Supporting your school's LGBT+ students

Written by: Dominic Arnall | Published:
Support: A Just Like Us ambassadors during a (pre-pandemic) secondary school session (image: Just Like Us).

From your anti-bullying policy to events and speakers, Dominic Arnall considers how schools can create an inclusive environment for LGBT+ students


As chief executive of LGBT+ young people’s charity Just Like Us, I speak with schools at every stage of their journey towards LGBT+ inclusion, from those with fully functioning LGBT+ and allies groups (Pride Groups, as we call them) to those who are just taking their first steps.

I remember the first time I visited a school with a Pride Group some years back. Seeing a group of young people happily discussing how they could ensure the school was a welcoming place for LGBT+ people knocked me backwards. How things had changed since I was at school.

However, there are still many schools who are yet to begin LGBT+ inclusion – this piece is designed to assist secondary schools in taking their first steps, giving you a few practical things you can do today (and some that might take a little longer) to support LGBT+ young people in your school.


First steps

As a teacher, beginning this crucial work can be daunting. LGBT+ people have been absent from education for a long time, meaning that unless you are part of the community, you might not have a great deal of existing knowledge when you approach this topic.

Some face barriers or concerns about what colleagues, governors or senior leaders will say. And then there is parents. It is important to recognise that many schools still have barriers to completing this work.

Our role in the sector is not to admonish schools who have not begun their journey yet, it is to offer support and guidance in making their first steps as easy as possible.

Beginning the journey towards LGBT+ inclusion does not mean you have to know everything (or indeed, anything much at all) about LGBT+ people, history and culture. It just requires a will to support young people through the formative years of their lives.

If you are new to this type of work you might want to dip your toe in the water before you get started and hear from others who have made this work. If this is the case, why not attend a webinar on getting started, just to make sure you are kicking off in a way that will lead to long-lasting change? Just Like Us runs a number of webinars to support this work.


Celebrate LGBT+ dates and events

A few important ones for your calendar: School Diversity Week (June 21 to 25, this year) gets schools and colleges across the UK everything they need to start their journey into LGBT+ inclusion. It is free and by signing up you will receive lesson plans and online masterclasses covering every subject and key stage, allowing you to add LGBT+ inclusive content to your lessons.

Everything has been designed to save you time and money, so you can just pick it up and use it straight away.

To mark LGBT History Month 2021, which took place in February, we released several new and free resources for educatorsteaching key stage 3 and 4 on LGBT+ figures throughout history (see further information).

There are also lots of individual days to celebrate identities within the LGBT+ umbrella, such as Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, Lesbian Visibility Day on April 26, and Bisexual Visibility Day on September 23.


Speakers talking about their experiences as LGBT+ people

One of the most effective ways of showing your young people what LGBT+ people are like is hearing from LGBT+ young people directly. Having an LGBT+ person come to your school and speak for themselves sends a strong signal to young people that who they are is not something to be ashamed of.

Our school visit programme is not running in person at the moment, but you can book a virtual visit. We have been doing these virtually throughout the pandemic, including with pupils at home and have found pupils are really motivated to turn up to hear our trained ambassadors speak.


Review your bullying policies

Research has shown that to eliminate homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying in your school it can be helpful to record instances of HBT bullying every time they happen, creating a clear record of what was said and which protected characteristic it relates to (Mitchell et al, 2014).


Review Ofsted’s guidance

If you need to make the case internally, it is always worth reviewing Ofsted’s guidance in this area (Ofsted, 2020), which makes pretty clear Ofsted’s expectations when it comes to teaching LGBT+ inclusive education.

The Public Sector Equality Duty in Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 requires Ofsted to have due regard to the need to:

  • Eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under the Equality Act 2010
  • Advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it
  • Foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it


Create space for your pupils to get involved

When I am asked what the single most important resource is to support LGBT+ young people, the answer is simple: each other. The single most impactful thing you will be able to do as an institution to support LGBT+ young people is to give them a space where they can safely come together.

In some schools, these are social spaces. In others, the young people work on campaigns and helping schools to celebrate School Diversity Week or LGBT+ History Month.

Just Like Us supports schools to set up LGBT+ and ally groups (Pride Groups, as we call them) providing training for both teachers and student leaders along with an exercise every two weeks for the group to work together on. These are still taking place virtually. See below for details.


Conclusion

I hope this has given you the inspiration to take the first steps towards LGBT+ inclusion in your school. The positive impact we see on LGBT+ students’ wellbeing through our education programmes is phenomenal. And remember, the single most important thing you can do is to tell your students that LGBT+ people exist.

We look forward to celebrating School Diversity Weekwith you this June – please do sign up to take part and use the free resources we have available.

  • Dominic Arnall is chief executive of Just Like Us, a charity for LGBT+ young people.


Further information & resources


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