Tackling homophobia in school? You need to start with your own language

 

Former teacher Jonathan Charlesworth explains how our confidence to provide support to someone ‘coming out’ or to stop, then prevent, homophobic name-calling or bullying all starts with having self-assurance about the words we use.

If you’re a school teacher, college tutor or university lecturer eager to support your pupils or students regarding sexual orientation matters, and keen to challenge homophobia or biphobia, may I suggest the best place to start is with vocabulary. I’ve worked for over thirty years in Education: as a teacher and successively as the Executive Director of Educational Action Challenging Homophobia. EACH was established to affirm LGBT+ people and help employers and institutions meet their legal and social responsibilities regarding homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying or harassment through training, consultancy and resources.

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Why is LGBT+ teacher training so important?

Dr Elly Barnes MBE is CEO and Founder of Educate & Celebrate, a leading charity who work with schools to transform them into being LGBT+ inclusive. She was voted #1 in The Independent on Sunday’s Rainbow List 2011. 

Who would like to live in a world where we are all treated equally and fairly?… Then let’s begin our journey to LGBT+Inclusion…

As teachers, we all have enough to do on a daily basis in our school already without adding in yet another initiative….which is exactly why at Educate & Celebrate we do not advocate that you write more lesson plans, but simply employ strategies that make LGBT+Inclusivity part of the fabric of school life.

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LGBT exclusion in politics – how far have we come?

Jennie Kermode reflects on the election of the UK’s first openly gay candidate, a historical moment in LGBT history, and considers the extent of homophobia and transphobia in politics today. How far have we really come?

Who will be the UK’s first trans MP? Labour has most big names in the running, with student Lily Madigan, comedian Eddie Izzard and TV presenter Sophie Cook all clear about their ambitions, whilst civil liberties campaigner Zoe O’Connell and former Trans Media Watch officer Helen Belcher are prominent in the Liberal Democrats, and Aimee Challenor has wide support in the Green Party. It may not happen at the next election or even the one after that, but it’s only a matter of time. Trans candidates report that the voters they speak to are less and less interested in their gender and simply want to know what they have to offer as potential representatives. Things were not always like this.

Back in the late ‘eighties, I was an active member of the Labour Party in Sheffield. I progressed from taking minutes for my local ward to sitting on the Housing Committee and working with members of the city council on a number of policy development issues, including insuring that the World Student Games, held there in 1991, left a lasting legacy for ordinary people who wanted to engage with sport. It was a challenging time to be in politics, especially on the left. Thatcherism was at its height and morale was low. The party was keen to make the most of what young talent it could attract and I was continually being encouraged to take on more. People saw me as a potential future MP. But there was a problem.

I was leading a double life. It might sound scandalous, but back then it was commonplace. In one life I wore suits, went to meetings, met elected officials and dignitaries, had discussions about strategy. In another I wore leathers, went to clubs whose names many in the city couldn’t speak without scowling, met women, had intimate encounters in toilets and alleyways with the mutual assurance that they would never be spoken of again. It wasn’t that I was appalled by the notion of settling down with a nice girl, but that seemed like a hopeless fantasy, and it would have met with an equal amount of social disdain.

I knew it couldn’t go on. One life or the other had to go. And I knew that if I chose politics, if I sacrificed my sexuality, there would still, always, be the risk of one of those women reappearing, or of somebody noticing my eyes linger on the wrong person for a fraction too long. Back then, suspicion was all it took to ruin a career. If I could be blackmailed, there was no promise I could ever make that I could be sure to keep, no means by which I could guarantee being able to stand by my principles. If I were exposed, it would all be over, and the people who had nurtured my career would consider me a traitor. This wasn’t just about political opponents and Clause 28. There was plenty of homophobia in Labour, too.

So, I left. There were other reasons, but more than anything it was that lack of hope, that sense that meaningful, respectable politics had no place for creatures like me. And then came 1997, and I was lying on the floor of my flat in Glasgow (part of what had coincidentally been Scotland’s first ever gay club), drinking Guinness with my American girlfriend, watching Michael Portillo (whom everybody in the scene knew was gay, though he was still in the closet and supporting anti-gay policies) lose his seat to the openly gay Stephen Twigg. It was an amazing moment. Twigg was seven years my senior, but he’d stuck it out, found the nerve somehow where I had not, made it happen. Still, I’ll never forget the look of astonishment on his face.

There are now 48 openly gay, lesbian or bisexual MPs in the House of Commons. Here in Scotland our elected party leaders include a lesbian and a bisexual man. Homophobia has not gone away, but candidates’ sexuality simply isn’t a consideration for most voters. Nevertheless, there remains a lot more open transphobia, and the hateful articles published in the Times and the Daily Mail over the past six months have reminded many people of the mass media homophobia that surrounded Clause 28. They have included a number of attacks on Lily Madigan, and have whipped up a storm of social media hatred which she found difficult to bear. This kind of attack is designed to say what those ‘eighties articles said to me: politics is no place for a creature like you.

