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If we don’t teach children about diversity, lives will be lost

If we don’t teach children about diversity, lives will be lost

Shaun Dellenty

Acts of protest borne out of anger can ripple across communities and chronologies. Anger is energy that can be channelled to drive positive societal and cultural change.

Fifty years have passed since the fire and fury of Stonewall, when the New York police raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village; riots borne out of anger, fuelled by years of repression, subjugation and prejudice.

In my own 51 years, I’ve witnessed profound progress in terms of UK LGBT+ rights, from decriminalization to equal marriage, and the UK Government recently announcing that schools will teach about same-sex families in sex and relationships education.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the time for fire, fury and has passed.

But I’m angry.

‘The shift to the right’

Despite gains, LGBT+ people are bullied, incarcerated, murdered and tortured for being born themselves. Despite inconceivable loss of life in two world wars, an increasing shift to the right is a stark reminder that the more things change, they more they stay the same; we have been here before, it never ends well.

The strange thing is, human beings generally enjoy TV programmes about the diversity of animals; yet the joyful, natural diversity of human identities can result in rejection, bullying, stoning, murder, ‘corrective’ rape, prejudicial legislation or internment camps.

As I write, outside certain English schools, some parents are deploying their faith in protest to intimidate educators into ceasing age appropriate work aimed at making schools safer for all, not just some children.

However, schools should never be forced to serve as a battle-ground between diverse human identities and faith.

Progress is rarely linear. We must all be prepared to seek allies and rise up for what is natural, what it right and what is kind.

Our histories, our lives must be taught in schools, not as ‘tick-box’ lessons, topics or even history months, but in all aspects of school life and curriculum, all of the time.

Just like heterosexual and cisgender lives and histories are.

Life still tough for LGBTI youth

LGBT+ youth still face rejection from peers, families and faith groups. Research proves the damage caused by prejudice related bullying. It negatively affects mental and physical health, attendance and academic outcomes.

Schools, without exception must stand as unequivocal protective factors; educating all stakeholders about our human propensity for prejudice, for by teaching empathetically about human suffering, we can aspire to reduce it.

In December 2009, whilst working as a school leader; student surveys revealed that 75% of our primary aged pupils experienced daily homophobic bullying.

Reading these awful statistics, events from my childhood were triggered; the lack of relevant LGBT+ education or sex and relationships education whilst at school, Section 28 – the 1980s prejudicial UK government legislation prohibiting discussion of LGBT identities and histories in schools; the punches, the taunts, the familial rejection; the threats of electro-convulsion therapy and my near suicide attempt.

I was furious that the same behaviours that nearly killed me in the 1980s were still damaging young people in the 2000s. Yet I knew that my teaching colleagues had no training on how to prevent it.

I contacted several leading LGBT training organisations to ask if they could provide LGBT training for primary schools, but to no avail. Any school leader failing to act on bullying data is surely negligent?

Teaching inclusion for all

After a period of meditation, I channelled my anger into something positive. I devised a teacher training programme (Inclusion For All) to facilitate compassionate LGBT+ inclusion, initially in primary schools and faith schools, before expanding it nationally to secondary schools and teacher training faculties.

I have now delivered the programme to many thousands of education professionals in the UK alone and recounted my story of surviving prejudice related bullying to countless young people around the UK and abroad.

My work has won national awards, including one from the UK Prime Minister.

My work has featured on national and international television and I was named one the UK’s 100 most influential LGBT people. I work with businesses, faith leaders, human rights organisations and governments in the UK and overseas.

Rage on

Whilst I am partly driven by my anger at injustice, by bringing compassion to my own suffering and that of others, I’m able to draw people into my narrative, rather than driving them away.

I have detailed my journey and process for compassionate organisational change in a book for Bloomsbury called ‘Celebrating Difference-A whole School Approach to LGBT+ Inclusion’ published May 30th. I hope to get a copy to every school in the UK. And then maybe every school beyond that!

Had I been at Stonewall I would have been useless. I get anxious in crowds. I may never be as fierce as Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, but I rage at prejudice, just in my own way.

There are many forms of injustice and we need many forms of resistance to counter it.

What will yours be?

Follow Shaun’s LGBT+ inclusion work via Twitter (@ShaunDellenty), Facebook and his website:

The book Celebrating Difference- A Whole School Approach to LGBT+ Inclusion’ can be pre-ordered now on Amazon.

Shaun will be hosting a book launch, signing and film night for Pride Month at the Regent Street Cinema on June 4th. Information and tickets here.

Stonewall 50 Voices

Gay Star News is commemorating 2019 as the 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Riots. Our Stonewall 50 Voices series will bring you 50 guest writers from all around the world, with a focus on the diversity of our global LGBTI community.

They will be discussing the past, present and future of our struggle for love and liberation.

See also

No Pride in policing: systemic oppression has no place in our parade

Meet with the woman using art and fashion to change LGBTI lives in Uganda