“If students of today aren’t able to stand up and say ‘this is me, this is who I am’, then what on earth are we educating them for?”
BY ELEANOR NOYCE, IMAGES VIA JUST LIKE US UK
On Saturday, LGBT+ young people’s charity Just Like Us teamed up with Birmingham Pride to run a school event ahead of the weekend’s festivities. More than 50 pupils and teachers from five secondary schools across the West Midlands attended the event labelled “life-changing” for young people by staff members.
Just Like Us Ambassadors hosted a Pride brunch, giving a talk about their experiences growing up LGBTQIA and why allyship matters. The Birmingham Pride team further spoke about the city’s diverse history, holding a sign-making workshop and heading to join the march together.
Marking 25 years of pride and protest, Saturday’s Birmingham Pride parade saw attendance from over 8000 people, marking its largest yet. For many young people involved in the Just Like Us collaboration, it was their first Pride event, empowering young LGBTQIA students such as Year 11 school pupil Beth. “I just really liked relating to people because sometimes it can be hard to find people who are like you or going through the same things as you.”
“This is my first time at Pride and I just thought it was really cool seeing everyone here being themselves – it’s really inspiring and makes me want to be comfortable in my own skin. I think it’s really important because everyone deserves to not feel so alone and feel loved in every environment they’re in”, Year 11 student Rebecca furthered.
The collaborative event wasn’t just beneficial for school students. Sue Laffey, a teacher at Stourport High School, reflected on just how much has changed for LGBTQIA representation and education since she started teaching. “I want the young people of today to be able to celebrate their identity in a way they wouldn’t have been able to do when I was their age”, Sue remarked.
“I’ve been teaching for 34 years and it’s changed beyond recognition because when I started in 1988 that was when Section 28 came in. So to even mention the word homosexual or gay, I just couldn’t do it – you weren’t allowed to mention it whatsoever. So to be able to move from that to this, where I can openly talk about LGBT+ rights and identities and issues with a bunch of young people – openly and legally – is like chalk and cheese. It’s like a different world. The event has been amazing, I don’t think I’ve ever been in such a joyful environment of celebration, support and friendship, it’s just amazing.”
“If students of today aren’t able to stand up and say ‘this is me, this is who I am’, then what on earth are we educating them for?”, Sue concluded.
Dominic Arnall, Chief Executive of Just Like Us stated: “At a time when our independent research shows LGBT+ young people are statistically twice as likely to be lonely on a daily basis, we are incredibly proud to have created an event where young people can learn about diversity and say they have felt less alone for the first time in their life.
“It’s incredible that these young people have been able to see that there are other people like them and fundamentally that who they are is nothing to be ashamed of.
“The event has been a fantastic success and a chance for school pupils to learn about the diverse history of the city they live in. We’re delighted to have teamed up with Birmingham Pride to show young people that being LGBT+ is something to be celebrated.”
LGBT+ people aged 18-25 and living in the UK can sign up now to Just Like Us’ Ambassadors programme here: Volunteer – Just Like Us. Training starts this autumn in London, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and online.
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