Just Like Us, the LGBT+ charity for young people, has taken its annual School Diversity Week online, to continue providing inclusive education at a national level. “Our primary objectives are to make sure school children across the country learn about LGBT+ inclusion, and that any young person who has a question gets an informed answer,” says the charity’s Chief Executive, Dominic Arnall.
Running until Fri 26 June, this digital conference will be broadcast remotely via Zoom to schools across the country. Focused on making schools, kinder, safer places for LGBT+ young people, the week of events will feature masterclasses from prominent speakers. These include Ben Hunte, the BBC’s LGBT+ correspondent, Lady Phyll from UK Black Pride and Dr Ranj from the BBC. Also participating are experts and professors from the British Museum, The V&A and Oxford University, who will be giving an online lesson on a range of LGBT+ inclusive subjects from Myths and Legends, to LGBT+ people in art and history, to the history of the Pride flag.
The charity’s work divides into three core components. School Diversity Week is its widest spanning programme. It encourages schools across the country to celebrate LGBT+ diversity and inclusion by providing packs to assist teachers in running events, delivering lessons and involving their whole school in activities to support LGBT+ young people. Last year Just Like Us signed up schools representing 1.4 million young people. Secondly, the charity’s Ambassador Programme trains LGBT+ young people between the ages of 18-25 to speak in schools and workplaces about their experiences, assisting them in creating an environment where it’s safe to talk about being LGBT+. Finally, The Pride Groups Programme assists schools and young people in setting up groups of young people and their allies, championing student-voice and encouraging schools to seek LGBT+ views throughout their approach to inclusion.
This week, their online schedule will reach almost two million children. Obviously, the impact of coronavirus has forced some change to be made, but an innovative and fully digital series of masterclasses and resources have been developed. In a way, social distancing and the disruption to normal face to face interaction might help contextualise one of the issues the charity is dealing with.
“While we currently reside in a world where interaction is deemed dangerous, our research has shown it’s isolation that needs targeting,” says Arnall (right). “Our digital summit sends a strong signal to LGBT+ young people in homes across the country that you’re not alone.”
Recent UK statistics revealed a stark reality, showing 86% of LGBT+ people will receive homophobic, biphobic or transphobic abuse, with 96% hearing homophobic language in school. Research conducted by Just Like Us shows LGBT+ young people may feel more isolated during lockdown with a majority reporting they would confide in a friend rather than a family member in contrast to straight young people.
The London-based charity has released a toolkit to assist teachers in delivering LGBT+ inclusive content at distance. In 2020, 3 in 4 LGBT+ young people will be bullied at school. In turn, unacceptably high numbers of LGBT+ young people self-harm and attempt suicide.
“We believe we all need to do better to ensure that being LGBT+ is not just tolerated but celebrated. Over the past 20 years the community has seen huge advances, though most of these are only advances for adults.
“We believe we owe our young people better.”
When young people are better educated about identities, they are less likely to be homophobic and LGBT+ young people are less likely to report they hear homophobia in their school. Joining Just Like Us at the start of the year, Arnall brought a wealth of experience – previously he worked at art organisations like Mind and Stonewall working to transform the lives of LGBT+ young people in education, with a particular expertise in mental health.
Championed by partners including JP Morgan and Baker McKenzie, Just Like Us’ empowerment scheme also provides advice and job opportunities for young people from 16-25, and its work has been featured in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and on ITV.
Over the next year, the aim is to grow their operation even further. They want to ensure every young person across the UK is reached with at least one of their initiatives.
“We will ensure more young people than ever before are able to participate in one of our Pride Groups, receive a visit from an LGBT+ ambassador or take part in School Diversity Week. We will trial new measures to ensure that our model is as effective in John O’Groats as it is in Land’s End. We will keep working to ensure that LGBT+ young people are able to lead awesome lives.
“School should be a safe place,” says Arnall. “And our aim is to make it safer for everyone.”