Children are not born racist, sexist or homophobic; this is a fact I state in every training session and staff meeting. Young people learn negative behaviours very early on from outside influences, therefore it is our job, as educators, to ensure that ALL of these discriminatory views are challenged and eradicated. This will enable us to create a safe space for everyone in our school community and to ensure LGBT+ students and teachers are not bullied or discriminated against in or out of school.
When I started LGBT+ inclusive work 10 years ago, I quickly realised that my students were not the root of this problem; it was us, the adults, the teachers who were simply not referencing LGBT+ people, families and history within the curriculum. No sooner had I talked about famous LGBT+ people when hands went up to tell me about LGBT+ members in their families. This is one of the reasons I founded Educate & Celebrate, an organisation that challenges homophobia, biphobia and transphobia to make all schools LGBT+ friendly.
Our ‘PRIDE in Primary Education’ resources give students the opportunity to critique current political and social issues through the use of illustrated books, YouTube links, videos, songs, downloadable Mp3’s and other accessible youth currencies. This stimulates the link between popular culture, young people’s part in society and also empowers them to create ‘a society which reacts angrily to any case of injustice and promptly sets them about correcting it’ (Bauman, 2001). Our intention is to give our young people permission to join us on the journey to institutional change where recognition of discrimination through race, disabilities, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and beliefs is encouraged.
The key for us when developing our teaching resources is to guarantee ease of accessibility for both teachers and students by tapping into existing frameworks and eradicating the myth that we are teaching ‘gay’ lessons.
To clarify, there is no such thing as a ‘gay lesson’, only an ‘inclusive’ one.
Using existing primary school frameworks, we ensure student-centred responses to our curriculum developments, one being in the form of comprehension tasks, such as those for the book ‘Tango Makes Three’. The story is of two male penguins in a New York Zoo who hatch an egg and raise their baby penguin ‘Tango’. Responses from children included, ‘I like the book because it tells you that your parents don’t just have to be male or female’. Some respondents did not comment on the LGBT content at all, ‘I predict that when Mr. Gramzey thinks Tango is old enough to live in the wild, he will set him free’. For me, this is the utopia; a classroom, a school, a community, a world where it is a non-issue to read a book about different families and not have to justify the existence of LGBT+ people.
The primary Headteacher at Anderton Park School said: “I was shocked to hear that a lovely story, Tango Makes Three, about a family of penguins with two fathers has been banned in so many countries around the world, this is not the world I want these children to grow up in so I am proud to be part of this project.”
Other headteachers have lined up to highlight the positive impact of using our resources. The Headteacher of Welford Primary school said: “Ensuring a harmonious community within a school doesn’t happen easily” and “differences exist and we don’t shy away from recognising those differences.”
The Tiverton Primary Headteacher says that our primary resources are already helping in her very diverse school community where there are over 30 different ethnicities and 25 different languages spoken: “How children build and maintain positive relationships with others underpins all of the work we do across our wide and varied curriculum.”
Recently, we have received criticism arguing that primary schools are not the right environment for LGBT+ inclusive work, however these accusations and misconceptions only prove the continued need for further education in our schools and communities about LGBT+ people, especially with regard to the Equality Act 2010 and Ofsted section 5 briefing criteria which all schools must adhere to.
“Queering the educational system requires that the curriculum, policies and practices of schools are inclusive of all individuals and their experiences.” (Russell B. Toomey, 2012). These experiences must include those who trail blaze for social justice and those who, through an inclusive education system, are empowered to have a voice. Educate & Celebrate wholeheartedly advocate the need for LGBT+ inclusive resources in primary schools and are delighted to hear that social justice is being achieved when the positive impact was highlighted in a recent Ofsted inspection at Allens Croft Primary School, February 2015:
Pupils in Year 5 demonstrated the fine impact of the school’s approach to inclusion and community values through their discussions about the book ‘My Princess Boy’ and the concept of unconditional friendship. Pupils showed true empathy in the ways they talked, for example, about the importance of people having an ‘open heart and being beautiful.’ As one pupil said, “We are all human, we are all unique.”
Bauman, K. T. (2001). Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman. Wiley, 2001.
Russell B. Toomey, J. K. (2012). Heteronormativity, school climates, and perceived safety for gender nonconforming peers. Journal of Adolescence, 35(1), Pages 187–196.