When you live and breathe LGBT+ youth work you can’t help but see interconnected things out there, in the wider world. Here are some strange things I have noticed in recent times:
- 1. In last summer’s Manchester’s Pride Parade, a famous low-cost supermarket paid for a spot in the parade and chose as their entry a lorry. This was not an open-top lorry full of celebrating LGBT+ people in bright costumes, but instead it was just an ordinary lorry that you might see on the motorway – the supermarket’s logo emblazoned on the side – driven by one solitary, stony-faced driver in a high vis jacket;
- 2. This year for Pride season, a well-known, middle-class supermarket they have decided to sell us not the usual BLT sandwich, but instead (and in rainbow wrapping of course), an LGBT sandwich. (Lettuce, bacon, tomato and the ‘G’ is guacamole, in case you were wondering);
- 3. In recent an advert break on television, same-sex couples were depicted in three of the adverts. They were shown alongside a hand-picked selection of other ‘alternative families’. The happy same-sex couple was shown for a fleeting moment before the next smiling couple (one white person and one black person) followed by the next grouping (a grandparent with some children) before a vague comment about the company being ‘there for you’;
So what does this all mean, and why am I not yet ready to be celebrating the strides we have made in terms of LGBT+ equality?
One reason is because we are thinking about LGBT+ ‘equality’ in the first place. Youth work often prefers the term ‘equity’. When The Proud Trust and other seasoned youth work educators ask in training, ‘what does equality mean?’ we are almost guaranteed that the first response is: ‘treating everyone the same’. We then use an example of why this might not work e.g. ‘if we have an event on the first floor of a building and provide everyone with access to the stairs, we are treating everyone the same. In theory, everyone can come to the event. But if you are a wheelchair user, or have a push-chair with you, being treated the same means you have no access to the event.’ Equity on the other hand, might mean we give the wheelchair user and the person with the push-chair access to the lift, or choose a different space for our event.
So when employers talk about LGBT+ equality, they’re not wrong (and happily this is a far cry from the discrimination seen in past decades), but they’re not right either.
There are some things which LGBT+ people experience differently. A cisgender colleague is unlikely to talk to you about how they could ‘manage the risks’ of coming in to work wearing a dress for the first time, but a trans colleague might ask you this.
A straight colleague is unlikely to tell you that they are called ‘Straight-Rob’ when they are introduced to new staff, but a gay colleague might have experienced being called ‘Gay-Rob’ in similar circumstances, and feel unable to challenge this.
A lesbian you work with might find it hard to explain how being treated as ‘one of the lads’ in a male workplace feels alienating, (somehow her colleagues mistook her lesbianism to mean ‘being a man’). Being treated the same just doesn’t hit the mark.
But for many LGBT+ people we accept this as ‘as good as it gets’. We try to fit in and some of us can still succeed under the straight and cisgender rules of society. But it’s a far cry from what our elders from the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) laid out in their 1971 manifesto, which talks about the perils of heteronormativity (a term that would not be coined until twenty years later in 1991. It means that being straight is the default, the usual, the norm, the best), and how the family system creates ‘a captive wife, educated by advertising and everything she reads into believing that she needs ever more goodies for the home.’
But here is the twisted trick for 2019: Market researchers have now realised that they can teach the new LGBT+ market to want to buy their way to happiness, as much as the housewife of the 1960s did. Marketing is now using our own images back at us. They know many of us LGBT+ folk have been starved of positive representation of ourselves in mainstream media, but instead of gaining a broader diverse representation in all forms of media, instead we are baited into buying their things instead.
If we see a same sex couple enjoying their silky chocolate ice creams, we might buy that brand. If we see an androgynous person rocking-out to a hip soundtrack on a sports wear advert, we just might just buy those trainers (and Spotify that track). If our bank says ‘we are there for you’ and we see an image of a same sex couple on their advert and think ‘that IS me’, we stay loyal to them. But why should someone else get the crock of gold at the end of our rainbow?
So going back to my list, here are my messages:
- You can’t buy your way into showing you are LGBT+ inclusive – you should prove it instead. Do you, your colleagues, your employees know what to do if a young person comes out and says they will be kicked out of their home of anyone finds out? The Proud Trust offers high quality LGBT+ training that moves you beyond tokenism into something useful for the real world.