Since the late ‘nineties I’ve been living openly as a non-binary person (something that was largely unheard of back in my party-political days). I now chair Trans Media Watch and work every day to educate journalists and work towards eradicating this kind of hate. I believe it can be done. What is painful is seeing other people’s ambitions destroyed in the meantime, and it is painful not just because of what it does to them, but because of what it does to society. People are always complaining about politicians who are in it for themselves and lack any real interest in serving the electorate. Nobody would endure being attacked like this just for themselves. These are people who have real passion and, often, a lot of talent – and all that is wasted if they are driven out of politics simply because of who they are.

We are all poorer when LGBT people are unable to fulfil their potential and contribute to society. This is true in politics and it’s true in the workplace where, a recent Stonewall survey revealed, a shocking one in eight trans people has been physically attacked. It’s something that all of us need to step up and take responsibility for. There will be a trans MP, sooner or later, and we will live in a more inclusive society, but history doesn’t write itself. If we want to escape the weight of past prejudice, if we want to reach a better future, we have to work for it in the here and now.

This month, will you do your bit to make homophobia and transphobia history?

Jennie Kermode is Chair of Trans Media Watch and author of Transgender Employees in the Workplace.

Take a look at our collection of books on LGBT issues for LGBT History Month here.

Non-binary inclusion in the workplace – an interview

Companies are becoming more aware of the need to include non-binary people in the workplace, to attract a diverse workforce and create an inclusive environment and brand. This new book from J Fernandez and Sarah Gibson, both of whom identify as non-binary, provides an ideal introduction to including non-binary workers in your business, and presents practical solutions to basic workplace issues this group faces. We spoke to the authors on the launch of their new book.

To start us off, when did the idea for Gender Diversity and Non-Binary Inclusion in the Workplace originate?

We’ve both been working in equality and diversity for some time and we see employers coming to us and asking for help and advice because they simply haven’t been equipped to deal with non-binary inclusion yet. The business case for inclusion has been growing over the years and when we were approached by JKP we saw it as an excellent opportunity to engage with employers in a new fashion. Now is a great time for businesses to get up to speed on the issues and put themselves ahead of the curve.

We know that there isn’t much research about non-binary people’s experiences at work or many comprehensive guides on the topic, and we wanted to put something accessible together to help those without much experience grasp this. There are guides to help employers understand trans issues more widely, but in most cases, the specific problems faced by non-binary people simply haven’t been addressed in any depth.

We thought the book was a great idea, so decided to go ahead with a long process of research into different areas, helped by Jos Twist and with input from GI and the Scottish Trans Alliance. The areas we looked at ranged from how non-binary people are affected by dress codes, to what barriers non-binary people face during job seeking, to experiences of hate crime at work.

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Creating Universal and Diverse Characters

Richy K. Chandler author of You Make Your Parents Super Happy! and When Are You Going to Get a Proper Job? talks through the challenges that come with creating diverse characters in stories, and why it is so important to do.

When I was working on You Make Your Parents Super Happy! (my recent picture book for children whose parents have separated but still both want to be part of their child’s life), I was conscious of keeping the gender and race of all characters ambiguous. While the book deals with a very specific situation, I hope that the universality of the characters’ appearance means that as many children and families as possible can see themselves as the beings found within the pages. This could be two dads, a mum and a dad, two mums and a multitude of relationships also representing the full range of cultures and ethnic back grounds that exist.diverse charactersSimilarly, with Lucy the Octopus, my webcomic that looks at the effects of bullying and bigotry (hopefully in a humorous and super cute way), I wanted to make the lead character as universally relatable as possible. The strip touches on racism, homophobia and not fitting into gender stereotypes but it’s never made clear exactly why Lucy, the heroine, is so unliked. Lots of readers have told me that they see part of themselves in Lucy, and not always for the same reasons. I’m usually both happy that the character is relatable and saddened for the readers to have gone through similar horrible experiences. 
diverse characters
As a writer who has no desire to create comics starring myself (hats off to those brave enough to make candid, graphic autobiographies), there are other good reasons for making characters more universal.  With Lucy the Octopus, I wanted to talk about experiences of feeling picked on and ostracised in my own school years, but I’d rather avoid the spotlight being on myself. Making Lucy a girl and an octopus certainly did that job and frees me up to wildly exaggerate my own experiences within her fantastical world. For example, my own family were not terrible to me like Lucy’s are (except that year I got Scrabble for my birthday instead of the Crossbows and Catapults game I’d wished for, but I’m a survivor and made it through that bleak day). Continue reading

How to make your school an LGBTQ friendly place for students and staff

At the end of last year, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) issued new guidance on how to ensure that schools are friendly and inclusive places for gender diverse students and staff. Backed by leading LGBTQ campaign group Stonewall, the government and Ofsted, the guidance is the first of its kind in the UK, and covers key issues including harassment, discrimination, bullying and lack of visibility, and underlines the role and responsibilities of key leaders.

