The annual month of pride comes around and it can be a difficult one for school and system leaders to tackle. The will is there, so what’s the best way? How can LGBTQ+ inclusivity be approached effectively and sensitively with staff, and with children and young adults?
In this article, David Weston, Teacher Development Trust’s co-CEO (Innovation & Research), draws on his experience as a founder of an LGBTQ+ teacher community, a trainer for LGBTQ+ school leaders and as a campaigner for LGBTQ+ rights. TDT is a national charity that supports schools to tap into the power of school improvement through people development, inclusive of all.
It’s worth reflecting first that while parties and celebrations are often the visible part, this month is an annual moment to focus all of humanity’s mind on what we still need to do to remove barriers, decrease inequality and create greater inclusion for all people who fit under the LGBTQ+’s broad rainbow. Even here in the UK, pride matters:
- Because countless LGBTQ+ individuals are still subjected to conversion therapies that attempt to erase their identity, and the government’s promises to deal with this remain unfulfilled.
- Because LGBTQ+ children are much less likely to receive proper relationship and sex education that helps them navigate their lives
- Because many LGBTQ+ youth are at a higher risk of homelessness due to family rejection.
- Because LGBTQ+ people often face discrimination in healthcare, leading to worse health outcomes.
- Because transgender individuals are often denied their right to self-identify and face additional barriers in accessing legal and medical support.
- Because LGBTQ+ individuals still face significant barriers in the workforce, including wage gaps and discrimination.
- Because LGBTQ+ history is often overlooked or omitted in education, leaving many unaware of the community’s contributions, rich heritage and ongoing struggles.
- Because suicide rates among LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately high, which speaks to the urgent need for societal acceptance and support.
- Because many countries around the world still criminalise homosexuality, and LGBTQ+ individuals face persecution and violence, whether as citizens or even as visitors.
There has, of course, been a huge amount to celebrate as well. Pride marches and celebrations now are also a joyful and colourful reminder of the progress made. The ability to legally live freely, to love who you want, to marry, to have children – all these things represent such extraordinary progress. But no matter how far things have come, there are always hurdles that others won’t face. The emerging sense through childhood of feeling different, the attitudes of some groups and traditions that range from making LGBTQ+ people feel unwelcome all the way to genuine fear for their lives.
As a leader, making sure that staff and young people feel included is not just a moral imperative, it has genuine advantages. When adults or children feel afraid to be honest about their lives, constantly policing how they look, what they say or how they react in case they give something away, it affects their performance, their learning, their wellbeing. When workplaces and classrooms feel inclusive, open, with a celebration of difference, it allows everyone to give their best.
Here’s 5 actions that every leader can take:
- Policy Review and Implementation: School leaders should ensure that policies are inclusive of LGBTQ+ people. This includes anti-bullying policies, codes of conduct, dress codes, and any other rules or regulations. It should include the way that the school recruits and supports staff and pupils. These policies should explicitly mention protections for LGBTQ+ individuals and should be enforced consistently.
- Staff Training: Provide regular training for all staff on LGBTQ+ issues, ensuring they understand the importance of inclusive language, the challenges that LGBTQ+ students and staff may face, and how to address discriminatory behaviour. This knowledge will help them to create a more supportive environment for LGBTQ+ students and staff.
- Student & Staff Support Services: Establish or strengthen support services for LGBTQ+ staff and students. This could include setting up an LGBTQ+ Alliance (or similar group), providing counselling services with counsellors who are trained in LGBTQ+ issues, and ensuring that health and sex education classes are inclusive of LGBTQ+ experiences.
- Promote Visibility and Awareness: Celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month, participate in Pride events, and integrate LGBTQ+ history and contemporary issues into the curriculum. This helps to normalise LGBTQ+ identities and experiences and can contribute to a more inclusive school culture.
- Engage with the Wider Community: School leaders should communicate with parents, carers and the wider community about the school’s commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion. This can help to build a supportive environment not only within the school but also in the students’ lives outside of school.
Together, we learn and we evolve. If you would like to explore how TDT can help your school or trust to embed a thriving, research led culture of professional development that sticks, please get in touch.
LGBTQ+ is an umbrella acronym that includes people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Queer (or sometime Questioning) and the plus indicates that it encompasses all other related communities around gender and sexuality, including those who are Intersex, Non-binary, Asexual, Aromantic, Pansexual and more.