by Lis Bundock
Just after midnight on March 29th, 2014, my partner and I waited patiently outside the Brighton Pavilion to see one of the first same-sex marriages celebrated amidst a large and exuberant crowd. That evening, I felt certain that we were witnessing a moment in history where new legislation would signal a positive change for equality and the recognition of LGBT people and their families. I’d felt this kind of hope before, back in 2010 with the Equalities act, but this time I felt that that the impact of new legislation would be even more far reaching.
Despite the weight of this legislative endorsement and the potential for it to impact on communities more widely, there is still work to be done. The green flag waved by UK law should have paved the way for schools to create truly accepting and inclusive spaces, but almost 2 years on and we are still witnessing headlines like this, published in Schools Week, in the last few days:
‘One in three pupils believe it’s not safe to be openly gay, lesbian or bisexual in school’
The headline is drawn from a report by the charity Diversity Role Models and echoes the findings of Stonewall’s 2012 School Report that identified that over half of the LGBT pupils interviewed experience homophobic bullying and almost 99% of those interviewed continue to hear derogatory comments such as ‘poof’ and ‘lezza’. Whilst both reports acknowledge that significant inroads have been made in tackling homophobia within schools and celebrating difference, it is clear that we cannot afford to be complacent. This apparent failure of some schools to fully embrace the equalities act does not only affect LGBT pupils but also LGBT teachers and the children of LGBT parents. As Branwen Bingle observes in her blog post for CPRTrust, why are LGBT teachers still wrestling with whether they should be out in school? Why do schools continue to be one of the last few workplaces where individuals feel safer by remaining in the closet? On a personal level, as a gay parent and educator, why is there an absence of same-sex families represented in the reading books my child brings home and why has she never seen an image in school that represents her own family construct?
This disappointing picture might lead us to believe that little is going on within our community to support schools in addressing LGBT discrimination. This is not the case. Schools have a wide range of resources available to them both locally and nationally. On a local level, Brighton and Hove council has been named as the top local authority for tackling homophobia, the Allsorts project provides LGBT workshops / training and organisations such as Rainbow Families are creating an oral history project documenting LGBT family lives that could become an essential resource for schools. The School of Education at Brighton University recognises this issue and is responding to school and individuals needs by providing training on homophobia/biphobia and transphobia and creating a network for LGBT teacher trainees. On a national level Stonewall offers excellent resources on tackling a wide range of LGBT issues and more recently a website, Out Teacher has been created to support LGBT teachers. The list goes on.
So, why then are some schools still failing to provide an experience that matches these legislative changes? Greenland and Nunney suggest that the legacy of Section 28 may continue to influence classroom practice. Yet this seems less and less plausible given our current legislative framework and the fact that many of our new teachers will not have encountered Section 28. Stonewall’s teacher’s report 2014 identifies that ‘two in five primary school teachers (37 per cent) don’t know if they are allowed to teach lesbian, gay and bisexual issues.’ suggesting that perhaps a lack of knowledge stands in the way of cultural change rather than will or appetite.
In spite of the wealth of expertise and resources, there exist real barriers to inclusive practice. Great progress has been achieved by many schools, but this progress is being jeopardised by an education policy intent on dismantling the central expertise that Local Authorities provide. The good practice that has led to some teachers actively addressing LGBT issues in schools is being threatened by the extreme cuts being enforced and the policy of converting schools into academies and removing them from the LA family of schools. In addition, perhaps the efforts of many teachers are being undermined by an education policy that engenders a climate of compliance with many teachers being overly cautious?
Please share your comments on this post and let’s start a dialogue so that parents, teachers and educationalists can come together to defend and build an inclusive education system for all.