A north London school in Britain claims to have virtually eliminated anti-LGBT bullying over the past five years by teaching about historical LGBT figures including Alan Turing and Oscar Wilde as part of its LGBT History Month program.
Staff at the Stoke Newington secondary school are now keen to help other schools model similar programs with the hope that it will empower teachers to discuss LGBT-related topics with confidence so that they can use these lessons to create a dialog with students over LGBT issues.
From the Guardian:
Elly Barnes, a music teacher, devised the lesson plans and training course with the help of colleagues. Her concern began when she heard a pupil say their “pen was so gay” when it snapped in two. Barnes’s aim is to “eradicate homophobia from all schools” by giving staff the confidence and resources required to tackle the prejudice.
A week ago, a group of 10 and 11 year olds trooped into Barnes’s classroom and she played them a clip from the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which is about three drag queens travelling across the Australian outback. The pupils appeared happy to discuss transvestites and transsexuals.
“There is a man at my auntie’s work who wears a skirt and has really hairy legs,” said one. “Criss-cross is where you like both men and women,” offered another.
Florence, aged 12, told the class about the first wedding she went to. “It was a gay wedding and they were called Andrew and Eric, and I wanted to be a bridesmaid, but I had only known them for two years.”
The article goes on to say that while some children have reacted negatively, they can often be talked through the anti-LGBT language they are using and the ideas that they have, with the aim that they come to the understanding that LGBTs are people like them, whose feelings can also be hurt by name calling and bullying.
The Guardian also has another article about the school’s LGBT History Month program in which teacher Elly Barnes shares the process of developing the program and how she feels it has helped combat anti-LGBT bullying in school:
She says: “By exploring the definitions of LGBT and looking at famous LGBT people in history, we’ve managed to change opinions and we have had a number of pupils come out during their time at school here. We have also changed the language used in the school. I used to hear the word gay being used all the time, as a derogatory term. Now we hardly hear that.”
A recent report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission into fairness in the UK found that two-thirds of lesbian, gay and transgender students have suffered homophobic bullying and 17% have received death threats. Nearly half of secondary school teachers in England say homophobic bullying is common and only one in six believe their school is very active in promoting the rights of gay pupils.
Barnes finishes the class saying: “The message I want to leave you with is that when you are giggling with your friends and your friend falls over and you say that is gay, think about the language you’re using.”
One child named Sefkan, 11, is quoted as saying that the classes “changed my ideas about gays and lesbians as I thought it was something wrong. But it is not something wrong.” She added, “In our primary school, a lot of people got bullied for being gay even though they weren’t.”
It should be noted that Barnes is keen to draw the line between “educating” and “influencing” children, and while she has said that the school has had a few complaints from a handful of parents, the drive toward highlighting LGBT history, when before it was often absent from the curriculum, has proved popular.
While I do think there is only so much programs like this can do, and there is no independent evidence that the school managed to eradicate homophobia in the classroom by virtue of this program, the approach of educating teachers and empowering students in tandem seems a good step toward removing the taboo surrounding LGBT issues.
As such, one can understand how it would help young LGBT and questioning youth feel engaged and accepted in the classroom, while also helping other children to understand their fellow classmates and appreciate their differences, but more importantly, see the similarities between them and the things they share as human beings, regardless of perceived or actual sexuality or gender identity.
Care2 is currently participating in GLBT History Month, with a new icon being posted every day this October. To see the History Month icons we have covered so far, please click here.
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