One of the things I enjoy most about being the Children’s Commissioner for England is meeting hundreds of children, from all parts of the country with all sorts of different backgrounds. Every child I talk to has a different story to tell, because every child’s life experience is different, and every child just wants to be themselves.
When I speak to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people, many of them tell me that while they know society’s attitudes have changed in recent years, they still find it really hard growing up LGBT. Sadly, for far too many, bullying and discrimination is still a regular and unhappy part of their school life.
I have heard from LGBT students about how homophobic remarks at school or college can cause them hurt, affect their confidence and even lead them to question who they are. Coping with homophobic bullying is even more difficult if there are no role models who have experienced similar things when they were growing up. That is why the brilliant support and advice teachers and pupils provide during School Diversity Week is so important – and why I am a strong supporter of the work of Just Like Us.
Having support as a young person comes to terms with their sexuality can make an enormous difference - not only to their childhood but also to their adult life. LGBT students have told me that having people around them who can ‘normalise’ their sexuality by talking about their own experiences can be a really formative experience. It can help someone to grow up feeling happy and positive about who they are.
I want every young person growing up in this country to feel that they are an equal part of society. That means not only providing support, but also raising awareness, changing attitudes and challenging homophobia wherever it appears. Teaching children tolerance and to respect diversity needs to be happening in every school, and not only during School Diversity Week.
The young people I met at the launch of School Diversity Week were inspiring, brave and proud of the fantastic work as ambassadors for Just Like Us. They know how important their role is to other children - often through their own experience. I would encourage anyone who needs more support to get in touch with Just Like Us and I am sure that this year’s School Diversity Week will build on the success of last year’s activities.
Anne Longfield OBE is the Children’s Commissioner for England