LGBT: Your FAQs answered
LGBT: Your FAQs answered Written by: Adele Bates | Published: 04 July 2018 Support: Official statistics states that 2.7 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual (Image: Adobe Stock) Comment on this article There are a range of LGBT issues and considerations in schools, and teachers may sometimes be unsure or concerned about how best to respond. Adele Bates answers some FAQs…
Q: Why is there such a focus on LGBT+ issues? What’s it got to do with my teaching?
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.
If a young person can be themselves, and are supported with the mental, emotional or social difficulties that may arise, then they will more easily access learning, raise their achievement and progress levels.
Q: Queer, genderfluid, transition, non-binary – what does it all mean?
Take a look at the key terms sections in my previous articles for SecEd (LGBT History Month & Supporting trans students in your classroom, SecEd, both January 2018 – see further information).
Q: I don’t feel qualified to talk about LGBT+ issues
We can’t all be experts in everything. The most important thing is to be understanding, respectful and don’t assume – on any issue that arises for young people. If you feel out of your depth, contact the person responsible for equality in your school who should be able to provide you with further information and guidance. Learning cannot be separated from the student – when students feel safe around an issue that is affecting their daily lives, then they will be more able learn about your subject.
Q: What percentage of students are we talking about? Surely it’s not that many?
The official data on what percentage of the population identify as LGBT+ is generally unreliable: being LGBT+ still carries a lot of stigma and often difficult life situations with it, and so not everyone is able to be honest.
Data from the Office for National Statistics suggests that 1.5 per cent of people in the UK identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. This is lower than other estimates, including the 5 to 7 per cent figure suggested by Stonewall.
However, there is a seeming trend: the official statistics show that young people aged 16 to 24 are by far the most likely to say they are gay, lesbian or bisexual –- 2.7 per cent of them did compared to the 1.5 per cent figure nationally (Guardian, October 2013).
And remember, LGBT+ bullying can affect anyone – whether they identify themselves as such or not.
Ultimately, our pupils’ friends, families and wider networks will be made up of many different people. There are many issues that can adversely affect our students, and therefore cultures that embrace any form of difference can be a positive step to promote safety and inclusion within our schools.
Q: A student came out to me as LGBT+ and have told me that their home-life would not 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, so 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 – for example: “I want to tell my parents this evening, but I think they will kick me out, as it’s against our religion.”In this situation, let the student know that you will have to share information as you are worried they may not be safe and contact your safeguarding officer.
Q: I have a trans student in my class/form, what should I do?
Again, read my SecEd article Supporting trans students in your classroom (January 2018) for detailed advice. A main principle is: ask, don’t assume.
Q: We don’t have gender-neutral toilets or changing rooms – what should we do for our trans students?
Ask students where they would feel most comfortable. It may be that some feel comfortable using the gender-neutral disabled toilet, others may not. There is nothing under child protection or safeguarding law that would prohibit trans pupils using the toilets which reflect their gender identity.
With changing rooms, any student who has a need or desire for increased privacy, regardless of the reason, should be provided with a reasonable alternative changing area such as the use of a private area or with a separate time to change. Any alternative arrangement should be provided in a way that protects the student’s ability to keep their trans status confidential.
Q: What is the law on accommodating trans pupils during residential trips?
Excluding trans students from residential trips would be against the Equality Act 2010. As far as possible, trans students should be able to stay in a dorm that is most appropriate to their gender. Some trans students may not feel comfortable doing this and in such cases, alternative sleeping arrangements should be made. Before the trip, speak with the pupil and find out which physical activities they will feel comfortable participating in (e.g, trans men who are binding their breasts may feel discomfort during climbing or canoeing etc).
When travelling abroad, schools need to investigate the laws regarding trans communities in countries considered for school visits. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans Association (ILGA) has information on its website about countries that pose a risk to trans individuals.
Q: A male student in my class is exhibiting overt, stereotypical female traits: e.g. wearing make-up, asking why he can’t wear a skirt – is he trans? Should I do anything about it or ignore it?
Some useful questions: Are their traits affecting their learning? Positively? Negatively? Do they seem to want your attention? If you feel a conversation is needed you could start with: “You’ve been asking to wear a skirt, most boys don’t choose to do that, I’m interested to know more about your choices.”
Ask from a place of inquiry, not judging. If you do not feel comfortable doing this then talk to colleagues, find a member of staff the student is close to – who could support the student if needed?
Q: A student has asked me to call them by a different name and pronouns. Am I allowed to?
Yes. You call Elizabeth, Izo. You call Edward, Ted. You call 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 the MIS, email addresses 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” etc?
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.
Q: What should I do at parents/carers’ evening – I call a trans student by their preferred name and pronouns, but I am aware that the parents/carers are not supportive of that?
Discuss this with the pupil before the event and ask how they would like you to address them in front of parents/carers. Explain the possible difficulties that may arise with their choices. Further questions
If you have any further questions, including about specific students, you can contact me. Adele Bates is an education consultant for schools on equality and diversity, LGBT+ awareness and Human Rights. She has taught for 16 years. Contact her via www.adelejbates.co.uk Further information For more from Stonewall’s research including the School Report 2017, visit http://bit.ly/2BfohbP LGBT History Month, Adele Bates, SecEd, January 2018: http://bit.ly/2L3ogy9 Supporting trans students in your classroom, Adele Bates, SecEd, January 2018: http://bit.ly/2GoDzO7 An Introduction to supporting LGBT Young People: A guide for schools, Stonewall: http://bit.ly/2rL0qz6 Getting Started: A toolkit for preventing and tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in secondary schools, Stonewall: http://bit.ly/2HuoWds Top tips for working with trans and gender questioning young people, All Sorts Youth Project: http://bit.ly/2GsZST5 Gay Britain: what do the statistics say? Guardian, October 2013: http://bit.ly/2ttJRbK The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans Association (ILGA): http://ilga.org/