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How one gay headteacher being out at school is preventing LGBTI bullying

How one gay headteacher being out at school is preventing LGBTI bullying

Olly Alexander and Paris Lees visit Woodside school in Documentary 'Growing Up Gay' with the Diversity Role Models

When one gay headteacher took on a school where homophobic language was prevalent, in one of the most economically deprived areas of London – she faced an enormous challenge.

But in just three years, her leadership has been key to the whole schools’ community changing it’s attitudes dramatically.

Now the school is being celebrated nationwide in documentaries and by education inspectors.

Speaking at the Diversity Role Models fundraising event this weekend, Headteacher Gerry Robinson says her school makes it OK to be a gay teacher because ‘we refuse homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.’

In Woodside High School in Tottenham, London, most recent assesment it achieved an outstanding rating from Ofsted. It’s the highest rating a school can get in the UK.

That’s despite the students from White Hart Lane coming from difficult backgrounds. Many live in overcrowded houses, rely on free school meals and most speak English as an additional language.

How does a school achieve so much, with limited resources and under difficult circumstances?

Robinson says it’s all down to their diversity policy.

Receiving a standing ovation for her speech, she tells the story of how ‘Woodside is now a very different school.’

Diversity Role Models event 2017 Gerry Robinson gay headteacher delivers empowering speech
Diversity Role Models event 2017 – Gay headteacher Gerry Robinson delivers empowering speech Jamie Wareham | Gay Star News

One example Robinson delivers on how she has been changing her school is with sex and relationship education.

Though it will soon be compulsory in the UK in all schools, there are still no guarantees the curriculum will be LGBTI inclusive.

But, that isn’t stopping Woodside plow ahead. They already include gay, bi and trans conversations in their sex education classes.

In her speech Robinson was clear about how far the school has come:

‘When I came to Woodside, I was shocked at the prevalence of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language from students. Language that largely went unchallenged by staff.’

But now, that is a thing of the past.

The power of having out and happy LGBTI role models

With Robinson as a leading role model to the school, within a year – the school had a markedly decreased LGBT bullying.

Through changes in policy, staff training and, as featured in the documentary Growing Up Gay with Olly Alexander, by inviting the Diversity Role Models to speak at the school.

The documentary is a perfect example of what the charity does. At Woodside, Years and Years singer led a class with trans rights campaigner Paris Lees.

They talk about some of the issues LGBTI people might have, from bullying and rejection. The lesson was aiming at getting the young people to talk about gender and sexual identities.

Moreover, reflecting at the end of the class, Alexander and Lees talk to Diversity Role Model’s Gemma Curtis. She explains how in the schools they work with – homophobic and transphobic language dramatically decreases.

So impressed by the whole experience both end the segment both the role models agree on how they wish they’d ‘gone to this school.’

Olly Alexander and Paris Lees speak to DRM's Gemma Curtis at Woodside school in Documentary 'Growing Up Gay'
Olly Alexander and Paris Lees speak to DRM’s Gemma Curtis at Woodside school in Documentary ‘Growing Up Gay’ Antidote Productions | BBC

How one role model transformed a young person’s life

But this wasn’t the only time a Diversity Role Model went to speak at Woodside.

During Robinson’s speech, she tells the story of how one young trans man’s life was ‘transformed’ by the session Fire and Rescue service’s Katie Cornhill led.

The young man, who once hid behind his fringe and missed classes – now happily comes to school every day ready to learn.

Robinson explains how the young person recently told her the power of that session:

‘The first time I met someone trans was at school. That moment changed everything for me. It prompted me to think about the person I really am and made me reflect on the sort of help I needed. It made me realize that I could be myself, in this school, something I had never thought possible.’

Speaking to a glowing Cornhill and Robinson after the speech, it was clear to see the care both have about the work they do.

‘Creating a safe space for people to come out, [the work at Woodside] is essential for the health and well being of everyone, but particularly for our younger generations,’ Cornhill tells Gay Star News.

‘Equally, Gerry Robinson’s leadership creates an environment that is an excellent example of why society will be a safer and more inclusive place in the future. I am honored to have played an important role in that’

Read more from Gay Star Students:

These young people explained the moment they realized they were bisexual

Teacher suspended for giving out LGBTI leaflets that ‘save lives’