Posts Tagged homophobia

Voice of a Role Model

Enough from me lately. Today’s post is from one of our young role models, Lucy Hill. Here’s her perspective on school, bullying and how effective role modelling can give young people hope:

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School is tough for most kids; the pressures of fitting in, getting good grades (but not so good that you are considered a geek), wearing the right clothes, liking the right music…the list is endless. The turmoil is even greater for LGBT kids who are struggling with their own feelings about sexual or gender identity; they don’t need everybody else’s views piled upon them too. It is very hard to be ‘different’ in an environment that often stamps out individuality for the sake of an easy life and for LGBT kids this can prove catastrophic.

We all know of the much publicised tragic and enraging stories of gay school children ending their lives due to torment from homophobic bullies; Asher Brown, a 13-year-old Texan who shot himself in the head after being ‘bullied to death’, another 13-year-old, Seth Walsh, who hung himself after yet another attack from his tormenters and 15-year-old Billy Lucas whose school did nothing to prevent his bullies driving him to suicide, despite pleas for help. These heartbreaking stories are all too common and send a clear message that far too little is being done.

Diversity Role Models are taking a brilliant step in tackling this pandemic problem. Really, it is only by changing the minds of the young that homophobia, and homophobic bullying, can be erased once and for all. By sending successful, and above all happy, LGBT role models into schools to discuss the topic and their experiences, Diversity Role Models are not only helping to remove the fear around homosexuality, but they are showing that anybody can go on to achieve their dreams. Above all, what this organization is giving young LGBT school kids, is hope. An escape from the bullying and relief that there are other people out there just like them who lead happy, successful and untroubled lives. If I were a teenager struggling with my sexuality and experiencing ridicule and even beatings, I know seeing an adult who had come through this, and achieved everything they wanted and more, would be incredibly freeing.

Lucy Hill

Follow us on Twitter: @diversityrm

Visit us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/DiversityRoleModels (every ‘like’ we get on that page proves to schools how necessary this is!)

Email us on diversityrolemodels@gmail.com

Website coming soon!

‘Gay’ is not an insult!

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We are family

Not so long ago, ‘family friendly’ was a coded allusion to ‘gays not welcome’. Family was what straight people had and LGBT folk were left to the outer circles of these; sometimes invited to family events (sans partner of course), often not, and the isolation and hurt caused by this exclusion commonly created an unrepairable rift within families. Many older LGBT people never managed to heal the damage caused by this, and passed away without the love and support that families should provide, simply because they happened to be gay.

Fortunately, this is changing. Our families tend to be more accepting; after the initial wringing-of-hands-what-will-I-tell-your-grandfather, they work hard on trying to accept that we will not be following exactly in their footsteps (little do they know, we still take on their annoying traits, we just subject our same-sex partner to them instead) and some parents even force extended family to challenge their own prejudice by proudly dragging us and our partners to all family events and loudly announcing our presence whilst looking triumphantly around for praise/negativity/any reaction at all.

However, there is still a lingering, exclusionary ring around this concept of family. Pride events are still hailed in some parts of the western world as being ‘not family-friendly’. The images of scantily-clad people dancing to Kylie Minogue with pink poms-poms are what fill the minds of the decision makers on local councils; in my mind, these images are no more offensive than a typical H & M bikini advertisement on a bus stop. Unless…hang on…perhaps the offence relates to the pink dancers potentially being men and this of course, will throw little Benny’s concept of gender out the window, he will demand nail polish and tiaras and refuse to answer to any name but Delilah-Rose on the car ride home. Seeing people kiss or dance or wear the same amount of clothes they do on the beach, is NOT offensive, nor is it going to change the sexual orientation/gender identity of a child. Overt sexual behaviour isn’t appropriate for children, however any Pride march I’ve been to has been verging on sex-LESS; lesbian Mums, gay Dads, trans people with partners and children, drag queens slinking along the street (much to the delight of the kids), colourful floats, desperate-to-be-seen-but-slightly-uncomfortable politicians and supportive grandmothers complaining about sore feet. In fact, the least family friendly aspect of Pride is the cohort of religious extremists standing behind their police cordon preaching non-acceptance and hate.

