I can teach a rainbow
Out teacher Jodie tries an LGBT lesson plan with her students
If you look at the national curriculum here in the UK, there is no LGBT education whatsoever. Not even the sex education guidelines talk about the LGBT community in any sense. I can remember quite clearly being forced to go into a sex education talk at the age of 17 as part of the PHSCE (Personal, Health, Social & Citizenship Education) day we had. I argued that it had nothing to do with me, that not once would they cover lesbian relationships and there was no way I was EVER gonna be sexually adventurous with a man. Low and behold, we spent the whole day talking about heterosexual relationships, covering everything from contraception to what help there was if you ever became a young mother.
In every subject that the curriculum depicts, there are people who identify on every part of the sexuality spectrum. From Art (Alice Austen) to R.E (Eva Brunne) to sports (Martina Navratilova). The only link to any sort of same-sex relationships I found was in an A-Level English class where, studying Siegfried Sassoon's and Wilfred Owen's war poems, our middle aged teacher would often refer to "love letters" in (very) hushed tones. So once I got to uni, I reveled in the fact that, during my Sociology Of Sports lectures, it was mentioned.
In order to bring some LGBT into our very limited A-Level curriculum, I decided to try a lesson on lesbian sports personalities with my unsuspecting group of 17-year-olds. Luckily (or unlucky) for them, my 3rd year dissertation had been all about lesbian sports women and had the rather catchy title of: “The changing attitudes towards lesbian sports women 1900 - the present day from the perspectives of masculinity, femininity and changing gender roles” (just rolls off the tongue, right?) and this is where my plan started.
I made a booklet along the lines of an activity booklet you would have when you where a child. I included wordsearches, "match the picture" and, right at the very end, I had printed off a more student-friendly version of the dissertation. My plan was not to mention that the women in the booklet were gay, but to talk about their achievements to see if their views would change from what I imagined were quite outdated to a more modern way of thinking. And I had one hour to do so. Once they had entered my large classroom and sorted themselves out, I asked them to write down what they thought a lesbian/bisexual sports star looked like, what sports they would play and what their presumptions/attitudes surrounding them were.
Their results weren't particularly anything new and probably followed the same thought pattern I had at that age. They had all mentioned the following things: gay women like football, rugby and hockey, they are usually “hench”, have their hair up and don't wear makeup. The more worrying aspect was their attitudes towards lesbian sports women, which included “I wouldn't feel comfortable getting changed with them” and “they should just play on the men's teams - they look like men anyway”.
Then they were asked to complete the booklet. We started off talking about the women who were scattered on the front page: what they had achieved, who they were and why many women (and men) would see them as role models. The women included Billie Jean King, Amelie Mauresmo, Camilla Anderson, Katie Duncan and Hope Powell, to name but a few. Soon they were completing their booklets and once they had finished, I asked a pivotal question: “What do you think all these women have in common?” Only one shouted out the right answer! After learning this fact the students were surprised about how successful and how different the women were from what they had imagined.
After discussing how hard it can be for lesbian sports women to come out and how Billie Jean King had been one of the first LGBT sports people to break down those barriers, I gave them my dissertation. They read it and at the end I asked them to write down their views again. And just how I imagined, for the most part their views had changed. Words such as strong, brave, smart and feminine were being used. The sports before had been changed to include dance, netball and athletics but most importantly their attitudes towards LGBT sports women had changed to include “I'd play on a team with gay sports women as they are just the same as me” and “Really, you can't tell who is gay and who isn't so it doesn't really matter as long as you win”. My personal favorite - “I hope one day I can be as brave as these women are and help to make a positive difference to people's lives”.
This was a small victory but it looked like I had sparked a fire that wouldn't go out any time soon. So, in the words of Nikki Giovanni, “Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to the error that counts”. Oh, and there's only 36 weeks left to go!
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