When I seen this on the list of workshop proposals for EPP I was quite excited for it. I was keen to see what we would be discussing, what areas would be addressed and whether it would give us a bit more information than might schools teachers had received themselves.
The first 15 minutes or so were delivered by Dr David Smith, from the University of Aberdeen. He had undertaken studies into LGBT issues and some of the information he parted with the lecture hall really helped set the scene for what was to come. He showed a word cloud which in the centre had the word ‘bullying’. Whether pupils within schools had experienced it, seen it or thought that was the biggest issue that affected them as LGBT individuals. The study had been done in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and he is looking to do a comparison of these to see whether or not ‘bullying’ has reduced in the eyes of the respondents. I was also heartened to see that from the evidence that visibility of LGBT issues was improving in the Secondary sector but in the Primary sector there was still a long way to go.
Some of the key themes he pointed out included: Power, Fear, Silence, Homophobia and Prejudice, Lack of Confidence for the (Student) Teacher to tackle the issues all of these themes are valid. If you don’t know how to tackle these froma teacher perspective, or think you have the power to go and speak to someone about theses issues, it will never change.
Then came Graeme from LGBT Youth Scotland.
I was totally blown away by his presentation.
Some of the statistics he used were indeed shocking, 69% of LGB people and 70% of Trans students are bullied at school. My first thought unfortunately was yea, you are absolutely right, I was one of those people who was bullied for my perceived sexuality. I never came out til I was 17 just before I went to University. At the time LGBT issues weren’t spoken about, not in a bad way it was more that they just weren’t mentioned or it wasn’t really introduced within the curriculum in any shape or form.
I was most disheartened to hear about the use of the term ‘gay’ as insult that children in Primary 4 were beginning to use this and if it went unchallenged it would continue and just become the norm
I’ve actually had experience of this where I’ve challenged the language, I had just started a new job working for an energy company and we were going through training, roughly a group of 12 people or so and one of the attendees just goes ‘Oh naw, that’s gay’ and I just found myself going, ‘Sorry but I’d prefer if you didn’t use that term’. The room stopped and they looked at me. ‘Can you not use it in that sense? If something is stupid or daft then say that, don’t use the term gay’. Needless to say the trainer in the room had to move on quickly but it seemed that the individual had gotten the jist of what I was getting at. Now I’ll be honest, I don’t know why I had said it or challenged it but I think something just snapped and I mjst have just thought, enough is enough. Best of it was, there were 3 other LGBT individuals, one of which was the trainer. A few weeks later we had a get together as a few people had left and it turned out after a few drinks the trainer turned round and said I’m actually really glad you challenged her on that, I was secretly sitting there, ‘On ye go!’. That comment form the trainer just made me feel positive about what I had done as there were clearly other people in the room who felt the same but may have not had the confidence to challenge someone displaying that behaviour.
Getting back to Graeme’s presentation it was interesting to see the prior knowledge that individuals had relating to other terms associated with LGBT but not necessarily ‘well heard of’. When the graphic came up of the entire ‘PPLGBTQQIAADG,NB,GQ,GF,2S’ I was amazed at how many I was able to still remember and get right, yet at the same time learning something a bit new. Looks like all those years during my undergraduate degree within the NUS Scotland LGBT and NUS LGBT campaigns had remained with me for the better.
We were shown celebrity LGBT role models and many people did the whole, ‘oh yeah I forgot they were…’, myself included! Then Graeme showed us even more pictures, this time it was more a case of do you know who these people are. These were people that LGBT Youth Scotland service users had said they knew about and wanted to include. Out of the 6 I only knew one of them, Leelah Alcorn. A truly horrifying story of a trans woman who’s parents would not accept her, sending her to a conversion therapy camp, who committed suicide in December 2014 and left a powerful suicide note after she died. Her parents, refusing to respect her as Leelah, buried her as a boy, with her male name and banned all friends from attending her funeral.
He then showed us another 6 photos, and another 6. All of these people had committed suicide due to bullying of their sexuality or perceived bullying in one case. One boy in the USA, who had a girlfriend and at camp was playing spin the bottle, dared to kiss a boy, was then photographed doing so, was bullied for two weeks before he took his own life. None of this should be happening. Ever.
We were then informed that about 48% of Trans people attempt suicide but if they have the help and support in place, whether form family, friends or outside organisations then this greatly reduces.
These stats did and still do shock me but it shows how far we have yet to go. We need to be open, inclusive and unafraid to tackle prejudice in any shape or form. One of the last things that really brought a tear to my eye was when he said, if you have a circle of friends and there happens to be someone LGBT in your group or you don’t know that they are, let them know that you don’t care if people are LGBT. It’s about the person, the individual and who they are not who they love. It really made me well up, made me think of the ‘It Gets Better Campaign’, which I can’t watch at any point because I usually end up crying about people’s own harrowing experiences of being LGBT, even though they are now in a place in which they feel positive and are happy with who and where they are in their own life.
We finished on a short video called ‘Ryland’s Story’. A family coming to terms with their child who self-identifies as a boy, but born a girl. I looked around as the video was on, people were genuinely moved by the story, by the human element of it and the things that Ryland and the Whittington Family went through together.
I was lucky, I only experienced some name calling, was attacked once at school for my perceived sexuality. Others are brutally attacked, afraid to speak up, not accepted by their family, their friends, unable to be themselves, self-harm and ultimately some even take their own lives.
If I remember one thing from this entire year, it is that I will be available, non-judgemental and will do my best to promote equality and inclusion in all aspects of my teaching career.