- Think if you would be comfortable to commodify other groups into a sandwich or meal type – Would ‘Kids in Care Curry’ (Kale and Cauliflower) or a BME breakfast (Beans, Mushrooms, Eggs) be in good taste to advertise on a menu? If the answer is no, then perhaps change the tokenism here for something more meaningful – support a local pride or sponsor a place on a residential trip for a young person from a low income background.
- If you advertise to us, you should invest in us. Every company advertising to the LGBT+ market should be actively paying for LGBT+ staff networks. How does your organisation support the often under or non-funded, local LGBT+ community group? Think beyond the traditional ‘usual suspect’ charities when you are considering that dress-down day or bake sale at work.
We have gained some freedoms, but let’s be clear, in the words of the Gay Liberation Front – ‘We do not intend to ask for anything. We intend to stand firm and assert our basic rights.’ These are the rights to not just equality but to equity; the rights to live out our wonderfully diverse lives in the workplace; the right to genuine representation across all the media and the right to not be sold out to tokenism and marketing.
On May 25th 2019 the World Health Organisation declassified being trans as being a mental disorder. Nationally, we are seeing a growth in our trans and non-binary population (a recent study by Daphna Joel & colleagues found that over a third of the general population felt to some extent that they were the “other” gender, both genders, and/or neither gender). And, locally, Greater Manchester is set to launch a pilot Trans Health Service by the end of 2019 (there is currently no service in the North West). So now marks an important time to explore the ways in which the outdated ideology that trans is a mental disorder has impacted on trans health services so far, and to identify how we can move forward to create a new and improved Trans Health Service.
One of the main impacts of this ideology has been the creation of a service which centres around making the healthcare practitioners comfortable, as opposed to centring on the needs of trans and non-binary people. This is apparent in the positioning of the practitioners as gatekeepers who are qualified to decide if someone is “trans enough” and requiring trans and non-binary people to pass a set of outdated criteria in order to be granted healthcare. We see it in the rigid and binary-centric system, and in the assumption that withholding treatment is a neutral or safer option. We can also see this in the comparative treatment of cis people, who not do not face the same burden of evidencing their commitment to treatment, nor are they required to be in distress for a prolonged period of time.
Not only does this create a system which ignores the holistic needs of those trying to access care, it actively creates an environment in which trans and non-binary people feel like they have to lie in order to gain healthcare. Ruth Pearce, author of Understanding Trans Health, describes this as “a context in which regret and harm proliferate”. Furthermore, the Women’s Equality Committee 2016 found that many patients had experienced abuse, harassment and sexual violence in the service, with many describing the experience as traumatic and feeling powerless. The current proposal for the Manchester Trans Health Service is likely to replicate many of these existing systems and oppressions if real change isn’t made, with the only arguable benefit being that it is less far to travel to. This is not good enough.
For this to change we need a change in power. Trans and non-binary knowledge must be seen as valid outside of trans and non-binary spaces. With trans and non-binary knowledge steering this new Trans Health Service we could broaden the narrative of what it does and can mean to be trans and start the work of dismantling the cisgenderism that informs existing services. Rather than interpreting gender diversity and transness as in opposition to the norm, we must move beyond the concept of a baseline norm from which to measure others against. Not only should this approach be used to dismantle the concept of cisness as the baseline norm, but also whitness, ableness, heterosexuality, and other dominant norms which work to uphold a power hierarchy.
We need to create a gender affirmative environment where trans and non-binary people are treated as experts of our own identities and bodies, and where we are both believed and empowered. We need a service which starts where the individual is at and which carves a pathway that is tailored to us. This would be based on what the person needs, not how well they meet outdated criteria about gender norms. Such spaces are already starting to be crafted by trans, non-binary and cis people both abroad and in England (see below for links). It is now time to adopt such an approach in Manchester in order to establish a Trans Health Service where people can not just access what we need to survive, but what is needed to thrive!
(I’d like to recognise that the terms “trans” and “non-binary” are not inherently separate or overlapping categories – some folk identify with and/or experience both while some only with one. I’d also like to recognise that a change in the way people who have or experience mental illness are able or unable to access care is also necessary).
