Pride: A month of celebration, remembrance and reflection
June is Pride month – a time to celebrate LGBT identity and to build bridges and support between LGBT and heterosexual “ally” communities. It is a time to remember the Stonewall riots of June 1969 and the struggle to recognise LGBT rights and equality.
For a long time I was silent about my sexuality – it was something I didn’t talk about or share. It was not until I met my now-fiancé that I really began sharing this part of my identity at all. I still don’t necessarily go around shouting about it from the rooftops, but I have come to recognise the intrinsic role it has played in shaping my identity and career and actions I have taken.
School Experiences of LGBT Youth
Like many LGBT individuals, I don’t look back on my school days with rose-tinted glasses – indeed, it was all rather more thorns than roses. Although I wasn’t open with myself, it was apparently clear to my peers that I was “different”. We know that LGBT students face significantly more discrimination and bullying than their heterosexual peers – a 2017 report by Stonewall highlights that, in the UK, around half of all LGB students (increasing to 65% of trans* students) have experienced bullying in relation to their sexuality or gender identity. Perhaps even more worrying, the same report states that 60% of LGB young people have self-harmed due to difficulties faced relating to their sexuality, as have as many as 80% of trans* students.
However, we also know that identities can be linked to protection and support. I have volunteered in LGBT youth groups and a school equalities group, where young people have used their identities to promote social justice and positive change. Likewise, my doctoral research explored the positive school experiences of transgender young people, and one of the key findings was a sense of pride in themselves and their actions in support of other trans* and LGB students.
Further, having LGBT role models in schools has been cited as providing emotional support, information and recognition for LGBT children and young people (Muñoz-Plaza, Quinn & Rounds, 2002), although the effects of Section 28 of the Local Government Act (1988) – which prevented local authorities (and therefore schools) from discussing or promoting LGBT families and lifestyles – are still being felt by many within the education profession (Greenland & Nunney, 2008; Lee, 2019).
I return, then, to my own reflections. Like the young people discussed above, I recognise that many of the steps I have taken, including becoming a psychologist, have been to try and protect future generations, to ensure they won’t go through the same things I did.
As Educational Psychologists, we are perhaps in a unique position to support young people – not only LGBT youth, but all young people – who may face discrimination due to their background. We can work with individuals to advocate on their behalf and support self-advocacy; we can work with families to explore any impact on the family unit and signpost to additional support where necessary; we can work with schools, highlighting relevant research and helping to develop policy and practice; and many of us can work with local authorities to explore awareness, provision and policy across our boroughs.
So I ask you to reflect. Reflect on your own experiences and what drives you to support others. Ask yourself how your identity has been shaped, and what you can give back to future generations. A fantastic tool for this, I think, is the Social GRRAAACCEEESS (Burnham, 1992, 2012); I remember first being introduced to this in the first year of my doctoral training, and being asked to reflect on which element stood out to me the most – it was then that I began to recognise how my sexuality has helped shape me into the psychologist I am today, and how it has informed the actions I have taken and can take in the future.
We are all in positions of great privilege, in one way or another, and for each of us there are elements of our identity which drive and motivate us. In recognising these elements, I hope we can all continue to use our positions to shape a more open and accessible future.
Burnham, J. (1992). Approach-method-technique: Making distinctions and creating connections. Human Systems , 3 (1), 3–26
Burnham, J. (2012). Developments in social GRRRAAACCEEESSS: Visible–invisible and voiced–unvoiced. In I.-B. Krause (Ed.) Culture and Reflexivity in Systemic Psychotherapy : Mutual Perspectives . London: Karnac
Greenland, K. & Nunney, R. (2008). The repeal of Section 28: It ain’t over ’til it’s over. Pastoral Care in Education , 26 (4), 243–251
Lee, C. (2019). Fifteen years on: The legacy of Section 28 for LGBT+ teachers in English schools. Sex Education . DOI: 10.1080/14681811.2019.1585800.
Leonard, M. (2019). Growing up trans*: Exploring the positive school experiences of transgender children and young people. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). London: University of East London.
Local Government Act, Section 28 (1988).
Muñoz-Plaza, C., Quinn, S.C. & Rounds, K.A. (2002). Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students: Perceived social support in the high school environment. The High School Journal, 85 (4), 52–63
Stonewall (2017). School report: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people in Britain’s schools in 2017. London: Stonewall .