The Story of Schools OUT UK
Being run (mostly) by teachers, for teachers, Schools OUT UK has credibility in its field that belies its tiny size (a steering committee of between 12 and 20 people). The nationally recognised LGBT History Month initiative was started by them in 2005 and has been extensively praised by Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative party leaders, and they have worked with the Metropolitan Police; The Ministry of Justice and Crown prosecution Services and others on numerous guidance initiatives to do with hate crime and LGBT issues, as well as regularly contributing articles, expertise and informed opinion for TV, radio and other media. They have marched and demonstrated their belief in equality and diversity.
And we do it all voluntarily. We are Schools OUT UK, and I joined last year as promotions Officer.
In 1996 Schools OUT began training for school teachers under the name Chrysalis. In 2007 a dynamic music teacher called Elly Barnes, who had been doing astounding things at her school in Stoke Newington, practically eradicating homophobia and transphobia by implementing LGBT History Month throughout her school, made a presentation at the launch at The Royal Courts of Justice (was the spirit of Alan Turing looking down with wry amusement that night?). Her Educate and Celebrate training initiative was soon affiliated to Schools OUT, expanding after the premature death of Paul Patrick (1950 - 2008) who was co-chair with Sue Sanders. In 2012 Elly was voted Number 1 on the Independent on Sunday's Pink List, the 101 most influential LGBT people in the UK. Her programme continues to be praised by Ofsted as offering "best practice" to make schools LGBT-friendly. She is now an advisor to Birmingham City Council. Speaking in an interview for Pink Parenting Magazine in May, Elly said: "We are not born homophobic and transphobic; "acceptance" can ultimately only come from education. If we don't start to talk about this openly then children will think that something is wrong or different and that is how the bullying can start."
Elly is organising the prelaunch for History Month 2014 - November 28th sees the unveiling of "Sing It Loud" at the University of Birmingham. To maintain a wide appeal LGBT HM has adopted a different theme each year: this time it is Music, so we have successful LGBT musicians as the "Faces of 2014"; Benjamin Britten, Angela Morley, Bessie Smith and Ethel Smyth. Last year it was science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with Alan Turing as the face of 2013; next year will be History, though the figureheads have yet to be finalised.
Running through all of this work are our three constant threads - the principles of usualising and actualising, plus the opportunity to realise LGBT people in areas such as History. Everyone working for Schools OUT agrees, to have to implement strategies to deal with homophobic and transphobic behaviour is intrinsically a failure. The perpetrators have already developed their bigotry. The victims are invisibilised by the heterosexism of society - the lack of prominent LGBT role models, and the perception of heterosexuality as a superior trait, so the bully is empowered for exactly the same reason. Usualising is simply that - getting someone used to the idea that there are LGBT people in the world; that they are not unusual; a fact which needs no discussion and so none is accepted. Actualising is having the opportunity to discuss and debate issues around a particular group (not necessarily LGBT), such as the current Russian situation. Realising, in a school sense would be the celebration or at least the public acknowledgement of the entirety of someone's character. So for example the part played in a specific author's success by the impact of their sexuality on their work.
The History Month website received over 50,000 hits that first February - from nowhere to somewhere very fast. Both it and the Schools OUT sites are constantly having new resources added by us, for use not just in February but throughout the year. In 2011 we added a new site - The Classroom, which features (at the moment) 36 fully resourced lesson plans with PowerPoint attached. But nowhere will you see "the gay lesson" - instead, usualising is dropped in; a lesson on shape will be based around the shapes of the tents at Brighton pride; a maths problem may feature two boys sharing their sweets or two girls.
That is why current co-chairs Tony Fenwick and Sue Sanders, plus Elly Barnes, myself and the others working for Schools OUT do so with such dedication, on top of their day-to-day jobs and for no financial reward.
We have all seen the ugly face of homophobia and transphobia, some of us have felt its hand, and we know schools are still the home to heteronormativity - the wholly untrue predisposition towards white, heterosexual, Christian, middle-class, middle-aged male dominated society. Look on the walls of some schools even now and you might assume that there are no black, LGBT, disabled females in the building! How can any child include themselves in a society, whatever its size, if they cannot see themselves reflected in it? And how can anyone, child or teacher, work in an environment where they do not feel safe?
Today, discrimination is a sackable offence; it is also the failure of education. But to say there is a "crisis" is being disingenuous. Our challenge against discrimination and prejudice in UK schools has actually been maintained with unpretentious effectiveness since 1974, without sponsorship and with little celebrity endorsement. This year we become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, which can only enable us further, and we are hoping to continue to grow, and we are always interested in new and interesting methods of funding.
Schools OUT UK exists for two reasons: to educate OUT prejudice. And to celebrate being LGBT.
If you would like to work with us, we would welcome any additional volunteers and are looking for better Trans representation and BEM representation on the committee.
Contact: [email protected] or [email protected] .