Yesterday afternoon I visited a secondary school to discuss what more they could do to support their LGBT+ students.
Last night I dreamed I travelled back in time and saw myself as a teenager. My younger self recognised me, approached and gave me a hug.
I may have been watching too much science fiction lately, but I suspect these two events are connected.
I first visited the school as a volunteer with Diversity Role Models, (DRM), which seeks to prevent homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying in UK schools by educating young people about difference, challenging stereotypes and addressing the misuse of language.
One question they ask students is ‘Do you think an LGBT student would feel safe coming out in your school?’ In most schools where I have supported DRM as a role model, only a small proportion of students say answer ‘Yes’.
In this school, most of the Year 11 students (aged 15-16) responded positively to this question, which was hugely encouraging. One of the reasons is that it is an academy which takes students from Key Stage 4 (age 13-14) upwards. So most students have made a positive choice to attend having spent two or three years at other secondary schools across the region, where they may have experienced bullying for being different.
The school specialises in creative media, gaming and digital technology, so many of its students have been dismissed as ‘nerds’ or similar in their previous schools – here they are in their element, with greater freedom to express their creativity and individuality. One student who applied to the school described it as the one where ‘the geeks and gays’ go!
It does have a high proportion of students who are LGBT or questioning – though not all are out to their peers, in many cases staff are aware and supportive. Having supported one young person through gender transition, word has spread and other trans and gender questioning young people have sought out a place at the school.
Of course it would be better if all schools were as good at pastoral care for their LGBT students, but the fact this this one is can only be a good thing for its students, and I am delighted to affirm them in their best practice and explore with them how they may develop this for their students and share it as an example to other schools.
When I have visited schools to share my story as a role model, I usually start by saying:
If you could travel back in time twenty-five or thirty years to when I was your age that I would be here today talking about sexuality and homophobia, I would not believe you.
I really couldn’t have imagined when I was 16 that I would be in the first civil partnership to be registered in a place of worship in the UK, having spent ten years leading the UK’s longest running LGBT+ youth group, and now coordinating a network of ecumenical worship communities for LGBT+ Christians.
Having a positive LGBT+ role model as a teenager would have changed my life – but then I wouldn’t have the experience and empathy to enable me to visit schools like this and see how much it gets better.