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Reflections to mark LGBT+ History Month

As part of LGBT+ History Month 2022, school leaders are sharing how they're marking the month in their school and which LGBT+ figures have inspired them.

Helen Richardson, deputy head teacher, Seely Primary and Nursery School

It turns out it's really difficult to name inspirational LGBT+ people. It's a bit like being asked to name your favourite song. Where do you start narrowing it down? Growing up under Section 28 between the ages of seven and 22, I really lacked LGBT+ role models in my youth, but I've spent a lot of time recently researching LGBT+ history (particularly British LGBT+ history) for my own interest and for work, and I'm definitely in awe of the following people: 

Mark Ashton: British gay rights activist and co-founder of LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners). It must have been hard enough being a gay man in the 1980s, but Mark looked for other struggling communities and decided (sometimes against great resistance) to support the striking miners.

Justin Fashanu: I'm a big football fan. Justin was incredibly brave to come out when he did. It's 2022, and the significant lack of out male players in the Premiership is telling – the football world hasn't really moved on. Sport is for everyone, and I hope in the future that acceptance and respect can overcome the hatred often heard in the football stands.

Baynard Rustin: as an advisor to Martin Luther King Jr, Baynard planned the 1963 march on Washington where MLK delivered his famous 'I have a dream speech'. Non-violent protests were important to Baynard to get across the message of inequality. He campaigned for an end to racial discrimination and, as a gay man, gay rights too.

Lisa Power: it would be hard to list all the achievements and contributions that Lisa has made to the LGBT+ community, but campaigning to end Section 28, co-founding Stonewall and the Pink Paper and being the first openly LGBT+ person to speak at the United Nations are but a few. Lisa is a trustee of Queer Britain, which is opening the first LGBTQ+ museum in spring 2022 in London, and I cannot wait to visit it!

This year, 2022, is the first year my school has celebrated LGBT+ History Month, so it was important for me to get it right. As the theme is ‘politics in art’, each year group has an LGBT+ artist who used/uses their art to campaign for change (Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Doris Brabham-Hatt, Jean-Michel Basquinat, Leilah Babirye and Keith Haring). The children are going to produce art in the style of their artist and learn about their background. We're going to make the finished work into a big LGBT+ History Month display. I'm really excited about the combination of LGBT+, history and art. I've also been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of my colleagues for the project. We're kicking off the month with age-appropriate assemblies about significant moments in LGBT+ history.

LGBT+ History Month will form an important part of our diversity work at Seely, and add to other elements of work we've done to educate the children about acceptance and respect of the protected characteristics.

Troy Jenkinson, head teacher at Highgate Primary, Sileby, Leicestershire

Writing this as another February LGBT+ History Month approaches, I take this time to reflect on those who influenced my thinking, growing up and beginning my career during the period of the infamous Section 28.

I cast my mind back to watching the hugely influential mini-series Queer as Folk back in 1999, written by the amazingly talented Russell T Davies. Back then, I was a fresh-faced student teacher nearing the end of my university degree. Closeted for the vast majority of my school years, I was still subjected to venomous bullying from peers ignorant to the impact of their jeers. I tried to find my voice as I neared the end of my sixth-form days, but divided reactions firmly shut the closet doors once more, and I led a double life throughout the majority of my formative years of university.

By day I was taking the path into a respected profession, yet by night I was venturing into an exploratory world of the unknown gay scene in Nottingham. I was fortunate to find a close group of friends who supported one another in finding their feet. Yet, I found no LGBT role models to look up to. Thanks to Mrs Thatcher's Section 28, it was illegal to discuss anything to do with being gay in school settings and gay characters such as Colin in EastEnders were vilified in the media.

So along came Russell T Davies and this ‘out there’ show. The characters were positive. The show was funny, yet it tackled issues facing the LGBT community. I remember watching it in secret, volume turned down. Fast forward a few years and Russell has continued to influence with his writing. He brought back Doctor Who with queer characters such as Captain Jack, broke boundaries with Cucumber and most recently in 2021, gained critical acclaim with his hugely successful series It's a Sin.

