It’s OK to be Happy and Gay in School

I am a Laughologist who happens to be gay. So yes, I am doubly happy! Life is one long Mardi Gras for me full of music, gaiety and laughter. Actually it’s not that far from the truth, I suppose. I’m generally a happy person and I do wear sequins often, however if you sit in my reserved seat on the train, or your customer service resembles an episode of faulty towers then you may feel my steely glare.

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I have been watching the ‘Safe Schools’ project debate in Australia unfurl with a vested interest as me, my wife and the kids are off to Oz for a family holiday very soon. I was a little surprised and worried to hear that some members of the Australian government don’t view this LGBTI project as worthwhile and some even consider it to be damaging. Their results suggest otherwise.  ‘Safe Schools’ has saved lives and contributed positively to the mental health and wellbeing of LGBTI students in Victoria.

You just need to read the passionate article written by one of the authors of the ‘All of Us’ anti-bullying campaign, part of ‘Safe Schools’.   Written in response to the previous Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott referring to the program as “social engineering”.

Should I be worried that my kids are going to get bullied in Australia if other kids at the park notice they’ve got two Mums? We have only had one tiny incident at school here so far which the school Head teacher responded to immediately. Though my eldest daughter (nine) still tells me the word ‘gay’ is still frequently used in the playground as a negative.

I recently trained with the UK organisation ‘Diversity Role Models’ who do excellent work in schools “to actively seek to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying in UK schools.”

We visited one primary school recently, having open discussions with young people about all the different families that exist in our communities whether that be gay parents, single parents, extended families or nuclear families. The children felt confident to ask me who gets called ‘Mum’ in our house, and how do our children feel about us being gay.

Confidence and creating positive relationships are vital skills all children have the potential to be equipped with. Teaching such skills are vital to being able to deal with the variety of relationships you come across as you grow up.  As a school it essential your team, children and parents have a good awareness of how to manage questions that will come up about relationships and as a team you are aware of our unconscious bias and how to tackle it

To help your school understand more about talking positively about LGBTI issues follow these simple steps:

1Appoint someone as a point of contact for young people, parents, teachers and the wider community.  Ensure that person has the right knowledge, training and tools to be able to help and educate others as well as further information and helplines for people who need extra help.

2Make sure everyone including children are aware of the right way to talk about LGBTI.  Use policies and guidelines to highlight the need for this work:

Stonewall - The School Report (2012) - Extensive survey highlighting the issue of  homophobia in our schools.

Ofsted - No Place for Bullying (2012) - Guidelines for schools on tackling bullying, specifically mentioning homophobic bullying.

National Union of Teachers - Prevalence of Homophobia Survey (various) - These surveys have been undertaken in many areas, check to see if one has been done where you are.

DCSF Safe to Learn (2007) - Clear guidance from the government about what schools and  local authorities should and can be doing about bullying.

The Equality Act (2010) - The law which bans unfair treatment and helps achieve equal opportunities in the workplace and in wider society. This may mean that where schools are    not adequately addressing bullying, they may be breaking the law. Both sexual orientation    and gender reassignment are listed as two of the nine “protected characteristics”.

Repeal of Section 28 (2003) - This controversial law that stated that local authorities may not “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” was repealed in 2003 and therefore cannot be used as    a reason not to do this work..

3Use real stories and real people to help people and children understand more about diversity in relationships and gender.  There are lots of positive role models who will be happy to talk in your school about their experience.  Also ask children to share any experiences they have had.  Ensure children know when sharing the experience, it is to be shared positively and openly.  If children wish to share an experience personally, allow this and ensure all children know who to go to should they wish to talk further. Organisations such as Diversity Role Models are great for bringing stories to schools.

4Make sure the school community is aware that any form of discrimination is not tolerated.  Draw parallels between bullying or discrimination because of BME, religion, disability and other examples. 

5Create time for discussions on the subject and where possible refer to experts to help. This can start in the staffroom looking at training to equip staff with the skills and terminology, before discussing in the classroom during such appropriate lessons as PSHE.

6Keep talking.  Discussions should be continuous in school life.  The challenge of societal generalisation of relationships is everywhere.  Stories we read, adverts we see, general conversations. The assumption is they’re male and female, so it can be incredibly difficult for someone to speak out against as being different.  Encourage children and the wider learning community to be open to diversity and challenge generalisation.

If you would like more information on how Laughology can help your school understand any of the issues above, please do get in touch.  We can run workshops for children on positive relationships and include gender related information and learning as well as education for staff on bias and tackling bullying and discrimination.

For more information regarding the current ‘Safe Schools’ project government debate you can read more here.