Examples of trans health services and projects:
A key aspect of our LGBT+ awareness training sessions, is getting folk familiar, comfortable, and confident, with LGBT+ related language and terminology. As the “L” is first in the LGBT+ acronym, our starting point is always the word “lesbian”. Asking a room of fully grown adults to define this word is truly a sight to behold! It gets thought, over-thought, and thought through again, ultimately resulting in a diverse, and complex, set of answers to the question.
Once we’ve established the very simple answer, “a woman who is attracted to women”, delegates are asked how often they use the word in their lives – ‘hardly ever’ is the response. We want to think about why they don’t. Is it a word that we shouldn’t be using? What are we inadvertently saying, if we are never speaking this word? That being a lesbian is something that a person shouldn’t be…?
Primary school work is a massively growing area for us, with the term “age-appropriate” being banded around a lot. So, when is it “age-appropriate” to use the word “lesbian” in a classroom? It is highly unlikely that most primary teachers have used the word “lesbian” in their classrooms… Again, why not? When you unpick this fear of the word, it often comes down to people thinking “it’s a sexual word” … But is it?
Considering the word “lesbian” to be a sexual word is a mistake.
What do you know about a person’s sex life if they tell you that they are a lesbian? Nothing! In the same way you know nothing about a person’s sex life if you know that they are straight, bisexual, polyamorous, married, partnered, single, or whatever. It is this mistake that leads to young people still – even in 2019 – being told as they first come out as lesbian, that they can’t really be certain of that, until they have had sex, (presumably with a man). Can a young woman really be certain that she is “really straight”, until she has had sex with a woman? Obviously not, and the latter statement is never said.
So what it is appropriate to do, is to frame words correctly. Framing words such as “penis” and “vagina” as “parts of the body” words, rather than “sexual words” suddenly makes it very clear that these words can, and should be, used. The same is true of the word “lesbian”. It should be considered not a sexual word, but rather a “type of someone’s identity” word, (in the same way that a Muslim is a type of someone’s identity, a wheelchair user describes a type of someone’s identity, etc.). Suddenly, again, it becomes clear that the word “lesbian”, can, and should be said, in a classroom, at any age.
Next to define from our acronym is the “G”, gay. Traditionally, this is a word that we would have defined as “men who are attracted to men”, but more recently has come to be an umbrella term for “people who are attracted to other people of the same gender”. When we discuss this the inevitable next question in a training room is, “well why do we still need the word lesbian then?”
Well, if you ask a person to name as many gay celebrities as they can, will get you a long list… of men, with an occasional smattering of women. So we must consider why the word “gay” has become the umbrella term and not the word “lesbian”? Why are gay men far more present in our society and collective consciousness than lesbians? Sexism, misogynistic bias, subconscious bias all play their part.
So, we ask of you, what are you doing to redress this balance in your work and life spaces?
How are you making sure that women’s (and lesbian’s) stories are represented? What are you doing to ensure that any child with two mums, feels included in a conversation about families? How are you ensuring that the girls and young women that exist in you communities can identify as “lesbian” with absolute pride?
Lesbian: an appropriate (and crucial) word, all ages.
What do these things have in common: an allotment, a night market, a sexual health clinic, a youth work conference, a pub, a 40th birthday party, a circus training school, an alleyway? These are just some of the places where I have met academics who I have gone on to collaborate with.
I sometimes describe myself as an accidental academic; and the places in common outlined above would certainly attest to this! I never had my sights on academia, but I was encouraged by someone to do a PhD and somehow it worked out. I always felt odd in the university environment, not least because I was doing it part-time and had a lot of responsibility working as a manager for a national charity at the same time. In a way I saw my PhD research as an extension of my professional practice – an extended (and under-paid) CPD! I was clear that I did not want to enter academia as a career and the research I undertook had to benefit my own professional practice. More on that later.
