Educating Young Minds: A lesson In LGBT awareness

Teacher Elly Barnes and some of her year seven students at Stoke Newington School

A Hackney borough secondary school, has recently been the focus of  nationwide and international attention because of a pioneering scheme to educate youths on LGBT awareness, (for the uninitiated, that stands for Lesbian, Gay Bi-Sexual Transgender).

Stoke Newington School claims to have virtually eradicated homophobia amongst its students, thanks to its diversity studies, which includes LGBT awareness, taught by a very enthusiastic and passionate Elly Barnes, a music teacher and former head of year, who became concerned after witnessing homophobic  behaviour amongst students.

Four years after the school began the programme not only is Stoke Newington School claiming a success with its students, it has also become a diversity training centre for other teachers from all over the UK and as Elly Barnes explained: “Since the media picked out story up, I’ve been contacted by teachers all over. One lady from Perth in Australia found me through Facebook and wants to be her schools LGBT representative, so I’ve sent her all my resources and she’s going to start the work in her school next February”.

Ms Barnes continues excitedly: “I’ve received hundreds of emails, that took days to respond to”.

In answer to how parents from diverse cultural, racial and religious back grounds with strong feelings about homosexuality feel about the subject being taught to their children,  she responds: “It very rarely happens. It’s not as often as you think. Of course we’ve had various incidents in the school over the years.  I’ve maybe had three phone calls from parents who have expressed a concern about what the students have seen and discussed.”

“That’s when I point them to the school code each parents signs, that clearly states Stoke Newington School is all inclusive and welcomes students of all race, gender, disability and sexual orientation.” According to Barnes the parents go away satisfied and so far, no students has been taken out as a result of a parent objecting.

During LGBT month every subject area does a project, that is related to a LGBT character or something that’s been in the news recently. As a music teacher, Ms Barnes has played Bronski Beats ‘Home Town Boy‘ to her year 7 class and then gone on to discuss the the song, which is about a boy coming out to his parents.  Blues singer Bessie Smith is another musician discussed.  In history they learn about gay historical figures who have made contributions such as authors and playwrights James Baldwin and Oscar Wilde as well as mathematician and war time code breaker Alan Turing.

The month concludes with a show put on by the students at Hackney town hall which is supported by the Learning Trust, Hackney Police and Mayor Jules Pipe.

“The best thing to come out of all this”  says Barnes,  “is that some staff and students have felt confident and comfortable enough to ‘come out’. ”

A recent report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission into fairness in the UK found that two-thirds of lesbian, gay and transgender students have suffered homophobic bullying and 17% have received death threats. Nearly half of secondary school teachers in England say homophobic bullying is common and only one in six believe their school is very active in promoting the rights of gay pupils.

Last month high profile figures in America were promoted after a rash of recent suicides by gay teens, to speak out.  One week in September saw at least 5 gay teens taking their own lives. There were at least 12 reported suicides  amongst young LGBT men and women. Most were said to have suffered homophobic bullying.

One of those teens was 18 year old Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University  student, who’s roommate and a classmate used a web cam to secretly record Clementi’s tryst with a man and then announced it on Twitter and streamed it on the internet.  Tyler Clementi Jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge the next day.

A few weeks ago a heart wrenching plea was made by openly gay Fort Worth (Texas) city council member, Joel Burns who plead with gay teens during a city council meeting, not to lose hope.  He told them “it gets better”.  President Obama also addressed the issue of homophobic bullying in a video that went viral just as Joel Burns did.

Elly Barnes aims to eradicate homophobia from all schools by giving teachers the confidence and resources, by conducting workshops. When asked how  Stoke Newington School measure the success of diversity training, she said: “whenever a student says or does something homophobic, we record it on a referral sheet the same way we record any other unruley behaviour. There has only been one homophobic incident recorded in the last academic year”.

About Remi

Remi Hackney Hive founder, publisher and contributor. Hackneyite and all round Girl Friday who couldn't wait to leave Hackney and London behind her. After hitching her wagon in California, Texas, New Orleans, Louisiana for 18 years, with a brief spell in Mexico, the prodigal daughter returned to London, happy to put an unconventional and risqué past behind her. It sometimes feels like she’s still at war with herself. This often leads her into a whole lot of trouble, although it’s fair to blame it on some of her best qualities: intelligence, original thinking, willingness to take risks, skepticism, rebelliousness, independence, and creativity. But you know what, much of the trouble she gets into is because she can’t help pointing out that the emperor is naked. Remi still lives by her own rules, nobody else’s. She is owned by her two dogs Deffer(a Jack Russell & Darcy a Jack Russell/Pomeranian mix) and is proprietor of London’s finest and long established pet sitting service. The big smoke is home for the moment, but she desperately yearns wide open spaces, where she hopes to call home in the near future.

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