One in five teachers is uncomfortable discussing LGBT+ issues with pupils. As a teacher from the LGBT community, my ears pricked up yesterday when youth charity Just Like Us published the results of a poll of 6,179 primary and secondary school teachers.
All children need to learn about LGBT+ issues, not just those who are questioning their own sexuality or gender. Some young people may have parents who are in a same-sex relationship; others may have family members who are transgender.
When I transitioned nine years ago, I knew how much my children valued school staff who were confident to listen to them when they talked about what was happening at home.
But what about their classmates? Who should answer their questions? As teachers, we need to be prepared to lead and guide discussions when they happen, not wait until the topic appears on a teaching scheme. We have a duty of care. If we avoid the questions, who knows where children might look for answers?
If their parents are unwilling to talk, social media may be their only other source of information. As teachers we are all too aware of the dangers lurking on the internet. We work hard to make school a safe space for children to learn, and that includes matters of sexuality and gender.
That is a big responsibility and we need effective and appropriate training. We need the confidence to address this issue in the same way as any other issue that may arise.
The Just Like Us website states that the charity has been working with ‘thousands of primary schools, secondary schools and colleges for five years, helping to make education more inclusive’.
Chief executive Dominic Arnell says:
‘We don’t blame teachers for feeling uncomfortable – they may not have had the resources or personal life experiences – but all you need is a willingness to support your pupils, and Just Like Us can help provide lesson plans, assemblies, talks and training so that you feel confident discussing LGBT+ topics with your pupils.’Dominic Arnell
After forgiving and excusing us tired teachers, Arnell then offers a ready-made solution: call us and we will send in our people to put things right in your school. His LGBT+ young adult ambassadors will use their ‘personal experience of coming out and overcoming bullying in the recent past to give hope to LGBT+ pupils’.
While I respect the sentiment, it’s this language that worries me greatly and highlights the importance of normalising LGBT+ issues. I may be transgender, but I’m first and foremost a human being. When I have problems, I don’t necessarily look to other transgender people for help, support and advice. Rather, I turn first to my family, friends and colleagues.
Of course, some teachers will feel more comfortable than others talking about these topics, but that could be said about many pastoral issues with which schools are grappling.
Children who might identify as LGBT+ should be encouraged to look beyond the LGBT+ bubble. I would be concerned if children were given the impression that LGBT+ people might have special knowledge about their lives just because they were LGBT+.
So what should teachers do to help pupils who might identity as lesbian, gay, bi or trans? They should address any issues of bullying, just as they would for any other pupil. It’s our obligation as teachers to provide them with the information and space to develop their own identities.
Debbie Hayton is a transgender British secondary school science teacher and political activist.
* This article was first published by Mail+ on 19 November 2021: It shouldn’t just be LGBT people helping struggling teenagers with their gender and sexuality.