One of my major frustrations is the polarising of academic practice and youth and community work practice. More helpfully, it is important to recognise and have insight into the way that both practice areas are governed. They have organising principles and structures that guide their work, along with rigorous scrutiny evidence bases. Despite often feeling quite polarised, they both offer valuable and unique perspectives, and fundamentally both practices have the need for knowledge. Working well together takes commitment and patience to understand each perspective and engage with each industry – which frequently have competing priorities and agendas. Applying the learning from one setting to the other also requires exceptional focus, mental agility and a depth of understanding. Doing both well is difficult so working with trusted colleagues and partners is key, as they can often synthesise and apply knowledge, theory and implications to practice in different and insightful ways.
Much like working or collaborating with any other profession, working with academics well requires getting to know the person, their institution and – crucially – the relationships and differences between the two. Find out what their agenda is, what they are committed to (both politically and in terms of research outcomes), what are their passions and interests – because it’s often the ability to share values and principles of working that will enable a positive working relationship. Although it’s a cliché, it’s true – working with people you know, respect and value is a great way to enhance and develop your practice and create changes for the better. We all have our ‘passion projects’ that we really love and go above and beyond for. Collaborating with others who bring fresh insight and access to information and knowledge you wouldn’t normally have access to can really enrich our working lives and the work we do.
Don’t underestimate curiosity. An openness and eagerness to learning and finding things out can bring about impactful changes, but sometimes you just have to be curious and turn up to things you can’t see or feel connections with. This is tricky because time is often precious and allocating capacity to meetings, events or conferences with an unknown, or possibly even no, tangible outcome is difficult to justify. However, here are a few of ways this has paid off for me, and my work at the Proud Trust, so far:
- This year marks the second research project that I will be collaborating in researching LGBTQ young people’s mental health. This is funded by the National Institute of Health Research and lasts for three years, with the outcome being to inform national guidance and recommendations which will directly affect the young people that the Proud Trust works with. I met the senior research associate who I am collaborating alongside in a sexual health clinic.
- I have accepted an invitation to become a critical friend of an exciting project that looks at reanimating data from 30 years ago. My involvement will allow me access to knowledge that bridges generations and has relevance to my current work. The academics involved in this project include someone I met through an allotment, someone I met at a conference, someone who taught me during my post graduate diploma course (who is now a neighbour) and my external examiner for my PhD.
- I have recently been asked to proof read a manuscript in English, by a writer and translator who has English as an additional language. Although not directly related to my youth and community work practice this allows me to keep utilising skills that I may otherwise not always get to. This came about through a chance meeting at a circus training school, where we both performed in a community show.
The Rainbow Flag has long been a symbol of LGBT+ celebration and pride. Created in 1978 for and by LGBT+ people to have a positive symbol to represent the pride we have in ourselves, to make visible spaces we can feel safe in and to symbolise our movement for liberation. Despite it’s positive intentions, the pride flag isn’t something I’ve always felt positively connected to.
As a young person, aged 16, out and very proud of myself, wanting to be visible in all the ways possible so the world could see me; the flag was something that really excited me! I wanted badges and keyrings and laces with it on. It meant I could identify the places where I could go to see other real life lesbians! It meant that I could spot other people like me and find somewhere I could say that I belonged.
Though as I have grown older, having been in many spaces where the flag is flown but where I and others I know have not felt welcomed, the sense of belonging that I once felt about the flag has shifted. Racism within LGBT+ communities (as it is everywhere) is common. This racism is overt in lots of instances but often it’s not so obvious. It’s being the only person of colour in an LGBT+ space that hasn’t tried more intentionally to be inclusive. It’s not being able to access culturally understanding and inclusive LGBT+ services or services that are run and staffed by people of colour. It’s ignorant generalisations and assumptions voiced about our faith and cultural communities by LGBT+ people. It’s not being seen as someone who could be LGBT. It’s having to hide or play down part of who we are to fit in and not being able to comfortably bring our whole selves, our 100%. It’s not having our 100% seen, respected and understood. The more I experienced the rainbow flag being used by spaces that excluded certain groups of people, the more I distanced myself from the pride flag and what it supposedly stood for. Instead of a symbol that bought people together in unity, for me, it became a symbol of an exclusive community, in which only some are made to feel welcome.