LGBT people have children. We are family. We are Mums, Dads, Auntys, Uncles and Grandparents. How we perform these roles is dependent on our morals, our patience, our dedication and our responsibility, NOT on our gender or sexual identity. And to Senor Fernando Gómez (the Tourism alderman of Spanish Democratic Party of Blanes) who says “It is inconsistent to promote gay tourism along with family tourism and sporting events”, I’m sorry sir, but I have a family, I am an athlete and I am a pretty big fan of holidays. Now let’s get together and talk about inconsistency.

Follow us on Twitter: @diversityrm

Visit us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/DiversityRoleModels (every ‘like’ we get on that page proves to schools how necessary this is!)

Email us on diversityrolemodels@gmail.com

Website coming soon!

‘Gay’ is not an insult!

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What do the kids say?

‘Please come to my school because I am the only gay one and everybody hates me. I am just the same as them’

‘Could you bring a role model to our school, people are too scared to come out…all the kids say horrible things about gay people’

‘My son’s school needs a visit from you; he is too scared to walk home because other boys will ‘jump’ him’

These are just a few of the cries for help we’ve had via twitter and email since we went live. It simply reinforces how important it is to do this for our young people. If you are LGBT, just imagine that somebody had visited your class when you were young and spoken of their sexual orientation in a factual, honest and at times, humorous manner. Maybe you would’ve followed the example of many of the young people I have spoken to; eyes downcast, not drawing attention to themselves by asking questions and even feigning disinterest. These are the kids I believe with all of my heart, are being affected by my words. It’s not that I’m saying anything particularly special, or that I stand out for any particular reason, I’m simply saying that I am the same as everyone else, even though I’m gay. Many of these young people have never heard anything positive said about LGBT people. At best, they’ve heard nothing, but many of the students I’ve worked with come from backgrounds where parents are battling unsuccessfully with their own prejudice on this topic. A group of straight 15 year old boys fell about laughing when one reported that his mum said she would ‘cut his dick off’ if he ever ‘turned gay’. I waited until they’d recovered before asking them how funny that would be if they really were gay, or how I might have felt if one of my parents had responded to me in such a violent and un-parent like way. Their grins disappeared rapidly. They’d never met a ‘real gay’ before I came out to them in that lesson and they didn’t want me, someone they liked as a teacher and person, to suffer.

So what do the kids say to me? This is the question I get asked most in the course of my work. Bearing in mind I used to do this on a casual basis, my approach varied. Mostly, however, I didn’t tell a class I am a lesbian until half way through a workshop; the mere introduction of the ‘gay’ topic produced delightful and almost compulsory utterances: ‘they all belong in hell…put them on an island and blow them up…I’d knock one out if I saw him’. Most of this venom came from boys.*  I’m so used to this response that I consider it the equivalent of putting on a t shirt reading ‘I’m 100% straight’ – it’s just compulsory ‘proof of heterosexuality’ from young men who consider being gay ultimately the worst thing on earth. So once they’ve detoxed a bit, and I tell them that I am indeed one of those people they want to blow up/shank/pop/insert street violence of choice here, what do they say then? Admittedly, I used to sweat a bit at this point. One 15 year old who was sitting within a few feet of me got up and moved to the back of the room muttering something about ‘catching it’. A move that prompted cries of ‘dickhead’ and motivated one of the most initially homophobic boys to move to his seat: ‘I’ll sit you with you Miss, there’s nothing wrong with you’. Sometimes I don’t need to say anything – they teach each other. That boy later apologised and told me his religion taught him it was contagious.

* I will cover the gender response difference in another blog. Along with lesbians versus gay men in the minds of the young!

For the most part, they laugh a bit, they whisper ‘I TOLD you’ to each other and then they settle down (one pair had actually bet money on whether I was gay or not. Managed to tick the cross curricular links box by discussing the mathematics of betting on something so unpredictable these days). I am very honest and I tell them that it isn’t easy for me to face all of them as strangers and tell them personal information about myself. I tell them it is upsetting when they say they want to hurt people like me (almost always to responses like ‘we wouldn’t hurt you…we don’t mean you’) and when they tell me it isn’t natural or right to be gay, I ask directly for their help: ‘what should I do then; should I marry someone I am not attracted to and pretend? Would you try to hide your skin colour if people around you didn’t like it?’. The debate is endless but it really gets them thinking. Most kids have empathy. A lot of it. And if you appeal to them as a ‘real person’ (a term I hear often as somehow they can’t imagine us as being such) they want to help. By the end of the class, 95% agree that I shouldn’t change and that I should have the same rights as everyone else. Obviously, the responses depend greatly on class, religion and gender. Underneath it all however, the belief is the same: being LGBT must be the worst thing. Ever. Until they meet somebody who is happy, successful and not at all ashamed of their sexual orientation. At this point, the seeds of tolerance are implanted…maybe, just maybe it isn’t worth getting so worked up about. And for the couple of kids squirming in their seats, desperate for this to end as it’s just too close to home, these young people spend the rest of the day, and perhaps their time at school, knowing that it really does get better.

