Today, Monday 17 May, is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, which aims to raise awareness of the violence and discrimination experienced by the LGBT+ community.
To mark the day, NAHT has asked some of its LGBT+ members to share their thoughts around the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, including what it means to them, personally.
Commenting, NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said: “It is clear from these testimonies that section 28 still casts a shadow on the school environment and that we still have work to do championing LGBT+ rights in schools.
“We need to break down the fear: school leaders and teachers have been afraid to discuss their sexuality, or express themselves openly. It shouldn’t take bravery to be yourself or to stand up for your rights, but it does sometimes. This can have a serious impact on the mental health, happiness and motivation of school staff as well as pupils.
“NAHT are working to support school leaders to develop and maintain an environment that welcomes diversity, champions equality and encourages staff members to be their own authentic selves. That means having zero tolerance of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, towards staff or pupils. This is our responsibility and it is the right thing to do.”
I am currently a Senior Vice Principal in London. I identify as gay and use the pronouns he/him.
It seems that not a day goes by without a report of a hate crime in the UK; even more worrying is the lack of coverage of hate crime targeted towards the LGBT+ community. I often wonder why this is and can’t help but consider the impact of Section 28 on society today; children who were educated under Section 28 are now adults, many with children of their own. Now, whilst I like to believe that many are tolerant of the LGBT community, in part thanks to a more diverse and visible representation on our screens, I’m not sure there is a good level of understanding, or even respect towards the community.
In fact, recent reports by Stonewall (2017) and Just Like Us (2021) show that within our schools, LGBT+ pupils are still experiencing an unacceptably high volume of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. Given the challenges of the past year, we are all aware of the importance of mental health and well-being of our pupils. Now more than ever, it is crucial that we support our LGBT+ pupils and staff so that they feel school is a safe space, where they can be accepted for who they are and explore their identity, without fear of bullying. This means that we, as school leaders, need to be calling out every instance of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and ensuring that our teachers do the same. As a protected characteristic under the Equality Act (2010), there is no place for this to be tolerated.
It is the responsibility of every member of staff to support our LGBT+ pupils and ensure they are safe while in our care. It’s only by standing with the LGBT+ community, either as a member or an ally, that we can improve these statistics, ensure that bullying is reduced and educate our families too, in the hope of reducing hate crimes and uniting a more accepting and respecting society.
One where diversity isn’t just celebrated during events such as LGBT+ history month or International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, but is woven into the very ethos of every school.
My pronouns are he/him and I identify as a gay man. I have been an educational professional for over twenty years, fourteen years as a head teacher.
Having been educated and starting my career in the shadows of the infamous Section 28, my ability to be myself both as a pupil and teacher was very restricted. Despite the hard work put in to rectifying the bigotry that flourished as a direct result of this parliamentary act, hate crime towards LGBT+ individuals is at an all-time high; and this is just the tip of the iceberg - how much goes unreported?
It is important school leaders call out homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying (in whatever guise it shows its ugly face). We need to protect the pupils in our care (it is a well-known fact that depression and suicide rates for LGBT+ pupils is far higher than their peers), but also need to support staff members identifying as LGBT+ (whether they are out or not).
We need to feel we have the support of our unions, governors and trusts to help work with the communities within which we work. Only in this way can we raise awareness of diversity issues in order to educate and eradicate hate crime.
Working as part of NAHT's LGBT+ Network has allowed me to be a small cog in a big wheel to help raise this awareness. More voices together shows strength in unity.
An internal struggle for me throughout my career has been what I should wear in an education setting; I knew I didn’t fit the stereotype of how a teacher looks, let alone an educational leader. Because I was afraid of being considered different, therefore unacceptable, my separate work wardrobe was always filled with boring, charity shop, office outfits.
Just as I used to hide my tattoos and personality with corporate clothes, I’d hide my queerness with a feminine aesthetic and vague comments about my ‘partner’. The people I did tell in confidence about my same sex partner outed me to other staff and it felt like everyone was gossiping about me. This brought internalised biphobia to the surface, and I felt ashamed that I couldn’t just decide on partners of one gender and stick to that.
When we opened our school for highly functioning autistic teenagers, it was important to me to create an environment where our young people felt as though they could really be themselves. Considering autistic people are more likely to identify as LGBT+, dressing like someone else at work and acting as straight as possible was, to me, the height of hypocrisy.
If we are to be mentors to young people, we need to not only tell them that it’s ok to be themselves. We need to show them. It isn’t just about targeting HBT bullying, it's about creating an environment where people’s identities are accepted and celebrated.
In an effort to both be myself and practice what I preach, I’ve merged my work wardrobe with my personal pieces. I am also heading up a Stonewall team of staff and together we are supporting our young people with LGBT+ clubs, guest speakers and celebrations. But more than this, we are supporting them by not just waiting around for things to change. We are making change by being our authentic selves.
At NAHT, we are here to support members, both as school leaders and as individuals.
We have developed a number of resources to support members in developing inclusive environments, for both pupils and staff, and have specific advice available on identifying and preventing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, as well as on supporting lgb+ and trans staff. We also work closely with organisations such as Stonewall, Just Like Us, and Diversity Role Models.
Alongside this, we have developed an LGBT+ Network, which is open to all members identifying as LGBT+. The network offers a safe space for members to come together to discuss the experiences and issues facing LGBT+ school leaders, both within the profession and NAHT itself.