Two years ago, in 2017 when Philadelphia released their pride flag with the added black and brown stipes, I felt an instant connection with it. Including the black and brown at the top of the rainbow flag shifted how I felt about the symbol and what it could mean. It was created by people of colour, along with white allies to say ‘we don’t stand for exclusion within our communities. We want to take a stand against racism and inequalities within our communities. We stand in solidarity with people of colour; we care’. I know that not everywhere that uses the 6 stripe flag is exclusive and despite what I mentioned previously, I do still feel a connection to the rainbow flag. There is a part of me that when I see it, feels warmed, seen and sparks a curiosity to explore the building or people displaying the flag. But often in my curiosity to know who or what is behind the flag, I do wonder how I and other people of colour will be treated there. I think that using the 8 stripe flag is a visible way of showing that you want to actively and positively engage with LGBT+ people of colour and the experiences we face; it’ says that your LGBT+ inclusion is intersectional and acknowledges that under the flag is a hugely diverse community with hugely diverse experiences and that we should value every one them. It’s a visible way to show that you’re allied to fighting for LGBT+ people of colour and this visibility is really important.
Now, before you do a google search to find where you can buy your 8 stripe flag, pause for a second. Think about where and how you stand with people of colour solidarity. You don’t get to wear the stripes until you’ve thought about in what ways you are an ally and fighting for real inclusion. It’s easy to fly a flag or wear an 8 stipe lanyard (available in our shop!) and forget to do the real work. Don’t fall into tokenism. Some questions to start with might be:
- Do you recognise and challenge your own racism / LGBTphobia / prejudice?
- Do you understand the discrimination that LGBT+ people of colour often experience?
- Have you thought about how you can work to dismantle and challenge this discrimination in others, your communities and in the structures around you?
- Have you thought about how inclusive your work is of LGBT+ people of colour?
- Have you thought about in what ways you might need to do things differently to achieve a space or service where LGBT+ people of colour really feel seen and included?
I’m really proud to say that I work at The Proud Trust; where race, racism, inclusion, prejudice and privilege are encouraged to be reflected about and acted upon. It’s an organisation where there is a dedicated programme for LGBT+ young people of colour which includes support and social spaces for young people but also community development with communities of colour, to enable more spaces where LGBT+ young people of colour feel supported and affirmed.
For more information on our youth support you can click here
Whether you are flying the 6 stripe or the 8 stripe flag (or wearing it as your work lanyard, you can buy both here) – make sure that LGBT+ people from all walks of life, feel and know that you and your space is somewhere they can comfortably, loudly and proudly be their 100%.
In 2003, following the lead of Scotland in 2001, the rest of the UK fully repealed Section 28. This was an LGBTphobic law introduced by the Thatcher Tory government that banned the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities and in schools.
Some years later, in 2010, we welcomed the introduction of the Equality Act. This piece of legislation brings into line all forms of discrimination and implores us to create safer, more inclusive spaces, for all people, including LGBT+ folk.
Nearly a decade on, and we are living in very peculiar times. Life for LGBT+ people in the UK is simultaneously getting better, and worse.
On the one hand, we can absolutely recognise the positive steps forward, such as equal marriage, greater visibility and better representation, but alongside this we are seeing a huge rise in LGBTphobic hate crime and enduring endless vitriolic press aimed at those of us who are trans and non-binary.
In addition, we have most recently seen the greatest press attention since the 1980’s on protests against LGBT+ inclusion. These have been mostly located outside schools in Birmingham, headed up by parents who have been misinformed about what positive LGBT+ education actually looks like.
The media have given these stories weeks of coverage, but when positive news stories come out about LGBT+ work in schools including about our Rainbow Flag Award – an LGBT+ inclusion programme for schools and colleges – these good news stories are never picked up by the press.
There are many schools doing this great work; more than 280 are working just on the Rainbow Flag Award, and many others are doing LGBT+ inclusion work under their own steam. We also get continual positive feedback from parents of young people in schools we work with, as they can see how this work creates a safer, more inclusive culture for all young people.
Through the press covering the Birmingham protests, but not balancing this with the wider picture, our work is being impacted. Teachers absolutely want to do the right thing – make all children feel safe and included – but also do not want to be the centre of a negative press story, and worrying that they will have parents protesting outside their schools.
