LGBT: Common questions

Written by: Adele Bates | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Equality and diversity consultant Adele Bates answers some of the questions she is commonly asked by teaching staff in primary schools

Q: Why is there such a focus on LGBT issues? What’s it got to do with my teaching?

LGBT people are part of our shared history, something often overlooked or forgotten. LGBT+ people have always been in human history. Always.

Half of all LGBT+ pupils face bullying at school for being LGBT+, more than four in five trans young people have self-harmed and LGBT+ youth are four times more likely to kill themselves than their heterosexual, cis-gender (non-trans) counterparts. Through education and appropriate support, we can prevent this.

If a young person can be themselves, and are supported with mental/emotional/social difficulties that may arise, then they will more easily access learning, raise their achievement and progress levels.

Q: Aren’t our students too young to be teaching them about sex?

Giving students opportunities to learn and ask about themselves and others is not teaching them about sex. We talk about “mummies” “daddies” and marriage without talking about sex so we can also discuss LGBT+ people’s relationships without sex. Age-appropriate relationships and sexual health education will be compulsory from September 2019 (relationships education in primary schools). For more, see pages 1 to 5 or: Relationships education: What should we expect?, Headteacher Update, May 2017: http://bit.ly/2x7Q1kg).

Q: Our students are too young to discover if they are LGBT+ anyway, aren’t they?

Many LGBT+ people reveal that they knew about their identity as soon as they had a sense of themselves – even if they didn’t have a vocabulary to express it. Even if students do not identify as LGBT+, members of their family or friends may do or they will see and hear about LGBT+ people online. The students may have questions they want to learn more about.

Q: I don’t feel qualified to talk about LGBT+ issues.

Ask your school for training. This may be available in-house, but if there is not someone who knows about LGBT+ issues, how to specifically support LGBT+ students, and how to approach teaching students about these issues in an age-appropriate way, then you may need to ask for training from an outside provider.

Being aware helps to address things, by being able to see what needs to change. Furthermore, by making small adjustments in your language and the assumptions you make (and by challenging the behaviours or language you may witness), it can make a great deal of positive difference to people’s lives.

Q: We don’t have a problem with homophobic, transphobic or biphobic bullying. I never hear it. Won’t bringing up the issues encourage it to start in our school?

How do you know? Have you asked every student and staff member? Many school leaders assume that their school does not have any issues with this, until surveys or audits are carried out. Facilitate an equality audit that examines the experience of all the protected characteristics – ensure that it is anonymous and that all staff and students can participate. Homophobic, transphobic and biphobic bullying is just as much an issue in primary schools as it is in secondary schools.

Q: I do hear the word ‘gay’ being used instead of bad, but the pupils don’t really know what they’re saying, do they?

Shaun Dellenty, an LGBT education advocate and previously primary school deputy head (www.shaundellenty.com), surveyed his pupils, and discovered that in more than 76 per cent of cases, his primary school pupils knew what the word gay meant, and in many cases what lesbian meant.

He goes on to explain: “Consider a child in year 1 who is using the ‘n’ word in the class publicly – whether the intention is to hurt or not, teachers must address this situation sensitively but with authority.”

Ensuring that our students are able to use words with their correct meaning, and not hurt those in their community, is part of our role as educators.

Q: A student came out to me and have told me that their family wouldn’t support their identity. What should I do?

With pupils’ personal information, follow the confidentiality procedure at your school – but most importantly, be supportive. It is possible that you are the first adult they have told, providing a positive and calm reaction will enable them to feel safe and supported. Signpost other areas where they can get support if/when they need it. If you don’t know this, come back to them when you do. You do not need to share the student’s information with anyone unless you discover they may be in danger, and it becomes a safeguarding issue.

Q: A student has asked me to call them by a different name and pronouns. Am I allowed to?

Yes. You call Elizabeth, Izo; Edward, Ted; Mohammed, Mo – all without asking anyone’s permission. A student has the right to be addressed by their chosen name and pronoun. Legally, school books, the “preferred name” option on management information systems, etc, can all be changed.

If the student is taking exams, then their birth name will be required, unless they have changed their name by Deed Poll. Respect the student’s choices and understand that they may also change over time.

Q: Is it still okay to refer to a group of students as ‘girls/ladies’ and ‘lads/boys’?

When working with a single-sex group then this can be appropriate, but do ask yourself – would I necessarily know if any of these students identify otherwise? If you have the opportunity, ask the students themselves what they like to be called – individually and as a group. Ensure there is chance for students to answer anonymously. Gender-neutral alternatives could be: folks, learners, people, peeps.

  • Adele Bates is an education consultant for schools on equality and diversity, LGBT+ awareness and human rights. She has taught for 16 years in primary, special schools and PRUs, and was a full-time English teacher in secondary schools. Visit www.adelejbates.co.uk. You can also read Adele’s previous LGBT and equality advice in Headteacher Update at http://bit.ly/2JPGa6K


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