LGBT History Month

Written by: Adele Bates | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

LGBT History Month in February is a time to celebrate difference and acceptance in all its forms. Adele Bates considers why we have it and suggests some age-appropriate ideas and resources

When I was at school, you could have lost your job for having this article on the school premises. Section 28 – which stated that local authority organisations “shall not promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” – was firmly in place preventing any kind of support or acknowledgement of LGBT+ pupils, family or staff.

Despite the repeal of this in 2000, the shadow of Section 28 is often still at large in our schools: teachers are apprehensive about topics they know little about, heads can be unconfident about tackling issues directly, staff do not feel safe to be out in school workplaces, and last LGBT History Month a school in the North of England cancelled a visit by a young adult author because she was a trans-woman.

The detrimental effect this has, not just on our LGBT+ young people, but also the attitude and acceptance levels of our staff and pupils is immense. Intolerance and discrimination breed fear and conflict – this affects our young people too. As educators, it is our duty to uphold the Equality Act 2010 and Ofsted’s requirements around homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. What are you actively doing towards this duty?

LGBT History Month helps us focus on what we could be celebrating and improving for the LGBT+ people within our schools and, moreover, it gives schools chance to assess how well they manage difference within the school community.

Best practice is to carry out a school-wide survey for all staff, students and governors. This could be done in-house or you can invite an equality consultant in to produce a thorough, objective report which covers all the protected characteristics from the Equality Act.

In addition, an audit should examine equality of LGBT+ representation in the curriculum, classroom resources, the library, displays, language use in lessons and around the school – is the general assumption that everyone is heterosexual/cis-gender in lessons, the staffroom, at parents’ evenings, at governors’ meetings, at the summer fair etc? Are your LGBT+ polices and systems enough to prevent homophobic, transphobic and biphobic bullying? How would you know?

Language and key terms

Are both staff and students aware of the following terms? Do they know what is acceptable language in your school? Are all staff fully trained? Are all staff prepared to support pupils? This list could be introduced at the start of the month in staff briefing, and followed up in lessons with pupils.

  • Lesbian – a homosexual woman.
  • Gay – a homosexual woman or man.
  • Bisexual – a person who is attracted to more than one gender.
  • Straight – a person who is attracted to the opposite gender.
  • Transgender – a person whose gender identity does not correspond with the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Cis-gender – a person whose gender identity is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth.
  • Queer – a term for people who do not identify with traditional categories around gender identity or sexual orientation.
  • Pansexual – a person who is not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender or gender identity.
  • Intersex – a term used to describe a person who may have the biological attributes of both sexes

One LGBT history assembly a year does not support students and staff all year round. Through the activities suggested here, it is possible that students will disclose that they have LGBT+ friends, family, or may be questioning themselves. It is important that they can do this in an inclusive, safe environment. Create “safe spaces” for pupils to discuss LGBT+ issues, and regularly let the students know that they exist.

Bring in specialists on equality and diversity to hold training, open spaces or assemblies for people to ask questions and contribute their ideas before the events.

Spark discussion with an Equality T-shirt day– even better if it’s a parents/carers’ evening. Display information and website links on staffroom displays. Link with local LGBT+ organisations to share information and resources.

Ensure this is not just for teaching staff – messages only reach our pupils when it is consistent across the school, and valuable ideas can come from anywhere. Could the catering staff add a rainbow-themed menu for a week? Is your ICT technician able to share his experience of being a trans man? Be sure to mention your forthcoming celebrations in the school newsletter – parents/carers may be great sources of knowledge, experience and support.

LGBT History Month across the curriculum

Maths: Learn about the area of polygons by investigating how many tents fit into the Brighton Pride Park. Understand statistics through census findings of how many people identify as LGBT+. Discuss how an average can be twisted to become “normal” and how that might affect minority groups. Use LGBT+ characters in maths problems.

Geography: Study demographics and why a large percentage of LGBT+ people can be found openly in some areas and not others. Compare the LGBT+ flags to flags of the world. Examine the world map that demonstrates where it is safe to be LGBT+, question how this pattern may have come about.

History: Examine LGBT+ Hidden Histories alongside famous events. Investigate the concept behind labelling and the affect it has had on different communities, Choose specific LGBT+ individuals who have changed the shape of LGBT+ history.

ICT: Study Alan Turing, the father of computer science, and understand how his homosexuality affected his ability to work. Examine binary in computers vs binary in people.

Science: Consider how scientific discoveries can affect minority groups. Study the many animal groups in which there is homosexual/bisexual activity and animals in which the male is the primary care-giver. Examine the scientific view of gender and the cis-sexism in biology.

PE: Research the many LGBT+ sports people and what they have done for sport as well as the LGBT+ community. Discuss the lines between private life, media and sport that affect sports people’s ability to compete. Get involved in the Team Pride initiative.

Languages: Compare anti-homophobia campaigns in Britain with those of other countries. Teach students how to discuss different family set ups in other languages – how does the word “partner” translate in each language, do they know how to say “my mothers/my fathers”?

Music: Study how famous LGBT+ musicians and composers were restricted, and how that may be reflected in the music. Investigate sexism, homophobia, transphobia and biphobia in pop music lyrics.

PSHE/citizenship/philosophy/RS/politics: Study hate crimes with a focus on trans people. Discuss the rights of sexual minorities in different political situations – debate whose right it should be to decide who one can marry in a country, study LGBT+ asylum cases.

English/drama: Examine how LGBT+ writers who had to hide their sexuality/sexual orientation use inference to express. Study the power of individual words/insults and how their meanings change over time or the Polari “anti-language” used by gay men in Britain in the 1960s.

Art: Study the work of prominent LGBT+ artists, such as Frida Kahlo, Grayson Perry, Gilbert and George, Keith Haring, Cecil Beaton, Andrea Jenkins.

Media: Examine the diversity (or lack of) in Disney films or advertising. Study powerful LGBT+ and anti-LGBT speeches.

Design and technology: Look at LGBT+ flags (there are more than just the rainbow one) in terms of purposeful design and colour symbolism. Study LGBT+ innovators and role-models. Have a baking competition with a rainbow theme.

The students themselves: As society at large changes, we will have to constantly shift our ideas and approaches, particularly around LGBT+ awareness. The best tip I have found is to listen to the students – they usually have a pretty good idea about what we should be doing for them.

  • Adele Bates is an education consultant for schools on equality and diversity, LGBT+ awareness and human rights. She has taught for 16 years. Visit www.adelejbates.co.uk

Further information

LGBT History Month takes place in February and is organised by Schools Out. For details, including the LGBT History Month Toolkit, visit http://lgbthistorymonth.org.uk/

Lesson plans and resources

School-wide activities

Assemblies


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