Our research ‘Getting it Right’ highlighted the impact of doing nothing, leaving LGBT+ pupils scared and alone.
One pupil said: ‘Homophobic language is still used widely in school. I got told I can’t come out, for my own safety.’ If schools are not proactive and bullying nationally remains at epidemic rates, this leads to absenteeism and underperformance by pupils, and increases safeguarding risks.
Whilst nationally LGBT+ self-harm and suicide is double the average, there is also a real human cost to schools doing nothing.
The Rainbow Flag Award encourages a whole school approach to LGBT+ inclusion, including parents. Having parents understand the resources and messaging is crucial to getting this right. In our starter training for the award, we have many conversations about dealing with difficult questions, and we provide a resource to help answer any questions from parents, should they arise.
Often the teachers know exactly who the difficult parents are going to be, because they’re the ones that are difficult about everything!
It is crucial to recognise, that there will always be a minority of difficult, complaining parents, and some of these will be vocal. Often it is one or two, a small handful. What we absolutely encourage our schools to do is to “listen” also to the other parents, who are often the silent majority, but who have not been encouraged to be more vocal as active supporters.
There are swathes of parents that just want you to get on with your job, and teach children about the real world that they live in, in all its rich diversity.
A Manchester-based Rainbow Flag Award school, that is doing some amazing and pioneering LGBT+ inclusion work, recently had a parent backlash, fuelled by events in Birmingham. Whilst this was unpleasant, they dealt with it professionally, putting concerned parents’ minds to rest by showing them the work they had been doing, and proved to them that the school had nothing to hide. During this challenging time, some of the “silent majority” spoke out:
Please know that you have the support of many parents in all the work that you do around education in relation to the LGBT issues. It is outrageous that attempts are being made to erode the hard won rights of our friends, colleagues and children.
It cannot be pleasant to be having to deal with this as an out member of staff at school, either. You have the full support and solidarity of many parents, even if some others are shouting loudly at the moment.
Please continue with the excellent work that you are doing around LGBT rights. It is so important that our pre-teens and teenagers learn about many ways of living life. I love that we live in a mixed society and am happy that my kids have friends from different religions and none, but a minority of parents with regressive views must not be allowed to chip away at the concept of equality.
We would like to express our complete support for the inclusive education curriculum.
One of the aspects of [the school] that has been so impressive to us and had such a positive impact on our son’s learning, is the positive and visible LGBTQ content.
We are saddened to hear other parents do not share this view, and we sincerely hope you are able to continue to deliver positive messages about LGBTQ relationships in the future.
We thank those parents for speaking up. We, like most parents, just want children and young people, whatever family, culture or school they exist in, to feel safe, supported, happy and included.
We urge schools to be bold and brave to deliver LGBT+ inclusive work; to always remember, and remind others, that you have the law (and Ofsted) on your side.
We are always making history, and sometimes others live or die by our decisions. I, as one among the many in the usually ‘silent’ majority, wish to be on the right side of this history, and am willing to speak up.
by Rachel Williams, Training and Education Manager at The Proud Trust.
In our training sessions, teachers tell us often that parents and carers can present a barrier to LGBT+ inclusive education. Many teachers worry about parent/carer reactions to LGBT+ inclusive work in their settings, resulting in them not ending up delivering LGBT+ inclusive work.
We have found that mainly, where parents/ carers object to LGBT+ inclusive education, they have largely been uninformed or misinformed about what the lessons actually look like, and not felt consulted about it before their children engaged with this work.
The more that you can do to set a foundation for this work before parents/ carers apply for places for their children at your school, the more informed parents and carers will be on your school ethos and values from the get go. We advise creating positive opportunities for parents/carers to come in and learn about the work you’re doing. And remember, those loud parents, are often not speaking for the majority.
Things to consider:
Do you have a clear set of policies, or a visible statement, that demonstrates your commitment to challenging all forms of discrimination and celebrating diversity within your school?
Do these include, specific mention of LGBT+ people, in line with the Equality Act 2010? Are these visible somewhere in your building and on your online platforms? This is helpful for setting a precedent for your work, making it clear where the whole school stands on diversity and inclusion.
