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Why all schools should take part in LGBT history month

Today marks the start of LGBT history month – here, co-founder Sue Sanders highlights its importance in schools and in wider society

LGBT history month, LGBT, LGBT in schools

Today marks the start of LGBT history month – here, co-founder Sue Sanders highlights its importance in schools and in wider society

Throughout history, LGBT people and issues have presented with extreme negatively, or completely ignored all together.

As children in schools, we were lied to by omission: reading novels, plays, poetry written by LGBT people without even realising. It was just assumed that everybody was heterosexual.

The effect of section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 meant not only that people did not "promote homosexuality", but they colluded to commit acts of profound homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Mass bullying led to hate crime, which led to physical attacks. It gave rise to massive self-doubt, mental health problems and, in extreme cases, suicide.

The social atmosphere was toxic for LGBT people in schools, in the workplace and often even at home.

In 2003, section 28 was finally rescinded and the Labour Party began to talk about organising legislation that would cover sexual orientation and gender, as well as requiring those that received government money to outlaw discrimination, advance equal opportunities and foster good relations.

It was then that Paul Patrick and I, as the co-chairs of Schools OUT UK, founded LGBT history month. We wanted to legitimise a space where we could enable people to be visible and celebrate LGBT people and their contribution to society.

Over the years the LGBT community has become less invisible – especially if we’re white gay men. However, the rest of our community, especially those of us who are disabled, are still barely visible in schools or in the media.

Since 2017, we’ve seen museums who have made a supreme effort to recognise the 50-year anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality and begin to make their exhibitions more inclusive. But there’s a long way to go before the full diversity of our community is represented.

LGBT history month is passionate about being fully representative and consistently strives to both educate institutions and ensure that our resources reflect that passion. We really hope that libraries, museums and theatres will embrace it and give teachers the confidence to celebrate the month in their schools.

In 2019 I cannot say with any confidence that all schools celebrate the month, even though the Equality Act of 2010 and public duty require them to take educating their pupils about LGBT issues seriously. We will continue to produce resources for teachers and myriad institutions so they can educate young people out of prejudice by making the rich diversity of LGBT people and their contributions visible.

To ensure that the concept of making LGBT people visible is not corralled into one month, we at Schools OUT UK have also produced over 80 free lesson plans across the curriculum and for all ages that focus on LGBT existence and experience.

Five years ago we initiated OUTing the Past, a festival of LGBT history, and this year we had over 100 offers of presentations. Eighteen hubs across England and the island of Ireland, Norway, Sweden and in New York will host a variety of those presentations which cover a rich variety of LGBT lived experience. We will also be hosting our original theatre productions, which explore hidden LGBT history.  At the end of March in Belfast the festival terminates with the gathering of international academics and activists. This gathering is crucial in building free resources for teachers to do the vital work challenging prejudice and making society a safer place.

This year our theme is peace reconciliation and activism. Our four faces that link with the theme are Mariella Franco, Magnus Hirschfield, Robert Graves and Marsha P Johnson. The intention is to reflect the rich diversity of our community and introduce key figures. See free resources here.

Please take part and celebrate LGBT people in all their diversity in your school.

Sue Sanders is the chair of Schools OUT UK and founder LGBT History Month UK

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