So how has this influenced me as an educationalist? Russell's first venture gave me hope. It made me realise that I wasn't a freak of nature. His offerings in Doctor Who and Cucumber reflected the changing attitudes towards all marginalised groups and reaffirmed my belief in myself. This belief helped me grasp every opportunity to progress in my teaching career and move into leadership positions that have allowed me to influence positive change. It's a Sin served as a reminder of the challenges many of us faced growing up gay in a world that, not so long ago, was less accepting than it is now.

Russell's work has stimulated my passion for writing and promoting equality in my own small way. As a primary school teacher, I have always loved writing, as much as teaching writing. So, when an opportunity arose for me to develop stories I had used in assemblies into self-published picture books tackling equality issues, I jumped at the chance. This has allowed me to visit many schools (during my school holidays) to help promote diversity through my book The Best Mummy Snails in the Whole Wide World.

Simultaneously, I was thrilled to work with Andrew Moffatt, a leading LGBT activist and author of No Outsiders in Our Schools. Taking inspiration from him, I was able to develop the use of picture books as a vehicle of representation for children and families of all different characteristics in our community. Not only this, but I was able to help our children feel and believe that they too could help to break down barriers. They were only too proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with schools in Birmingham who were subjected to protests against the ‘No Outsiders’ work, both locally and on a national level.

Russell – I have you to thank for being an inspiration, not just to me, but to many. I look forward to seeing what you have to offer next with your work.

David Church

As we enter this year's LGBT+ History Month, I'm keen to reflect on the journey we are on as a society, an LGBT+ community and on a more personal and professional level.

The year 2022 marks 50 years since the first Pride march in 1972. In that time, societal attitudes have changed. Society is now more accepting of the LGBT+ community. Television, film and music are now populated with openly queer people – just look at the public support affection for John and Johannes on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing, or the popularity of It's A Sin. Even sport is becoming more diverse, with more LGBT+ representation than ever before.

Politically, Section 28 has come and gone. Homosexuality has been declassified as a mental health illness, there is marriage equality, and sexual orientation and gender reassignment are now protected characteristics under the Equality Act.

However, on a personal level, I have only recently begun to explore my identity as a gay man within the teaching profession and accept this part of my identity with pride. There are two authors to which I credit this: Matthew Todd and George M Johnson.

Todd's book Straightjacket: Overcoming society's legacy of gay shame has been pivotal in allowing me to reflect on how society is heteronormative and the impact this has on young LGBT+ people. As a result, this has allowed me to question the role schools play in reinforcing these norms. It's given me the ability to feel stronger as a person and confident enough to not just celebrate LGBT+ diversity in schools, but ensure that allies also consider this important – both for staff, our children and their families.

Johnson's book All Boys Aren't Blue has been critical in allowing me to understand the intersectionality between being black and non-binary, and how identity is delicately formed in childhood. In his book, Johnson writes so eloquently that "the white community has long prevented Black progress in every arena. Even today, institutions are still having 'the first Black person to…' And it means something" (page 91). Although I don't share Johnson's lived experiences, I can relate this to being part of the LGBT+ community. There are still the same conversations around sexual identity and gender reassignment. Wouldn't it be wonderful, a time when we're not saying 'the first queer person to…'?

Finally, as I reflect on the theme for this year's LGBT+ History Month, 'the arc is long', I'm reminded that while there has been substantial positive change towards greater LGBT+ diversity, we are on a long journey towards true equality. It's right to look back and reflect on the civil rights movement, but we must keep sight of the journey ahead, towards a day when there is true equality for all, and LGBT+ History Month is no longer required, as it's part of the fabric of society, politics and education.
So, for the children we teach today, while the progress in society, politics and education is a huge achievement and rightly deserves celebration, there is still work to be done.
At my school, Harris Garrard Academy in London, we are proudly celebrating LGBT+ History Month through learning about seven artists (one for each year group) who have had to face their own personal struggles or used their art to convey a political message. We're looking at their artistic styles and enriching our curriculum by comparing them to their more famous (and non-queer) peers. For example, Year 4 are studying Fiore de Henriquez compared to Giorgio Morandi, allowing the children apply their knowledge and understanding of how Morandi painted to represent de Henriquez's sculptures. It is hoped that this will broaden the children's understanding of a range of artists, as well as educate them about the LGBT+ community.
The arc is long. The rainbow is bright, and the future is ours to make.

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First published 17 February 2022