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Gay issues are coming out of the classroom closet as teachers put kids first

Gay issues are coming out of the classroom closet as teachers put kids first

I first devised Inclusion For All in 2010 in response to endemic levels of homophobic bullying and language in our local schools and the community, at a time when there was a question mark over tackling such issues in UK primary schools.

Such was the positive impact of the work on all forms of bullying that I offered the highly child-centred training to schools, local authorities, teacher training providers and anti-bullying organisations in the form of outreach.

In 2012 I made Inclusion For All into a small charitable organization which, in addition to outreach work, provides three highly successful onsite training days at my school – Alfred Salter Primary School in Southwark, south London.

And that work has now been recognized.

This summer representatives of the London Borough of Southwark Children’s Services gathered along with VIPs, school leaders, governors and teachers for the Good Practice Awards ceremony at Southwark Council.

These new awards provide an opportunity to celebrate excellent practice in our part of the British capital and to enable opportunities to share good practice between schools.

After an inspirational speech from England and Team GB Women’s Captain Casey Stoney, awards were presented to Southwark schools by Mayor of Southwark Abdul Mohamed. Each award afforded the recipient an opportunity to present their work to the gathered audience.

Alfred Salter Primary School chair of governors Elaine Garlick and assistant headteacher Anna Taylor were in attendance and I collected the glass trophy on behalf of our school community.

In addition to the Southwark Good Practice Award, Inclusion For All has also been nominated for the best community project at the National Diversity Awards 2013 (of which Gay Star News is a media partner).

We were thrilled to receive the Southwark Good Practice Award; working in education can be highly stressful, therefore any chance to celebrate success is welcome.

On a personal level this award represents something more significant. Having been in teaching since 1995, even as recently as five years ago I cannot imagine witnessing such respectful and authentic discussions in primary class-rooms around homophobia, transphobia and the range of different families that exist in the 21st century that I now am privileged to experience.

These lessons and training sessions are not just led by me, but by a team of teachers who are genuinely committed to diversity, heritage and equality of opportunity for all the children in their care.

Teachers who place the emerging, unique identities and potential of children first; who have taken the time to work through their own fear, misconceptions and the prejudices in order to ensure all children and their families are represented, accepted and can fulfil their potential without fear or having to hide away their true selves.

As someone who was denied openly LGBTQI role models as a child, that fact that I am completely open about my identity (please not sexuality, I don’t want to be defined by sex alone) is joyful to me. Some of the children we teach, even at primary school age are aware of their emerging LGBTQI identities and they need role models in schools.

I grew up and trained under the toxic shadow of Section 28, the UK legislation, now repealed, that effectively banned discussion of homosexuality in schools.

The fact I am openly gay at school with all stakeholders not only enables me to function to the best my ability but it also sends an important message to all school community members they can and should be authentic and proud about whoever they are.

As word of Inclusion For All spreads across the UK, to Europe and the USA, I am made aware in the form of emails and tweets of the barriers many teachers face in preventing LGBTQI related bullying and in being able to be authentic role models.

Sadly, even in 2013 there are some parents, school leaders, school governors, educational authorities and governments who allow their own fear, misconception and outright prejudice to hinder attempts to prevent homophobic bullying (and so provide safe schools for all children) and to empower staff to be authentic role models for their pupils. This is a tragedy, one that has been going on for far, far too long.

Teachers undertake work in schools because they care deeply about children and their futures, not to chase awards.

However, having trained to be a teacher at a time when even uttering the words ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ in a class-room was perceived by many as a disciplinary issue, to be awarded a good practice award by the Mayor of Southwark on behalf on a Children’s Services department meant much.

It sent a clear message to other school leaders that preventing homophobia in schools is acceptable, possible and is best good practice when done well. It also shows everyone things are changing and that however gradually; the toxic shadow of Section 28 is slowly fading into history.

For the sake of countless young lives that cannot come a moment too soon.