A recent study conducted by Research Without Barriers, in collaboration with Just Like Us – an LGBTQ+ youth charity has found that LGBTQ+ young people struggle more with bullying, loneliness and family rejection compared to their non-LGBT peers.
The study – conducted last year – surveyed 3,143 adults in the UK. It asked what advice they would give to themselves when they were younger. The study found that 37% of non-LGBT respondents would give themselves advice on money management, 35% suggested advice on starting their careers, 26% said applying to the right university, 23% meeting a partner and 20% passing their GCSE’s.
Contrast this to the responses of LGBTQ+ respondents, out of whom 38% said they would give their younger selves advice on being judged, 33% said being picked on, 28% said loneliness, 26% rejection from families and 24% coping with bullies.
For me, this shows that even now – in 2021 – there are significant barriers for young LGBTQ+ people in our schools. In my opinion, this is something we need to deal with, head on. This cannot be ignored. Taking steps to overcome the barriers they face and to prevent their negative experiences through our curriculum and systems is required in the new RSHE curriculum and under the Equality Act 2010. We have to ‘usualise’ (not normalise – what is normal?) the existence of LGBTQ+ individuals. That is to say that we have to make it usual for children and young people to acknowledge LGBTQ+ people and the vast contribution they have made to society ever since the dawn of human history.
Every year since 2005, LGBT+ history month has been celebrated in February across the UK. Since then, it has grown in recognition and prevalence across the country, now being a focus point of the year for many people. From 2011, there has been a theme each year linked to a different curriculum area, making LGBT+ history month even more relevant to both secondary and primary schools. This year, the theme is ‘Body, Mind, Spirit’ linked to the PSHE/RSHE curriculum.
For the primary teacher, I would suggest that LGBT+ history month would be an excellent start to begin to ‘usualise’ LGBTQ+ people and family constructs in your school. Fortunately for us, there is now a whole raft of texts, websites and resources to support primary teachers with planning and teaching sequences of lessons surrounding LGBT+ issues, addressing different family constructs and usualising LGBT+ people.
The RSHE focus this year offers the opportunity to adopt a cross-curricular approach. There are many activities which you might like to try with either class-based or online learning which meet English curriculum objectives as well as beginning to discuss the impact LGBTQ+ people have had on society throughout history and raise awareness with younger children.
LGBT characters should be represented in KS1. Challenging prejudicial use of language might begin In KS1 and certainly no later than KS2. This might begin with an exploration of the misapplication of the word ‘gay’. It is still used as an insult and some children may only know it as such. A great start would be to have a discussion about gay people and how using the word as an insult is very homophobic and have a huge negative impact on people who identify as gay. Having this conversation in a non-threatening context at an early age could prevent some bullying behaviour that may become more prevalent in later school years if this is not addressed. I believe that this is something which often – though not always – is a result of ignorance rather than maliciousness. Of course, with my English hat on, this type of activity is also an excellent opportunity for children to practise their spoken language skills.
This website: www.lgbtplushistorymonth.co.uk has a range of resources to support schools specifically around LGBT+ history month. Amongst the resources, are a range of fact sheets about individuals who all contributed to society in different ways, and who identify as LGBT+ including Lily Parr who was a female footballer in the early 20th century. There is information about other individuals and you will need to read them carefully to decide on the suitability of these in your classroom. These can be found here: www.lgbtplushistorymonth.co.uk/resources. These could make a great reading activity for children in KS2 leading into a discussion about the contributions which people can make, no matter who they are and how they identify. Perhaps the children could write a biography about one of these individuals detailing their achievements? You may wish to complete a similar activity with other LGBT+ individuals who are more current and children may know of such as Tom Daley, Dr Ranj Singh and Nicola Adams.
Of course, many great English-based learning activities will have, at the centre of it, a high-quality text. There are now a growing number of fantastic texts which help to usualise LGBTQ+ people and family constructs which are suitable for children of all ages. For my top recommendations, you may wish to see my previous blog from November 2020. However, there are plenty more. You might want to look at the LGBTQ+ primary hub here: www.lgbtqprimaryhub.com where there are a range of resources and other information as well as a comprehensive list of recommended texts which you may find useful. ‘No Outsiders’ found here: www.no-outsiders.com is also a great resource to find lesson plans and text recommendations which can support you to effectively teach this subject in a primary classroom.
One activity you may want to consider trying is asking KS2 children to innovate a traditional tale. This could be done in a number of ways. Perhaps the prince would rather marry another prince, instead of a princess. You could challenge traditional gender norms; perhaps the princess rescues the prince, instead of the other way around. You could challenge traditional family structures; maybe the three bears consisted of two mummy bears and a baby bear instead of daddy, mummy and baby. This could be a nice creative activity where you can focus on many different English objectives as well as drawing attention to LGBTQ+ families and individuals. Gender Swapped Fairy Tales is published by Faber and could be used as a stimulus?
Within all of these resources and suggestions, there is a plethora of activities, text suggestions and ways to engage children in this vital topic. It is our duty to usualise the existence of LGBTQ+ people and families. We must acknowledge the contribution which LGBTQ+ people have made to society throughout history. LGBT+ History month is the perfect opportunity to do that.