It goes without saying that this has been a tough year for everyone but it has been particularly isolating for LGBT+ young people.
When the pandemic began, we immediately knew that Just Like Us needed to respond in a way that puts LGBT+ young people first, who were cut off from their usual support networks. I knew our Ambassador Programme and Pride Groups communities would be really important in enabling young people to stay connected and that our School Diversity Week campaign needed to go ahead. We immediately prioritised making all of our programmes available digitally. Despite the challenging circumstances, this was more successful than we initially believed possible.
With just two months to go until School Diversity Week – our annual celebration of LGBT+ inclusion in schools and colleges across the UK – we moved everything online.
Our Director of Education, Emma Fay, introduced digital masterclasses to deliver three daily online classes that were watched over 10,000 times within the first week, we updated our safeguarding measures to align with online delivery, and had fantastic feedback from educators about our online resources and lesson plans.
Despite restrictions brought about by coronavirus, including partial closures of schools, sign-up numbers for School Diversity Week exceeded those of 2019. Two-thirds of schools that signed up to take part had not engaged with Just Like Us previously.
Once the dust had settled we had engaged with schools representing 1.97 million young people - a 30% increase on the previous year.
I’m delighted to say that, in 2020, 40 new schools have signed up for our Pride Groups programme. This means that in 40 schools from Cornwall to Durham, young LGBT+ people and allies will now have safe, welcoming spaces to socialise, support each other and share ideas on how to make their schools more inclusive environments.
We’ve also begun virtual school talks and just finished training a new 2020 cohort of over 130 ambassadors from across the UK. Our Director of Volunteering, Taz Rasul, redesigned our training sessions for LGBT+ young people so that our 2021 cohort of ambassadors still could meet and learn from each other and LGBT+ community leaders – all in a digital environment. This means that they will also have access to mentoring and a network of community support that we hear time and time again is invaluable to their self-confidence and sense of belonging.
It's been an incredibly tough time for educators. At the beginning of this period we were unsure as to whether they would have the time to prioritise LGBT+ inclusion work during this period. We are happy to say these worries were unfounded. School staff rightly understood the need to ensure that LGBT+ young people – who may suffer disproportionately from being separated from their support networks and friends – needed support during this time.
The commitment of school staff in delivering that support and making education more inclusive is something both we and countless young people are incredibly grateful for.
At Just Like Us we know how important inclusive education is to pupil wellbeing so we’re enormously grateful to all the educators who have continued to organise school talks with us, signed up to our Pride Groups programme and kept conversations on this important subject going through a tough year.
On behalf of all the Just Like Us team, I would like to thank everyone who has signed up to School Diversity Week, got in touch to book a school talk, volunteered their time, donated, taken part in our #YoungerMe campaign, which even trended top on Twitter, and showed your support. Thank you!