Follow us on Twitter: @diversityrm

Visit us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/DiversityRoleModels (every ‘like’ we get on that page proves to schools how necessary this is!)

Email us on diversityrolemodels@gmail.com

Website coming soon!

‘Gay’ is not an insult!

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What is Diversity Role Models?

Number 252 on a To Do list of over 1000 (well it feels like it anyway…) completed. Establish blog.

Thank you for all your emails and messages of support. I have been endeavouring to reply individually to people’s questions but hopefully the blog will provide some answers until the website is up (Number 253 on the list!).

So what are we doing, why and how?

Diversity Role Models is a charity (application in process now) set up for two purposes: firstly, to help LGBT young people realise that being gay, or changing gender identity, is not synonymous with unhappiness, depression, lack of success, broken relationships and lack of family – some of the things that the media and statistics tend to focus on. Secondly, to help non-LGBT young people to see us as ‘real people’, with jobs, families, morals, humour, talent and drive.*  This enables them to develop empathy and understanding, and therefore reduce the amount of bullying around this topic.

* Quick disclaimer: our role models do/will not have to have ALL these qualities! They are simply an example of the positive attributes we may display to young people when we visit.

The ‘why’ is easy. The founder of the charity has been a teacher for 11 years and is sick of seeing the amount of abuse that is still levelled at either LGBT kids, ‘different’ kids or those who are simply suspected of being LGBT. Additionally, although we live in enlightened times in terms of legislation, there are still many sad stories of families not accepting partners, people’s work output suffering due to insidious homophobia, adults who deny their sexuality in order to live a ‘normal’ life and end up destroying their families by coming out after marrying and having kids. The list goes on. It doesn’t need to be this way. By developing understanding and acceptance of difference in young people, the next generation will be less likely to kick their own gay children out of home or to raise their fists/knives to somebody who doesn’t fit their gender stereotype or isn’t heterosexual. Being LGBT is simply a characteristic, as is being left-handed. And they are equally as boring!

And the ‘how’: by taking positive role models into schools to talk about their lives. These role models may be gay, straight, unsure, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Japanese, African, English, Mums, Dads, or children of LGBT people – anyone and everyone who can pass on the message: being gay is not a big deal, it’s just another facet of being human. We are taking very successful business/sports people to show that being gay is not a barrier to excellence. We will also be working with the Albert Kennedy Trust to take some of their homeless LGBT young people, into schools to tell their stories. I’ve had wonderful Mums get in touch who want to talk to young people about their own gay children, other teachers who don’t yet feel comfortable coming out at their own school but would love to take the first step by coming out in a different school, young people who suffered at school and want to tell their stories. Empowering stuff!

The details of how each school will work with us will be established as we go. Some schools will have homophobic classes they want us to target, some will want assemblies, some may have parents groups they wish us to speak to. We will be starting in London but taking this nationwide; it is particularly important to visit small towns where LGBT people often feel very isolated. It is also essential to help schools become gay-friendly for the influx of gay families that are coming their way – I don’t know about you but I hardly have any friends who aren’t either having children or trying – these children are going to be attending local schools and these schools need to be ready to accept and help their student body to accept. They have a public duty to make sure that ALL students have equal access to learning and we all know that bullying prevents effective learning.

So from here, we carry on with the boring red tape stuff that is necessary to set up a charity, we are working with some potential corporate sponsors and will be doing the usual money-chasing events that charities do, and will be looking for role models from across the country….soooo….

If you have any interest in being a role model, we have a database set up to which we can add you. We’ve had choirs, bands, athletic groups get in touch too – we can accommodate anybody! And if you express an interest and change your mind in future, no problem! We are looking to start going into schools in September so we’d love to have a long and varied list of people who are happy to come and talk to young people about acceptance. Give it some thought!

Some background to how the charity started up here: www.surandickson.com

Follow us on twitter @diversityrm

Email us on diversityrolemodels@gmail.com

Website coming soon!

‘Gay’ is not an insult!

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