The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Aldaine Wynter

Raising the voice of LGBTQ+ youth

LGBTQ+ History Month is an ideal time to start an LGBTQ+ student voice group. Aldaine Wynter explains some first steps.

Every February is LGBTQ+ History Month and this year’s theme, 'The Arc is Long', is inspired by Martin Luther King’s quote:

‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’

Martin Luther King Day was on 17 January and I feel the theme beautifully illustrates the importance of social justice now more than ever.

This year, we have an opportunity to explore ideas about social justice and reflect on how our schools talk about LGBTQ+ issues.

And what better way to explore social justice and attitudes towards LGBTQ+ than to start an LGBTQ+ student voice group this year?

Try to reach as many members of the school community as possible

Student voice groups are typically made up of students with a staff member as a facilitator. Together they provide a ‘safe space’ for students to discuss issues around teaching, learning and student support.

Questions to ask yourself

An LGBTQ+ student voice group gives the opportunity for students who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community to be a part of a ‘safe space’ with peers, if they ever need support.

If you are not sure whether your school needs a group, consider the following questions:

  • Do you need an LGBTQ+ voice when implementing LGBTQ+ inclusive policies?
  • Do LGBTQ+ students feel safe at school?
  • Does your school have an outward commitment to diversity, inclusion and tolerance?

There will be a host of reasons to consider looking into setting up an LGBTQ+ student voice group. And no matter where you are on your journey, the charity Stonewall is a brilliant resource when it comes to building your confidence during the process.

Setting up an LGBTQ+ student voice group

Before setting up the group, it is important to consider why the group is needed. The ‘why’ will also be important for members when setting up the group’s aims.

When promoting the group throughout the wider school community, use questions that link into the ‘whys’ of the group.

Visible and unquestionable support from the school’s leadership team is essential. This support will give members of the group, as well as LGBTQ+ students who have not joined, confidence in the purpose of the group.

When considering the facilitating staff member, ask teachers and see who opts to help facilitate the session.

Respecting everyone will be important to the long-term success of the group

You want the students in the group to feel confident but, in many school contexts, there may not be a staff member who identifies as being a part of the LGBTQ+ community. In schools where this is the case, I believe a staff member who identifies as an ‘ally’ is appropriate.

Similarly, while the group should be for LGBTQ+ students, allies should be welcome.

Regardless, student-led initiatives are key and students should be the drivers when it comes to the formation of ideas. The staff member is simply there to facilitate and should encourage the students to get involved as much as possible.

Ground rules: Confidential – Openminded – Respectful

Confidentiality and knowing (almost) anything discussed in the group will not be discussed elsewhere is important. But, as always, if there is a concern regarding the safety of a group member then this should be reported to your school’s designated safeguarding lead.

All participants having an open mind and being willing to hear the thoughts of peers will be helpful in ensuring that all involved are happy with the overall direction of the group.

And finally, respecting everyone will be important to the long-term success of the group.

Know what you want to achieve

Having a plan will be important. While this should not be the aim to complete in your first meeting, it should be a priority for your next meeting. 

For a newly formed group, I would recommend that members build activities around:

  • key dates, such as LGBTQ+ History Month (February) and Pride Month (June)
  • working with curriculum leads

As confidence builds with each event, I encourage the group to try to reach as many members of the school community as possible. This includes engaging parents, and not just holding events that include parents – I would ask parents to get involved with helping to plan and run events. The more people that can help, the less pressure that the group will feel.

Depending on the number of students that you get, you may have a group with very few ideas or you may have a group with an incredible amount of ideas.

Either way, I recommend that you use current resources available as inspiration. Stonewall has a plethora of resources, as does education charity School’s OUT UK.

There are inevitably going to be challenges as the group begins to establish itself in the school. Even with the support of senior leaders, the group may find it difficult to get started.

When times are hard, remind the group about their vision and the benefits not just to them as members, but to all the students they could impact.

Use this LGBTQ+ History Month as an opportunity to amplify the voices and experience of the LGBTQ+ members in your community. Allow them to be a part of the conversation and bring them on your journey towards inclusion.

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