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"Young people are not born homophobic"

To mark the start of Anti-Bullying Week, teacher Elly Barnes explains how she challenges homophobia in school

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 13:12:24 GMT | Updated 5 years today

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 set.
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 other.
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 understanding.
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:



Elly Barnes was recognised in the  Independent on Sunday's Pink List 2011 for her work in challenging homophobia.

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