by ANNA CARLILE in The Independent
I have to be up front here. I am an academic, mainly looking at inclusive education and “youth voice”, and have always wanted to avoid being pigeonholed as the lesbian academic who talks about lesbian things.
But I am also a parent. As the debate around Putin’s homophobic stance rages around the Sochi Winter Olympics; as gay people in Nigeria arebeaten to death in the streets as the police stand by; and with the first same-sex marriages in England and Wales only 38 days away, I feel the need to talk about how my family, and other families with lesbian mums, experience school. The fact is, things are better in the UK than they are in many other places around the world, but there is still a long way to go.
At the age of 14, my daughter had to decide when and to whom she would “come out” as the child of a gay parent. Sometimes she did not want to bring friends home in case they noticed. And she had to hear “that’s so gay” being used in place of “that’s so stupid” hundreds of times a week.
But the moment she went to college she had to call me to talk to her new friends because “they didn’t believe me – it was too cool!” She also feels that her experience has made her more politically aware; she is certainly oriented towards social justice, and truly empathic about people who experience prejudice of all kinds, such as on the basis of disability or appearance.
It’s not all bad. Stonewall has been working incredibly hard over the last few years to support schools and families to work constructively together, although the omission of transgender people in their work is the source of much frustration.
Other activists and organisations have been creating a step-change in the visibility of families with LGBT parents. For instance Elly Barnes, employed by Birmingham City Council to “usualise” LGBT identities and eradicate homophobia across all of Birmingham’s schools through her Educate and Celebrate project; or the Schools Out campaigns for inclusivity; or even Sean Dellenty’s work through his Inclusion for All model to address homophobic bullying, especially in primary schools.
All of this hard work does seem to be affecting change, and my research has shown that there are some amazing staff-members in our schools.
Faith is often a pressure-point when we discuss schools and sexuality, but Clare and Tessa, from Lancashire, told me that they had experienced “unexpectedly brilliant support, acceptance and encouragement from a small town Catholic school community.”
Recently when there was a spate of “you’re gay because your mums are” at the school that Alex (aged 8) attends, Clare told a teaching assistant and it was dealt with that day. She went on to say that the teaching assistant “took Alex to one side and told him she thought his family was brilliant, that her best friend is gay and that he can always talk to her about anything.”