Do you have information on your online platforms that parents and carers can access?
This might include a glossary of the words you are using, tips for parent/carers having conversations with children to support the work in your curriculum, snippets of lesson plans and materials that parents/carers can see and read through. You might think about holding workshops or a coffee morning for parents/ carers showcasing the resources you are planning to use. Many parents/ carers will have never had any positive LGBT+ inclusive education themselves, and so this is an opportunity to help them learn too.
Do you have clear information regarding your RSE curriculum available
There is lots of misinformation out in the world about what is being taught in schools. Some of this is misunderstanding, but some of this is written with intention to mislead and agitate. Ensure that information on what you are delivering is clear and available across multiple platforms. You have nothing to hide.
Have you got a resource that pulls together all the reasons you have to do this work?
The more varied reasons you have for doing LGBT+ inclusive work, the harder it is to make a point against it. This might be the moral obligation you have in being responsible for ensuring that all children and families are respected and celebrated. This might be your lawful obligation utilising the Equality Act and your Public Sector Duty to ensure that you are acting to eliminate discrimination. You might use educational guidance from Ofsted and the Department for Education to back up your work. There has also been guidance written by the Church of England, the Catholic Church, and the head Rabbi in the UK about ending LGBTphobia within faith schools that might be helpful to refer to also.
Create opportunities for parents/ carers to come in and see your lesson plans and materials.
We recommend having several different ways that parents and carers can access this information. We suggest having a section on your website to view this content, creating opportunities at parent’s evenings to go through resources, as well as utilising coffee mornings to explore the lesson content. You may want to ensure that you have an interpreter with you in your sessions to ensure that parents/ carers whose first language is not English, or who are hearing impaired, can access the information. This is something to consider for online content too.
Use opportunities where you can to make your whole curriculum diverse.
Having standalone lessons that explore LGBT+ identities are important, but what is equally as important is ensuring that there is LGBT+ representation across the curriculum generally; just as there is representation of straight and cisgender (non-LGBT+) people. Examples of this might include having LGBT+ families in any lesson that explores families, having example of same-gender relationships in the curriculum e.g. ‘Mr and Mrs Smith bought ten apples from the shop and dropped two, how many do they have left?’ – why not use ‘Mrs and Mrs Smith’ instead? Usualising LGBT+ identities and relationships across your curriculum ensures that children understand that LGBT+ people are an everyday part of life, in the same way as non-LGBT+ people are.
Do you have good links with local community and faith leaders?
Allies who are not linked to your school can be helpful in mediating with parents/carers and providing a more neutral platform for your discussions around your curriculum. Having an LGBT+ ally and role model who is part of the same/ similar communities to parents/ carers who have raised concerns about your work, can be useful.
Do you work in partnership with other schools?
Your school is unlikely to be the only one delivering LGBT+ inclusive work in your local area. There may be experiences you can share, to help inform the direction of your work. Partnering up on coffee mornings or training courses might be something to explore together too.
Are you working to a recognised LGBT+ inclusion framework?
Signing up to a LGBT+ quality assurance framework scheme, can really help you shape the direction of this crucial education, giving you access to resources, advice, information and support. The Rainbow Flag Award also – uniquely – links you and your young people back into local services that can help. Go to www.rainbowflagaward.co.uk for more information.
There are some people, including some parents, who believe the answer to this question is “when they’re adults” – when they’ve hit certain legal markers of adulthood, like being eighteen, or social and cultural markers of adulthood, like moving out and holding a job. There are even some schools of thought that hold that since the development of our prefrontal cortex, (a part of the brain that handles rational thinking), isn’t complete until we’re about 25, young people should be shielded from any important decisions until they reach this age. (Interestingly though, there are some things like quickly recognising patterns and an openness to new ideas, that young people are cognitively better at than older adults).
As a youth work organisation we believe that it’s important for children and young people to have choices – to have agency. This ranges from giving a toddler the choice between having mushy peas or garden peas with their dinner, to letting a sixteen year old choose what A-level courses they want to take or who they want to have romantic relationships with, if anyone. All these choices not only give a child an important sense of agency in their own life now, but are also like exercises to develop the muscles of their brain, training the brain in decision making for all the future choices they will have to make once they do become adults.
