A school leader recently told me: ‘I’m not sure this school is ready for homosexuals.’
So no wonder homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying can go unreported for a very long time.
For pupils coming to terms with their sexuality, complaining about ‘gay’ being used negatively or being bullied is tantamount to coming out. That can be terrifying.
Just Like Us has launched UK School Diversity Week (20 to 24 June) to bring a more positive and proactive approach to challenging discrimination and celebrating difference. Schools across the country will be holding a non-uniform day, wearing diversity bands and other events in the biggest celebration of LGBTI diversity in education.
At school, I only ever heard the word gay used negatively by my peers. A teacher never even used the word ‘homosexual’. Relationship and sex education classes only explored heterosexuality which made me feel, at the very least, being gay was something people didn’t talk about. It made me believe gay people couldn’t have meaningful relationships or contribute positively to society.
I’d never have imagined my school would join others in sending an unprecedented message of support to students around the country that being gay is fine and something to celebrate. Being part of something like this is an amazing way for schools to break the silence on LGBTI and encourage pupils to embrace difference and challenge discrimination for themselves.
And this really does matter. The situation for LGBTI pupils across the UK is still so tough. Nine in 10 LGBT pupils hear the word gay used derogatorily, half self-harm and in two out of five contemplate suicide. It’s clear more needs to be done.
One of the most moving messages I received through our website was from Alex. It affected me so much because it brought home how changing attitudes towards LGBTI can be life-changing:
‘I’m not sure if my experiences will be helpful, as I’m straight and school was relatively easy for me in that respect.
‘But my best friend was gay, and he died last year on his 23rd birthday having never come out to anyone at all, even me – and I’d always thought I’d made my unconditional love and acceptance for him clear.
‘Me and my friend went to see his mum on the day of his disappearance and she showed us an email from his computer, where he’d come out to an author of a book about sexuality – that was the first we knew of him being gay.
‘I’ve seen emails written by him, and retrospectively evaluated all my conversations. I’ve since learnt about him attempting suicide when he was 17, and how upset he was when his friends used the word gay to mean stupid.’
This is why celebrating School Diversity Week is an amazing opportunity for schools to send out a positive message and raise awareness about the damaging effects of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. It’s a chance to make schools a positive and supportive environment where young LGBT people can be themselves.
Thank you to all the schools which have signed up so far. If you’re a teacher who’d like to make a difference, please get in touch.
Tim Ramsey is director of new organization Just Like Us.