Today marks the start of anti-bullying week in schools. All
forms of bullying are tackled every day in schools but the
homophobic bullying generates the most ignorance of them all. The
reason students laugh, giggle and bully is because they don't
understand the words 'lesbian', 'gay', 'bisexual' and
'trans'. Teachers need to give them facts to help them
understand their true meaning. Young people are not born
homophobic, racist or sexist, after all - it is something they
learn and we need to teach them to unlearn these prejudices.
In a previous column for DIVA I talked about inclusive LGBT lesson
plans. The idea is not to bombard students with heavy LGBT issues
but to allow LGBT people into their consciousness, acknowledging
different kinds of people whilst following our usual work.
I advise all the teachers I train to begin teaching inclusive LGBT
lesson plans with the new cohort of year 7's. It can be very
difficult sometimes to change the minds of the older students who
have been exposed to a homophobic school culture and who have
formed apparently firm ideas that have been subconsciously
The challenge is to create a new culture with the new cohort.
These students are open and responsive to new ideas. Once I give
the students an open forum to talk about LGBT people you can feel
the relief in the room when they begin to ask questions; questions
that they have always wanted to ask but were too afraid.
I always begin my year 7 sessions with a song by an LGBT artist as
the class are walking into the room, along with showing a
PowerPoint of names of famous LGBT people both current and
historical. I ask the students to identify the connection between
what they are hearing and the names they are seeing on the screen.
When the students have established a correct answer, I ask them if
they know anymore LGBT people, I then give them time to tell each
I then change the slide to the LGBT history month logo, which
boldly states 'Lesbian', 'Gay', 'Bisexual' and 'Trans', and ask the
students to give me a definition of each word - this is where the
learning begins with facts, acknowledgement, respect and
The students are free to give their responses in a structured and
supervised way within the context of a lesson where there is no
judgment from the teacher on their opinions. As the class are all
bursting to give you their thoughts I use a toy plastic cat, which
the speaker must hold.
Comments will vary enormously through the spectrum, from students
who have two mums, others who have LGBT siblings, some are visibly
unsure and a little confused, some want to tell you what they have
read on the internet about Nikki Minaj and Jessie J! Creating this
open dialogue is an essential anti-bullying tool as it allays fears
around perceived 'difficult' issues that some students have
repressed for a long time.
We move on to discuss the misuse of the word 'gay' - now they are
enlightened with the factual definitions, the students all get very
embarrassed when they admit to having used 'gay' to mean 'stupid'
or 'rubbish'. Soon enough, it's not just the teachers who challenge
the homophobic language, it is the other students too. This is our
evidence that the message has been received loud and clear.
From this discussion point I move to playing them a video of a
song by an LGBT artist. One song I use is Small Town Boy by Bronski
Beat, even though the video is very dated, the storyline is very
relevant and engages the students in discussion. Other songs I have
used are Dead or Alive's You Spin Me Right Round, Elton John/Ellie
Goulding's Your Song, Pet Shop Boys' Go West or indeed anything
that is topical. One year I asked the staff to sing Go West in a
whole-school assembly to show a united front in eradicating
homophobic language in our school.
We then discuss the artist's life, achievements and video, and
move on to sing the song around the piano. We learn the individual
instrumental parts and rehearse as a band over the next few
lessons, perform and video our work then set targets and assess
just as in a regular music lesson. Students who wish to, then
perform the song in year assemblies, whole-schools assemblies or as
part of LGBT or anti-bullying awareness celebrations.
My aim as a teacher trainer is to eradicate teachers' fears around
'differences' and use this model to highlight all equality strands
with a view to eradicating bullying in all its forms. The evidence
is in the ensuing decreased bullying statistics.
Inclusive LGBT lesson plans that are written by
teachers accompanied by PowerPoints, mp3s, and worksheets for all
subjects in all key stages can be found on the Schools Out
classroom website: schools-out.org.uk/classroom
Elly Barnes was recognised in the
Independent on Sunday's Pink List 2011 for her work in