This weekend sees the official launch of the latest grassroots diversity network, #LGBTEd, co-founded by Hannah Jepson and Daniel Gray, in collaboration with Claire Birkenshaw and building on the legacy of David Weston.
#WomenEd is in its 4th year and #BAMEed is going into its 2nd year. Both have created momentum with the nationwide discussions about diversity, equality and inclusion. #LGBTed joined us at the Diverse Educators event in January along with #DisabilityEd. We believe it was one of the first events in the country to address the intersectionality of our identity.
I am proud to have supported #LGBTed in initiating this much needed next step in our shared vision and collective journey to make our schools more inclusive, to ensure that our schools are safe spaces for all of our students and for all of our staff.
Moreover to model the fact that edu events can have diverse line ups and panels. That there are educators and experts who can represent #BAMEed #WomenEd #DisabilityEd and #LGBTed. That there really is no excuse for a manel!
One of my Deputy Headteachers, Bennie Kara, delivered a cracking closing keynote at Diverse Educators I on ‘wearing all the labels’. She asked us to not to tuck her labels in for her. The metaphor of wearing multiple hats and having multiple labels sticking out extended throughout her anecdotes which were heart warming and uplifting but also a reality check.
As an Asian, bisexual woman Bennie has taught me a lot about the true meaning of diversity. Before she started at Aureus she asked me if she was allowed to be openly out. I was shocked that she felt like she needed to ask my permission for this, she explained that you cannot ever assume as even the most liberal leaders had recommended to her in her career that it was best to keep these things private. I had to check my straight white privilege.
Discussing some students who were vulnerable to homophobia in our first term, she educated me once more on the fact that gender and race are generally, what you see is what you get, but with sexuality you need to out yourself in each new connection/ conversation. I had to check my straight white privilege once again.
I consider myself to be very open, liberal, empathetic and supportive of people from diverse backgrounds, but how much did/do I truly understand about the experiences of others?
I attended the Educate and Celebrate school leaders training day in the Autumn term to develop my understanding and awareness. It was my 2nd encounter with Dr Elly Barnes who is an inspiring facilitator. I booked her to join us at our whole staff INSET in January to kick start our 2nd term. She was just what we needed to take our diversity and equality vision forwards.
All of my teaching staff and the operations team at Aureus have been recruited through a values-led approach. I made it clear from the outset that my non-negotiables were to have Diversity, Equality and Wellbeing as 3 of our core values so all of my team are on board with this, but I was still pleasantly surprised at the reception, reflection and discussion in our LGBT+ training session. There were staff who I thought may struggle, who may get uncomfortable with some of the activities, but instead I saw a real commitment from everyone on the team to tackle prejudice and discrimination.
In the Spring Term we launched our Prejudice Log. Yes, it is mandatory to report on racism and homophobia, but we also log incidents involving the other protected characteristics. In our opinion there is not a hierarchy of which discrimination is palatable, and which is not.
As February approached, Love was our value of the month. I knew I wanted to tackle the low level homophobic comments in a formal way, so I planned an assembly on ‘Love Without Labels’ using the video that Elly had shared with the staff. I did wonder how our students would react, whether there would be a ripple across the assembly hall or uncomfortable shifting in the seat but there was not. I checked my white straight privilege yet again.
I reminded myself that I was not outing myself, I was vocalising my advocacy for celebrating difference and accepting one another.
Yet, despite our values, our assemblies and our reflections. Despite our Educate and Celebrate posters in every room and despite high profile challenge of inappropriate language the explicit homophobic comments continued. I had lost count of the homophobic incidents I had investigated and sanctioned.
Bennie came to my office one day in a contemplative mood and said: “I think it is time”. Time for what? I queried, was I late for gate duty again? “I think it is time I did my coming out assembly. They need to know that their words are hurting people in our community, that their words are hurting me”. I nodded in agreement. I checked her slides, I sent her a vote of confidence and I reassured her that it would be okay.
Bennie delivered one of those assemblies that I will never forget. An assembly that the staff will talk about in the future. An assembly that the students went home and told their parents about. I couldn’t look at her as she presented as I knew my emotions would come pouring out. My heart was swelling with pride and respect for her. I could hear the hesitation in her voice at points as she carefully chose her words to ensure that they landed correctly. I knew that she felt the responsibility that she bore for the students in the room this would affect in the future.
We did not receive a single complaint, instead Bennie received positive feedback from students and their parents about her courage. Encouragement from parents we did not expect to hear from. It seems that we under-estimated not only our staff, our students but our wider community too.
So that is why I will support the #LGBTed community each step on their journey:
Not all staff feel supported to share their personal stories. Not all audiences will be as open and accepting. Not all communities will be as supportive. Not all students will know that they are in a safe space where they can explore their full selves and grow in confidence in who they are. Not all schools have #LGBTed who are prepared to make themselves this vulnerable for the benefit of the wider LGBT+ community.
I wish everyone at #LGBTed this Saturday a brilliant day of connecting, collaborating and cheering one another along. I will be following & supporting from twitter. I am sure the event will be as special as the launch of #womened & the energy in the room will be as palpable.
Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher
Currently feeling hopeful about:
- The change that #LGBTed will bring to our schools for our staff and for our students
Currently reading and thinking about:
- The Working Class – Ian Gilbert et al
Currently feeling grateful for:
- Having a brilliant diverse team at Aureus who are passionate about inclusion for all
- Having a diverse PLN of inspiring changemakers!