In order to make gender diverse students, teachers and pupils with trans relatives feel welcomed and positively represented, the guidance suggests that: “Primary school leaders may want to ensure books featuring trans parents or celebrating gender identity and difference are included in the curriculum.”

We have a collection of books that feature trans and non-binary characters, perfect for use with primary school pupils in the classroom.

This book introduces children to gender as a spectrum and shows how people can bend and break the gender binary and stereotypes. It includes an interactive wheel, clearly showing the difference between our body, expression and identity, and is an effective tool to help children 5+ understand and celebrate diversity. Read more.

‘A much-needed non-fiction children’s book exploring gender. Who Are You? will benefit every child!’
– Pamela Wool, Director of Family Services, Gender Spectrum

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Talking to Sabrina Symington, author of First Year Out – the first graphic novel to explore transition for trans women

Sabrina Symington is an illustrator, graphic novelist and blogger from Vancouver, working to normalise transgender issues. First Year Out is based on her own personal experiences and those of her friends. The graphic novel follows Lily, a trans woman, as she navigates the ups and downs of transition. From laser hair removal to dating and gender reassignment surgery, the comic tackles difficult issues with honesty and intimacy. We talked to Sabrina about her reasons for creating First Year Out. 

What made you decide to explore the process of transition in graphic novel form?

I initially started drawing autobiographical webcomics as a way of working through the rollercoaster of emotions I had in the early days of my transition. But as I progressed in my transition, I realized how much misinformation there is out there about trans people. Since I believe in the power of narrative to change people’s views on controversial subjects, I felt what was needed was a humanizing trans story – most importantly one written by a transgender author, as opposed to a cis author translating their view of trans experiences through their own lens. I wanted to not only present accurate information about trans people’s lives and experiences, but also to present trans people as real people, rather than the stereotypes that we are usually portrayed as. One thing I will say is that I changed and grew immensely over the course of writing First Year Out. Transition is an ongoing process. It doesn’t “end” when you get a surgery. It goes much deeper than that and can last a lifetime. And while much of the story reflects my views and experiences during my own first year out as a trans woman, if I were to write “Second Year Out”, the story and Lily’s character would be *very* different. For I, too, am a completely different woman now.

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“Nanny, you do know I’m a girl, don’t you?” Anna Bianchi’s journey of grand-mothering a gender-expansive child

I had no premonition, when my first grandchild was born, that I would be writing this book. How could I know that Ruben’s birth would lead me to question many of my essential ‘truths’ about being male or female? That his small fierce journey across the landscape of gender would take me on one of my own? That Ruben’s insistence on living his own truth would inspire me to live mine more fully? None of us knew then that my grandson, soon to be celebrated in every hue of blue, would undo our gender bearings. These were impossible circumstances to imagine the morning Ruben arrived. I simply held him to my heart and gazed into his face, as surely in-love as I’ve ever been in the whole of my life…” p.11, Becoming an Ally to the Gender-Expansive Child

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Are you looking for books and resources to support your work with gender variant individuals?

 

We publish a range of books for therapists, counsellors and healthcare practitioners who work with gender variant individuals. From informative guides to personal memoirs, our books offer support and promote greater understanding of gender identity and expression. This collection includes books that address themes of gender identity, sexuality, relationships, transitioning and mental health. For more information on new books and to receive a copy of our new catalogue, join our mailing list here

The Voice Book for Trans and Non-Binary People

Matthew Mills and Gillie Stoneham

Written by two specialist speech and language therapists, this book explains how voice and communication therapy can help transgender and non-binary people to find their authentic voice. It gives a thorough account of the process, from understanding the vocal mechanism through to assimilating new vocal skills and new vocal identity into everyday situations, and includes exercises to change pitch, resonance and intonation. Each chapter features insider accounts from trans and gender diverse individuals who have explored or are exploring voice and communication related to their gender expression, describing key aspects of their experience of creating and maintaining a voice that feels true to them.

This pithy, practical guide is a treasure trove of rare and wonderful gems – particularly the exercises for trans men and non-binary people, often neglected but vulnerable to crippling self-consciousness and even phobia around speaking. Clinicians and clients alike, I unreservedly recommend The Voice Book to anyone looking to feminise, masculinise, neutralise or just explore the potential of voice.’ – Dr Stuart Lorimer, Consultant Psychiatrist

Who is this book for? Speech and language therapists, healthcare practitioners, counsellors, gender variant individuals

 

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