How I role model

At LGBTed we think it’s vitally important that children and staff have role models from the LGBT community. The old adage, you can’t be or understand what you can’t see rings so true and for someone who didn’t have any role models at school, I know how damaging that can be.

We know self-harm is disproportionately high amongst members of the LGBT community and we know that the average life expectancy of someone from the Transgender community is 35. This makes me unbelievably sad that someone should feel so isolated and ashamed to the extent they would harm themselves, often with devastating consequences. If people have role models who are proud to be members of the LGBT community that can send such a powerful message to our aspiring leaders of the future (staff and children). It says: I’m me, and you can be you too.

I wasn’t always out at work, but after one particularly difficult experience I vowed never to hide who I was again. I would be me and I would make sure that I chose places that allowed me to do so.

I consider myself a role model at work, to my team and my peers and I am committed to living by these rules every single day.

Lead with pride: Talk about what you did at the weekend, be open about who you are, talk about the things that you are passionate about and champion initiatives you feel can make a change. It’s important to be a leader who knows who they are and isn’t afraid to show it.

Enable others to be themselves: By leading with pride you’ll give others the confidence to be themselves. Remember diversity isn’t just about LGBT, it’s about diversity of thought, of working style and communication. We need to encourage people not to fit in with the dominant leadership style and to bring their true selves to work.

Speak up against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia: For that matter, speak up if hetero and cisnormativity dominate your organisation. People probably don’t know they are doing it – but it can be stifling.

Be honest: Always.

Integrity matters: Even if it feels uncomfortable, it’s important to persist in championing diversity even if it isn’t always easy to do so.

Allies are important: As an LGBT role model it’s important to understand who your allies are; they can be a powerful driver of change in your organisation.

Never give up: Never. Give. Up.

Last week I was speaking at the Festival of Education and was asked: Why do we need diversity in schools and organisations? My answer: That’s like asking why do we need the heating on in the building in winter? It’s critically important to our well-being that we see the richness that exists in society and to know that we can be a part of it.

LGBTed launches

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.

Reflecting on the launch of LGBTed that took place this weekend in Harris Academy, South Norwood I’m thinking of the Wizard of Oz, naturally. The LGBT+ community’s well-established connection with Dorothy Gale is not lost on me but there’s something about her wish at the end of the film that since Saturday I can’t seem to shift.

Dorothy dreamt of rainbows, of getting out of Kansas and about being appreciated. We know she wanted something more than the farm and Auntie Em, but when she got that handed to her on a yellow-bricked platter she realised it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.

In order to cope in this strange new world of lions and tigers and bears (oh my) she needed good friends to act as her support network who allowed her to overcome a great many obstacles. Together Dorothy and friends realised that with grit and determination they could succeed at anything and that they had it in them in the first place to do so.

Tenuous? I don’t think so. Glitz, glam and Garland aside, the launch of LGBTed has reaffirmed to me that across the country there are so many wonderful, brave, inspirational people in our schools who also happen to be part of the LGBT+ community. They might not fully realise it yet, but they are all brilliant already and the support of the LGBTed network will simply allow them to shine brighter, to be themselves and to do their best work as the role models we needed when we were at school.

The diversity of thought coming from the workshops was so impressive: Bennie Kara told us to ‘love our labels’; Hadley Stewart told us how as a linguist he used Madonna’s lyrics to navigate coming out; David Lowbridge-Ellis talked us through how he’s crafted the queer curriculum he needed when he was at school; and Robyn Ellis told us how we could use the principles of user-centred design to figure out the points of friction around EDI and iron them out – ever important for efficiency in a climate of shrinking budgets.

The informal conversations over lunch were equally stimulating and throughout the day new partnerships were forged with a bid to learn from other sectors. The collective resoluteness to stand taller was palpable and it’s been a joy to see people heading into school after half term with renewed enthusiasm for being the change they want to see. The amount of love and care for one another in that main school hall on Saturday was like no other conference I’ve attended. Rare were the cries of ‘if I only had a brain/the nerve/a heart’ in South Norwood that day.

The event ended with David Weston asking each of us to consider how we work to make those who are not part of the LGBT+ community feel welcome and include them in the conversation, because that’s how real change happens. It was a reminder that there is still work to do – but as Dorothy learns at the end of the film – I know we have it in us especially if we work together.

The launch was extremely special, it felt like an incredibly exciting moment in time of which we were all privileged to be a part. It was a huge accomplishment both personally and professionally and I felt deeply humbled by the great work that is already happening in schools and energised by the dedication shown by so many to share best practice and support one another to embark or continue on our own journeys.

We are a family, the LGBT+ community, with vastly different lived experiences but a family nonetheless and as people left the conference buzzing with ideas to take back to school and make a difference for the LGBT+ community, our allies and those identifying as neither yet, I couldn’t help feeling that through LGBTed we had found our home, and there’s no place like it.

Please follow us at @LGBTedUK to be part of the conversation.