Tom Beckerton, creator of the LGBT+ and Allies Support Group at Brookvale Groby Learning Campus, reflects on the impacts that marching in Pride in London 2018 with SSAT had on himself and the school’s students.
I embarked upon my teaching career in 2017 with grand visions of shifting LGBT+ attitudes in education. Changing the culture of how students and teachers approach LGBT+ issues felt like a sure-fire way of addressing the inequalities I knew existed. I was therefore somewhat shocked when I turned up to Brookvale Groby Learning Campus to see an institution smothered in Stonewall posters and brimming with seemingly confident, ‘out’ pupils. Perhaps my vision of struggling LGBT+ students was dated and harked back to my own experiences of education? Perhaps I wasn’t required, and my vision was purely for my own self-fulfilment? Feeling eventually contented by this realisation I went about my job as usual. However, it slowly became evident that these perceived issues were still there, and just as urgent.
LGBT+ intolerance still exists in schools. Many affected children still feel unsafe and still don’t feel they can tell their families. We seem to be wrongly correlating the fact that there are more out young people with the idea that it is getting easier. Seeing the blood rush from a child’s face as they told me for the first time that they are gay and that I couldn’t tell their parents made it extremely clear to me that this is the case. While there are more teachers who will listen, and there are more LGBT+ figures in the media, it is still not easy.
To ensure that our students feel safe to be themselves, we must create the spaces and environments that allow them to flourish. I set up an LGBT+ and peer support group at Brookvale Groby, and like many others throughout the country it became extremely popular and well attended. I was overjoyed when SSAT offered members of our group tickets to march alongside other schools at Pride in London 2018. Ecstatic and wearing perhaps too much glitter, my colleague and I took three post-16 students down to the capital on a ridiculously hot July day for what ended up being one of the most inspiring days I’ve ever experienced.
The theme for 2018 was Pride Matters. Despite the ever-expanding commercialisation of Pride, that message was being spread far and wide from groups such as ours who still managed to make a noise among the giant floats from banks and chain restaurants. Marching in Pride gave those students an invaluable experience – a day where nobody questioned their sexuality or gender. They were unconditionally celebrated by everybody around them. According to Pride in London, over one million people attended in 2018 as spectators or participants. Walking through the streets of London, with hundreds of thousands of people screaming for them, the students from my school and the partner schools strutted along like celebrities, no doubt in their minds that they were exactly where they should be. Students’ feedback was resoundingly positive, commenting on how they felt delighted to be part of something so big. I felt proud seeing them celebrating their queerness and protesting for others.
We need to keep creating these environments and experiences for our young LGBT+ people. At a time when anti-LGBT+ rhetoric continues to be rife within the media, we should be working extra hard to ensure that our message of 100%, intersectional acceptance of all LGBT+ people is clear. SSAT is taking positive action in allowing this to happen. Much more than offering a symbolic gesture, it is enabling schools to be involved with LGBT+ movements that are having an incredible impact on young people.