Adulthood, much like brain development, isn’t a binary thing. You don’t go from a helpless child, unable to make your own informed choices, to a wise adult overnight. Instead, it’s a long developmental process where your ever-increasing level of agency trains you to make your own informed choices over time. A key part of youth work is supporting young people to empower themselves to make that successful transition to adulthood, by enabling young people to be partners in their own development, through a skillful balance of trusting young people and also guiding them through supportive questions and one’s own life experience.
But if adulthood and learning to make informed choices is a process, how do we work out when a young person has the ability to make serious, impactful choices about their lives? For some choices we have a legal cut off date because, as a society, we’ve decided things like like joining the Army or buying alcohol should be unavailable to younger people regardless of their level of maturity. But what about different choices and guidelines around agency, for example, when using a hard cutoff date could do more harm than good?
“Gillick competence” is what we call the ability of a person under the age of sixteen to make their own informed choices. The phrase comes from a legal case where Lord Fraser put forward in the Gillick case, a set of criteria to determine if someone under the age of 16 can make their own decisions regarding sexual health, and this is often recognised as a wider framework for assessing competance for children and young people to make decisions. Assessing Gillick competence is a way that medical practitioners can determine whether a young person has enough knowledge and agency to make certain decisions about themselves and their body, like whether or not they can access contraception – or whether they can choose to have medical treatments their parents don’t agree with, like a blood transfusion if their family are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Young people making choices about their lives and their bodies has become a controversial flash-point when it comes to trans young people, but the question about agency is a lot broader than that. Choosing what clothes you wear, what name you go by (does ‘Robert’ prefer to be called Rob, Bob, or Bobby?), what interests you pursue: these are choices that should be equally available to trans and cis young people. Similarly, a young person’s choices about medical treatment shouldn’t hinge on what that treatment is, but whether they have the agency and competency to decide for themselves whether or not it’s appropriate for them. We strongly support young people’s rights to assert their own preferences and make their own choices, in a developmentally appropriate way, on their journey towards adulthood.
by Jack Tielemans
We are shocked and saddened to see the High Court’s judgement on access to puberty blockers for young trans people has ruled on the side of transphobia and misinformation. We echo the comments and concerns of Mermaids UK’s statement, and agree that in every respect, this judgement is a betrayal of trans young people and their families.
Much has been made in the judgement of puberty blockers being an “experimental” or “innovative” treatment, despite blockers being used for decades to treat precocious puberty in cis children as young as six years old. In other countries in Europe, and in particular in the Netherlands, puberty blockers have also been prescribed to trans youngsters for decades, with a wealth of scientific data supporting their safety and efficacy. Puberty blockers are neither experimental nor innovative, and to see that the High Court has used this scaremongering language in its judgement is deeply concerning.
The language of the judgement document released on December 1st is also deeply rooted in transphobia and mistrust of trans young people’s own experiences. Forcing trans children under the age of 16 to obtain a court order to access medical treatment is an astonishing step, and could easily lead to a situation where a young person is vocal about their needs, is supported by their family, healthcare providers, and schools – but can be prevented from accessing life-saving treatment by a single judge with no medical qualifications.
The court decision has upheld several harmful narratives about trans medical care, including the aforementioned scaremongering about “experimental” treatments. At every step, trans young people are assumed to be less capable of making decisions than their cis peers, and the judgement does everything it can to hammer this insulting concept home. This is treating trans young people differently from every other young person, singling them out for needless, preventable harm.
This judicial review, and the media attention on it, has also been yet another example of the over-medicalisation of trans young people’s lives; there is far more to a trans person’s experiences than their medical history. We say again: trans young people exist and they know who they are. Regardless of any medical treatment a trans young person may or may not choose to undergo—and it should be their informed and fully supported choice whether or not to pursue medical treatment—all research and international best practice shows that trans youth thrive when believed and supported in their identities.
The Proud Trust stands with all trans young people, and the organisations dedicated to supporting them. We also welcome the Tavistock and Portman’s NHS Trust’s announced decision to appeal this ruling.