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Challenging times for LGBT teachers
The challenges facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) teachers as a result of the Coalition Government’s programme of cuts and reforms must be tackled concertedly.
Plans to slim down equalities legislation and narrow the school curriculum, and the threat posed to diversity and cohesion from free schools are all likely to hinder progress towards achieving true equality for LGBT teachers and pupils, speakers at the NASUWT’s annual LGBT Consultation Conference stated. The event was chaired by the then NASUWT President Chris Lines.
However, teachers can and must fight back, NASUWT General Secretary Chris Keates [above] told attendees, as she outlined the challenges facing the profession.
The Union has made significant progress in championing LGBT equality in schools, she said, highlighting the launch of the FIT DVD in association with Stonewall, which can be used by teachers to highlight the issue of homophobia with their students, and the publication of guidance by the previous government for schools on tackling homophobic bullying, to which the NASUWT was a contributor.
However, these achievements are being threatened by the Coalition’s policies, she argued, with a return to a more generalised approach to tackling bullying that fails to recognise homophobic bullying as a distinctive form of abuse.
The effect of these changes, along with cuts in public services, will further marginalise LGBT people, she said, a group that already suffers from continuing discrimination.
“Recent research has shown many LGBT people live in poverty and LGBT families are more likely to be poor. LGBT people are more likely to experience disadvantage in terms of health, housing and education. All of these problems are likely to increase as a result of this Coalition’s actions,” she said.
While the outlook is bleak, members can work together through the Union to fight these plans, Ms Keates stated, urging members to get active within their schools, communities and Local Associations.
A graphic illustration of the progress that can be made in promoting equality and challenging homophobia in schools was provided as part of a selection of workshop sessions.
Chris Lillington [below], Assistant headteacher at Prince Henry’s Grammar School in Otley, explained to delegates how he had led work to challenge discrimination in his school, particularly around the use of homophobic language by students.
Mr Lillington [above] emphasised the importance of taking a whole-school approach. A student diversity forum was established with pupils empowered to drive forward the equalities agenda and staff were given ongoing training and support. Parents were invited to a diversity event to learn more about the work the school is doing and equalities information is always included in the termly headteacher’s briefings to parents.
Mr Lillington explained how important it is not to ‘ghettoise’ the issue within PSHE and citizenship and described the work other departments have been doing to tackle the issue. For example, he stated, the PE department led a project examining the role of sexuality and gender roles in sport, which included workshops and mixed-gender games.
Delegates discussed some of the barriers around tackling homophobia in schools, particularly in primary and faith settings. There was a call for more support and recognition of the issue during initial teacher training and support from the NASUWT at local level to empower members to tackle the issue in their schools.
The specific challenges facing bisexual teachers and students were also explored in a workshop led by Helen Bowes-Catton from the Open University. Delegates agreed that bisexuality is generally invisible in wider society, with bisexual people often suffering discrimination and prejudice.
There is very little recognition of the specific needs of bisexual teachers and young people, with few sources of information and guidance, and delegates agreed that more acknowledgement of and support for bisexual teachers and students in schools is needed.
Issues discussed during the event included:
The current challenges facing LGBT teachers.
Finding your voice in the NASUWT.
Tackling homophobia in schools.
Exploring bisexual identities.
Assertiveness and confidence building.
Putting the Equality Act into practice.
More advice and guidance for LGBT teachers is available on the NASUWT website at www.nasuwt.org.uk/LGBT