This National Teachers’ Day, an ambassador from LGBTQIA young people’s charity Just Like Us reflects on being a queer student
BY KHUSHI BAJAJ
When I was at school, I already knew that those years would not be the best of my life.
The adults around me looked back on their school years fondly – they were invested in their alma mater, with school spirit bumper stickers and alumni network politics being prevalent. Meanwhile, I was suffocating in my classroom.
To be fair, I was sitting in an all-girls Catholic school in India where we were taught that the “lady-like” thing to do was to cover up as much as possible, so being able to breathe in the summer was a bit of a high expectation, but there was so much more going on. My school had a strict power dynamic, where asking questions or disagreeing with teachers was seen as disobedience. We were taught to be “good girls” and, when you live in a patriarchal, cisheteronormative society, that is a very limiting definition. It is definitely not a definition that includes queerness, and the teachers and management would regularly talk in a derogatory and discriminatory way about the LGBTQIA community, with words like “unnatural” and “biological defect” being thrown around. If it was suspected that a child belonged to the community, the consequences were severe, including their peers being told to stay away from them and the student being expelled.
Although I recognised even then that my experience was incredibly difficult and wished it was not that way, as an adult I can also look back and think specifically about what would have been helpful instead. It also means I have developed a clear idea of what I believe teachers need to understand:
LGBTQIA children exist (no, it’s not an ‘adult’ topic)
Being LGBTQIA is about who you are, not about how long you have been on this Earth. When children tell you what their gender is, believe them. If an LGBTQIA young person has a crush, do not treat it differently than you treat the crushes of other children because you believe that they are confused and need your intervention. Teaching about diverse LGBTQIA families is vital, but so is making sure the LGBTQIA young people in your classroom, whether they are out or not, feel safe and supported.
Your words hold a lot of meaning (even the ones you say in passing)
Children look up to the adults around them, and teachers are a significant part of their ecosystem. Not only do they soak what is being taught in History and Science, but also what teachers speak about more casually. Of course, this means not spreading hate speech, but it also means being careful about allowing casually exclusionary remarks into the conversation. It is so important for teachers to unlearn their own biases and aim to be inclusive while talking — they are an example and can shape how their pupils think about LGBTQIA people for the rest of their lives.
LGBTQIA people do not just exist during Pride month (believe it or not!)
While it is true that initiatives during Pride month can help a lot with visibility and awareness, it is also important to remember that LGBTQIA people exist throughout the year. When you compartmentalise our community’s experience and existence into one ‘diversity day’, you make inclusion out of the ordinary and actually end up contributing to the othering. Inclusivity needs to be an ongoing conversation, a value that is instilled across the curriculum. Teachers are constantly sending messages to children that have to do with more than their syllabus, and by choosing resources, examples and media that include LGBTQIA lives, they can make sure that these messages are inclusive ones.
Khushi is an ambassador for Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity. Just Like Us supports teachers in running Pride Groups, safe spaces for LGBT+ pupils and their allies, in schools – sign up here.
DIVA magazine celebrates 29 years in print in 2023. If you like what we do, then get behind LGBTQIA media and keep us going for another generation. Your support is invaluable.