Perhaps it’s not the summer holiday that I had in mind, but here I am waiting to board a delayed flight back to the UK. August marks an influx of younger passengers, who have hot-footed their way from the school gates to the boarding gate with their red-faced parents in tow.
Perhaps it’s the distance away from their nosey teachers that’s given the pair of loose-lipped teenagers sitting opposite me the opportunity to complain about every single aspect of their school life. I could fill a novel with moaning sentences about school; instead, I’ve decided to spare you and focus on a happier time spent behind my school desk.
Imagine an A-Level English lesson in an all-boys school. What do you think of? The desks are indeed wooden, the walls could do with a lick of paint and no the windows do not open. But putting aside the lack of aesthetic appeal and ventilation, imagine the sound of Madonna knocking the dust off the top bookshelf, photocopies of pages pulled from an issue of Vogue being annotated in pink highlighter, and music quizzes on the last Fridays of term that consist of Cher, Madonna and Cheryl Lynn.
Our class lived by the motto of variety being the spice of life – a philosophy that granted many of us freedom from the claustrophobic masculinity that waited for us outside the classroom door.
Earlier this year, Stonewall published its latest School Report, which looked into the experiences of LGBT students in schools across the country. When comparing with the 2012 report, it’s encouraging to see a decline in the number of pupils reporting hearing homophobic slurs in their classrooms alongside a reduction in the percentage of LGBT students experiencing homophobic bullying.
That being said, the numbers of young LGBT people voicing that they are being bullied or are hearing offensive language about their sexuality orientation or gender identity remains alarmingly high. What’s more, the report found that more than two in five trans young people have attempted to take their own life.
It’s clear that a tremendous amount of investment is still required in order to make young LGBT people feel safe in their own classrooms.
Teachers are the only people who can bring about change inside the four walls of schools up and down the country. They find themselves on the front line of education, resulting in them having the opportunity to influence societal changes amongst the younger generations.
But how can we empower teachers to set a tone of tolerance and acceptance of differences within their classrooms?
Should LGBT issues be a mandatory element of a teacher’s training? Do ‘out’ teachers feel supported by their school’s senior management and how can they help other teachers to come out to their pupils?
Until schools and local authorities can find answers to these questions, young LGBT people will miss out from an environment that promotes acceptance of diversity, resulting in them having a more negative school experience than their peers.
Of course I’m not suggesting that playing Madonna during lessons will resolve the issues uncovered in Stonewall’s report – though learning about the innuendo in ‘Like A Prayer’ was a life skill in itself.
Perhaps a more feasible suggestion would be to encourage schools and teachers to integrate LGBT issues within their curriculum. We are currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, so it seems like an ideal opportunity to teach young people about this significant point in LGBT history.
The teaching of LGBT topics allows young people to integrate a wider diverse society, encouraging long-lasting societal changes benefiting future LGBT generations. It’s time teachers took a stand.
Follow Hadley Stewart on Twitter @wordsbyhadley.