Diana Whistance-Smith reports on how marching with SSAT in Pride in London has inspired and helped students and teachers to promote LGBTQ+ inclusivity in their schools
The streets are filled with glitter-clad smiling faces greeting everyone they meet with enthusiastic approval. The city becomes a kaleidoscope of celebration, and the teachers and students who join SSAT in the march are excited to be spreading the message: Pride in London allows the LGBTQ+ community to raise awareness and fight for freedom and equality.
This year’s Pride also marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York, where this community spearheaded an ongoing campaign for their rights and liberation. An estimated 1.5 million people filled London’s streets on 6 July, uniting visitors from across the country and beyond to continue the fight for equality.
Julia, a student at Bentley Wood High School in Harrow, was brimming with excitement as I asked her how she felt about being involved in SSAT’s march. Her involvement within her school to support and educate others on LGBTQ+ issues was brought to a city-wide audience’s attention with the help of SSAT. “This is so cool. I really like this… We have an equality team in our school, and we do school campaigns for gay rights, feminism, equality and more. I help lead the club, and I’m really happy that I get to introduce people in our school to LGBTQ+ ideas and I’m really glad that I get to be here,” she said.
Uniting teachers and students with SSAT on the Pride march was an example of our ongoing efforts to support schools in combatting homo, bi and transphobic bullying. SSAT encourages member schools that have active LGBTQ+ groups to promote their authenticity, which has been an extremely positive experience for previous participants.
Jeff, a teacher at Prendergast School in Lewisham, felt that marching with SSAT’s “inter-generational group” created a “unique, solid” atmosphere for himself and students, supporting the work that his school is doing on these issues. “There’s a strong LGBTQ+ society [in our school] and Stonewall posters around the school that students have put up… a small group of trans students are changing the way the school thinks, because it’s a ‘girls-only’ school.”
Nathan, a teacher at Horn Park Primary School in Greenwich, explained that although there isn’t a large LGBTQ+ community at his school, Horn Park has worked with the Metro charity to incorporate LGBTQ+ curriculum into PSHE lessons, teaching children about different types of family and what they think is acceptable or challenging regarding stereotypes. “We’re [marching] to promote LGBTQ+ issues within schools so we can go back to school on Monday and tell the kids about it.”
Within SSAT’s staff community, Cal Parrish, who took part in Pride in London, felt that showing support from those in education was especially important: “With the current discussion going on about inclusive education in schools and what should be taught, it is important for those in education to show their support for children who do identify as LGBTQ+,” he said. “I feel raising the profile of people who are LGBTQ+ and are involved in education will give young people the confidence to be themselves from the very beginning.”
Natalie, a student at Tiffin Girls’ School in Kingston, is the unofficial co-leader of their school’s LGBTQ+ society. While she had previously marched with Stonewall in 2017, she was buzzing to see what marching with SSAT would be like, especially since she could march with her group, which has focused on bringing these issues to light in original ways. “We have a mixture of discussion-based activities and presentations. I make presentations on different groups and issues within the LGBT community, like transgender people in sport or politics. We also arrange events around the school to get people who may not initially want to come to the club to be more aware of it,” she said.
This willingness to spread awareness was similarly felt by Daniel, head of Future Finders, part of the New Bridge MAT in Manchester. While Daniel feels that Manchester Pride is “huge and fabulous”, his first time walking in Pride in London was even more fulfilling, thanks to SSAT, he said. “We wanted to represent our LGBTQ+ community among the teachers and students; it was important to do that at today’s Pride.”
Anna, a teacher at Bridgemary School in Gosport, is a second-time marcher with SSAT: “I think last year was so positive for students realising that there is acceptance in the world, and it was amazing to be part of the march. I have come to lots of Prides to watch, but never march. I had never realised how empowering that march is… it’s really grown over the years,” she said.
The inclusivity that our organisation encourages was particularly welcoming for Anna and her students as they have travelled from Gosport, feeling that the LGTBQ+ conversation is much more prominent in big-city London. “When you go through the Pride march, it makes you realise just how important it is for young people to feel accepted for who they are. People saw us as SSAT, they saw students, and the love flowed through the streets,” she said. “To feel part of this group and community is massive, and students realise that they’re not alone, that this is a norm and not something different… It’s important to let people know that this is a lifestyle, and people should be allowed to be who they are.”
And that is part of what SSAT stands for: the support and development of community within the larger framework; celebrating a school’s authentic self for every teacher and student; and marching towards inclusivity and deep social justice.