14th to 16th April 2017
Barbara, Chris and I arrived at Manchester Central bright and early to give us time to put the stall together ready or the Exhibition attached to the NASUWT Conference. I think it can be safely said that we won any award going for the brightest, most cheerful stand! Sadly, our lovely FFLAG roll up display decided to part company from the top bar so we were unable to use it. Being resourceful – we are parents after all – we quickly ensured there were plenty of FFLAG booklets and cards on display.
It was a mixed day of mad flurries of activity followed by lulls, however we had some interesting conversations. It was a huge worry to us that a retired teacher informed us that they had never had any LGBT+ youngsters in the schools she had worked in and then went on to tell us she had never heard of Section 28! The biggest stumbling block still seems to be that of Catholic and faith schools. Many teachers were concerned that their school wouldn’t even enter into dialogue about LGBT+ issues. Chris was quite shocked when a teacher told him that there were no LGBT+ issues in her school as it is a “special needs” establishment. Chris, having worked as a support worker with learning, and physically, disabled young men was quick to interject that there were definitely some gay people amongst the young men he supported.
Saturday was covered by Bernadette, our longest serving parent to be still active in the group, and Carole.
The following writeup for Day 2 is provided by Carole: People who stopped to talk to us were all women; it was quite noticeable how the men glanced and walked past. Those who stopped at the stall ranged from a married lesbian couple, knowledgeable and interested, to someone who told us that they “didn’t have LGBT students in their school”, at least, they said, “it never comes up”. (this seems to have been a common theme throughout the weekend) It seems as if teachers have an expectation that LGBT+ students would take the initiative and “disclose” their identity privately before they could show an interest, as if being LGBT+ was a dirty secret. We brought up ideas about normalising the wide variety of gender and sexuality issues; they didn’t have to be kept to the private office or even PHSE classes, but could be mentioned matter-of-factly in passing.
One or two teachers referred to what they saw as the delicacy of mentioning these issues appropriately. A maths teacher said it wasn’t her business, she was there to teach maths, she left that sort of thing to the PHSE teacher or the form teacher. We chatted casually about how the language we used, in school and outside, could be more relaxed without formally or overtly talking about LGBT matters. For example, we might talk about ‘partners’ rather than ‘husband’ or ‘wife’; and talking about gender-fluid or intersex people – or just students whose gender they were uncertain of – we could use ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’.
Teachers of people with learning difficulties, and teachers in Catholic schools had their own particular struggles. These were sometimes dealt with by plain denial; the issue didn’t exist, or again “it never came up”. One teacher in a faith school was concerned about her students feeling as if they had to keep their true selves below the radar, and went away with a fistful of leaflets, determined to discover her school’s policy on difference and prejudice.
From our side of the stall we found that rather than trying to press our agenda, showing a sympathetic interest and inviting teachers to tell us more about how they felt (even if what they said seemed alienating to us) led us into more trusting and interesting conversations. By the end of the day we were just getting the hang of it!
Barbara and I were accompanied by Matt on the Sunday, when Barbara had the splendid idea of using the FFLAG t-shirt she had as a table display.
Again we were bemused by some of the prevalent attitudes. The best visitor to the stall had to be the young Muslim woman who visited us and voiced her anger that the school she worked at were being incredibly blinkered around LGBT+ issues and left with a ream of leaflets and information. It was a fabulous feeling to know that attitudes are changing across the board. Again we had a fraught conversation with a teacher who professed to have no problems dealing with LGBT+ students but was continually critical of a gender neutral young person who she insisted on calling a girl, but told us that they sometimes identified as female or male. She seemed to think everything had to revolve around this young person in their school, but missed the point that once systems and procedures were in place they would benefit everyone.
Then we had the lady who insisted very loudly on using the term “hermaphrodite” we were horrified and explained that the correct term was “intersex” she, however, continued to use the wrong term saying that in the animal kingdom it is still used, even when we pointed out that human beings, whilst being – technically – animals, were not called hermaphrodite but called intersex. It alarmed us how so many teachers were not prepared to learn!
On the whole, we can say that it was an incredibly interesting experience, most of the work we did was aimed towards FFLAG more than our own group as the delegates were from all over the country. But we did make some excellent contacts within the NASUWT team as well as discussing with two delegates from Belfast the need for, and how to implement, a Parent Support Group in Northern Ireland. Thank you to FFLAG for giving us this opportunity to be involved in this exhibition
Lois Fitzpatrick, Manchester Parents Group 19th April 2017