Stonewall completed two reports in 2007 and 2012 about the level of homophobia within schools. The reports give ample evidence that homophobia is an acute problem within both primary and secondary education. They highlight how a high percentage of LGBT students think about or attempt suicide, how teachers are unsure how to deal with the problem of homophobia and that virtually all students hear the word gay to mean rubbish or boring.
In order to help combat this problem within my current school I organised a Celebrating Diversity Day for years 7 to 10 (ages 11 to 15). Each class was taken off timetable for the whole day, and instead attended lessons on the theme of diversity.
Staff training was organised prior to the day so that every member of staff felt confident both in the reasons for holding such an event and in dealing with the issues involved.
Years 7, 9 and 10 completed activities around the Stonewall produced film “FIT”, discussing issues around homophobic bullying, stereotypes, sexuality, the difficulties of coming out and so on. Year 8 completed those activities last year in a trial run of the event and so they attended lessons specifically designed by individual teachers. During Art they looked at the work of David Hockney and produced a piece in his style, in Maths they looked at the life and work of Alan Turing and attempted “code breaker” exercises, whilst in Geography they looked at homophobic laws around the world and how they compare with Britain.
They also completed research activities into the achievements of LGBT people and produced posters about their chosen person. As well as this each Year 8 class attended a workshop run by LGBT Youth North West, which was mainly focused on challenging stereotypes and the use of language. During these sessions an LGBT student in Year 11 gave a talk about her experience of accepting her sexuality whilst experiencing homophobic bullying in the school. Each year group also attended a talk from a representative from Pride Sports, discussing stereotyping and homophobia in sport.
Many staff and students talked about their enjoyment of the day. One teacher called it “the best day of their teaching career” and there was a genuine buzz around the school. There was a particularly lovely moment when one student announced his bisexuality to a class, had to leave the room due to nervousness, but when he returned the class gave him a heartfelt round of applause. The teacher in this classroom described this as the “best moment” in her career too.
Whilst many schools run themed “enrichment days”, this was the first one our school had ever done.
The main aim of the day was to empower both students and staff to challenge homophobia when it appeared in school.
But a second, more unexpected, outcome was that it provided staff with a real example of what an alternative model of education could look like. This was a brief glimpse into the type of education that socialists and union reps are fighting for.