a quick message away.