Exploring gender and sexuality in the classroom beyond Pride Month

Comment by Beki Martin, executive director, Facing History and Ourselves

Facing History and Ourselves is an educational and professional learning organisation that uses the lessons of literature and history to challenge teachers and their students to stand up against bigotry and hate. Our unique approach provides teachers with the scaffolding and framework to have safe and empowering discussions about sensitive topics.

We’re guided by the belief that education can be an effective means of preparing young people for their role as active, thoughtful, socially-responsible community members and can serve as a preventive tool against intolerance, discrimination and violence.

Pride Month is now a time for celebration… whereas until 2003 it was prohibited to promote anything perceived as non-heterosexuality in education settings

June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month, a chance to celebrate the diversity of gender identity and sexuality, and to stand up against the prejudice and discrimination experienced by these communities. The recent introduction of the statutory requirement to teach young people about relationships and sex education (RSE), including the topics of gender and sexuality, means that, in classrooms around the country, teachers are educating students on these topics.

Whilst this new obligation presents the opportunity to help students develop an essential understanding of, and respect for, people’s identities, it is not without its challenges. It places a considerable new onus on educators to teach with sensitivity on topics that they may not be fully acquainted with, and for which they may have received no formal training.

Supporting educators

Given these potential challenges, Facing History and Ourselves is finding ways to support educators in delivering this content. We are in the process of developing a unit on gender and sexuality, and have offered CPD opportunities to support teachers in delivering these new statutory obligations.

To mark Pride Month, we held a workshop on ‘Discussing Gender and Sexuality in the Classroom’ to help teachers explore how to have these important conversations in a safe and inclusive way, so that young people can embrace, celebrate and safeguard people’s right to choose how they identify and who they love.

During the session, we explored ways to build empathetic, reflective questions into lessons, and considered how to help students understand the nuances and broad spectrum of gender and sexuality using information from a range of organisations, such as the NSPCC, as well as our own.

We also touched on the history of, and protests against, Section 28 (a 1988 law which prevented teachers from talking about LGBTQ+ relationships in the classroom – the law was only abolished everywhere in the UK in 2003).

Embedded in our mission is the belief that lessons on significant topics like gender and sexuality shouldn’t be one-off

Section 28 is an important case study that highlights how much has changed over the last few decades and what we can learn from this history. Pride Month is now a time for celebration – in external spaces and in classrooms – whereas until 2003 it was prohibited to promote anything perceived as non-heterosexuality in education settings.

The session included prompts about how it must have felt being in school at that time if you didn’t identify as heterosexual, as well as how this law would have impacted wider society’s view on LGBTQ+ lives. The suggested lesson ideas also included reflective questions on how social attitudes can shift, as well as laws, and what other rights (such as the right to be non-heterosexual) should be enshrined in law.

This exemplifies Facing History’s approach: we encourage students to find a personal connection to a subject matter, work with teachers and peers to dissect it critically, and then reflect on the wider lessons we can learn from the past.

Creating impact

Embedded in our mission is the belief that lessons on significant topics like gender and sexuality shouldn’t be one-off. They should be explored and embedded, not just in Pride Month, but throughout the year, and in doing so, foster a sense of classroom community, connection between students, and help encourage the sharing of different perspectives. Otherwise, if you bring in a standalone lesson it will not have the same impact.

For teachers concerned about this new responsibility, there are a wealth of resources and organisations out there who can help both you and your students understand the very nuanced spectrum of gender identity and sexuality in an age-appropriate manner.

To learn more about Facing History and Ourselves’ resources, please visit our website, and if you would like further information on the Gender and Sexuality workshop, please email us at UK@facinghistory.org.

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