LGBTQ+ awareness: more effort needed in schools

December 14, 2021

Collage by Exposure with apple image by jarmoluk and rainbow image by StockSnap, both from Pixabay

Amelia Fox recounts what she was and wasn’t taught… and the harm it did

Imagine you have a superpower. It is beautiful and completely yours to treasure and grow. Maybe you have the power of invisibility or telepathy. Whatever it is, it reveals itself to you when you are ready and grows with you; blossoming as the years go by.

But you are not aware that the power you are housing is a power at all. No one informed you of its strength; that it is an important part of your identity. Due to this, you grow to fear its presence. You ignore its calls and push away the truth until it is buried deep down out of your reach; your identity sculpted by its absence.

Now imagine your superpower is your LGBTQ+ identity. When you aren’t shown an element of your identity is real and valued often you fail to see its true beauty.

The lack of LGBTQ+ representation in education has a massive effect on LGBTQ+ young people and their future lives. More than two in five trans young people have attempted to take their own life as have one in five lesbian, gay and bi students who aren’t trans.

Read that again. Notice the true scale of this problem.

As I grow older, I have become overwhelmingly aware that the UK education system is heavily flawed

The absence of this information has a profound effect on you as a person. I have felt it, as many in the past have, and many in the future sadly will.

In my experience, LGBTQ+ representation is not a priority for schools. Although this comes from the government’s lack of awareness surrounding LGBTQ+ experiences, the lack of awareness from teachers is also very harmful.

“I simply cannot afford to deviate from the exam specification.”

This was said to me by my religious education teacher, informing me that teaching students about same-sex families in our lesson about varying types of families is simply too much detail for the GCSE time frame.

Despite my frustration at my school’s attitude I know this problem is not limited to just mine but has infected all schools in the country. As I grow older, I have become overwhelmingly aware that the UK education system is heavily flawed. In my experience it is focused on data and comparison and how to pass exams; not preparing for and introducing children and young people to the broad colour of life.

Like for so many others, my education concerning gender and sexuality came from my community

It has no focus on mental wellbeing or ensuring students have a healthy work-life balance. You don’t learn about understanding your identity and privileges, celebrating our strengths and differences in order to create an inclusive place where all students feel able to be who they are and work towards what they want in life.

Like for so many others, my education concerning gender and sexuality came from my community. The Instagram accounts like mattiv or lgbtq who make tonnes of queer related content. The TikTtoks by Kissy Duerre and all the other people yelling our rainbow song from the rooftops.

These, of course, are amazing and necessary but it is shocking that the institution supposedly preparing us for the future skims over this topic, if it is mentioned at all.

What happens when you don’t have access to your community? When you don’t even know you are part of it?

For me it meant staying quiet about some inappropriate comments made by the school counsellor before I fully understood my sexuality. It took me years to realise they were even problematic and, when I finally reported it, very little happened.

Image by Just Jack from Unsplash

No one spoke to me about it; to hear my side of the story or apologise. He said he was sorry but apparently made the comments only for my benefit. He later said that, in a way he was glad he did because it “helped me come to terms with my sexuality”.

This filled me with anger because his words did nothing but hurt me but unfortunately my school didn’t seem to see that. I am incredibly grateful for the teachers who are more aware and raise their voices. They make school bearable for students like me; they show us we matter. But those voices are often drowned out by the silence from others. You can imagine how much harm this level of ignorance and silence from other staff members caused me.

And for clarity, this is my experience as a privileged, white, cisgender person with a very supportive family. Many go through a lot worse and don’t have the support I did.

Blaming teachers isn’t the way to go. They work tirelessly for their students in a system which doesn’t particularly favour them either. I do, however, think it is so important for teachers to realise how their privileges in society shape the impact they have on their students and ultimately our future. It is with this in mind, I ask educators to consider: what are you actually teaching your students?

Not Henry the VIII’s six wives, but what are you teaching your students by barely covering the HIV pandemic in the medicine through time history topic?

What are you teaching your students by not reading any works by out LGBTQ+ authors in English literature? When Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ is the best LGBTQ+ representation available.

What are you teaching your students when they have to battle with you to mention that same-sex families exist?

What are you teaching your students when gay sex and relationships or the fluidity of gender are not taught in our already limited sex education? What are you teaching them when you fail to mention that being born in the wrong body is even possible? What are you teaching your students when they have to battle with you to mention that same-sex families exist?

Let me tell you what you have taught me:

  • People like me don’t contribute to society, to literature or history, politics or science.
  • Our pain and stories aren’t worth your lesson time.
  • We aren’t important enough to be educated on how we can have sex or create our own families.
  • It is okay for our peers to misgender us or make jokes about our sexualities.
  • People like us don’t do great things.
  • We are different. Other. Secret.

I have been told countless times by teachers that “LGBTQ+ representation is a priority” so often I wonder: why can’t I see their effort? If teachers are determined to fill in the gaps left by the government and deliver a well-rounded education why can’t I – as an LGBTQ+ student – feel the benefits of this?

This problem is real. Nearly half of LGBTQ+ students are bullied for being LGBTQ+ in Britain’s schools.

The claims that representation is a priority mean nothing if they are not accompanied by action and it frustrates me that I have seen no substantial change in my years at school. These words (when not accompanied by action) only lead to greater alienation for the students who are already suffering.

Just because this problem isn’t hurting you doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. So many of society’s deadliest issues, the climate crisis or racism to name two, have thousands denying their existence just because they don’t experience it.

This problem is real. Nearly half of LGBTQ+ students are bullied for being LGBTQ+ in Britain’s schools. Just two in five LGBTQ+ pupils report that their schools don’t say that transphobic bullying is wrong.

Education can fix this but those affected aren’t in positions to be listened to or heard, so gaps form as those in power seem unable to realise that their experience is not universal. That is the devastating impact of unacknowledged privilege.

These gaps need to be filled or more LGBTQ+ young people will die because they don’t realise their worth.

We all need to be more aware and teachers, please listen to your students. The act of not only listening but hearing what your students have to say will change lives.

Everyone deserves to have their superpowers valued and celebrated without fear of discrimination.

Everyone has the power to make a difference.

In partnership with Write by You, a social enterprise supporting young female writers to develop their creativity, confidence and writing skills.

Amelia is a young writer from North London. She is also a passionate feminist, musician and a lover of books.

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