Mutual respect is key to helping faith schools become LGBT+ friendly

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Appealing to the religious commitment to be kind and respect one’s neighbour is vital for challenging anti-LGBT+ prejudice in faith schools, a report from Goldsmiths, University of London concludes.

A young girl with rainbow paint on the palms of her hands

Dr Anna Carlile’s evaluation of the charity Educate & Celebrate’s year-long work in faith schools and secular schools serving faith communities is published on Friday 1 February to mark the start of LGBT History Month.

The report also offers ten steps of guidance for schools serving faith communities, based on successful initiatives for pupils, parents and teachers introduced by Educate & Celebrate.

Educate & Celebrate is a charity employing qualified teachers and youth workers, founded by former music teacher Dr Elly Barnes, who received an MBE for her contribution to Equality and Diversity in Education in 2015.

Over 2017-2018, the charity’s staff worked with one secondary and four primary schools serving a variety of faith communities, including Catholic, Pentecostal, Muslim and Hindu families from a variety of cultural heritages.

Dr Carlile, from the Department of Educational Studies at Goldsmiths, visited each school at the start and again at the end of the year to conduct interviews and focus groups, following Educate & Celebrate’s programme of activities and looking at changes in the schools over time.

School staff found the following engagement strategies to be a success:

• Explaining how the Equality Act 2010 supports people of faith as well as LGBT+ people
• Appealing to parents’ religious commitment to be kind to one’s neighbour
• ‘Usualising’ the idea of LGBT+ people and issues across the curriculum
• A process of decoupling stereotypes (for example, of promiscuity) from the idea of LGBT+ people

Before the programme, all children across the schools reported direct or overheard experiences of homophobic or transphobic bullying in the playground. Tackling this was the starting point for Educate & Celebrate, and by the end of the programme, the culture had changed: pupils across the schools could agree that no religion condones bullying.

Educate & Celebrate resources and training had a tangible impact on teacher confidence. Many teachers had expressed anxiety about ‘saying the wrong thing’, were worried about balancing teaching with their own faith, or thought that students would not take the programme seriously or be unkind.

The programme’s focus on the Equality Act 2010 gave teachers an understanding that their work was backed up by legislation. Many staff were encouraged by open-minded and engaged attitudes from pupils, and others felt that their work coordinating the Educate & Celebrate programme was a positive step for them toward leadership and management roles. After the programme had been implemented, LGBT+ staff reported they felt safer being ‘out’ at school.

Dr Carlile said: “It was clear from the research that most children and parents in families where faith is important were already respectful and kind to people that are LGBT+. The Educate & Celebrate programme consolidated that approach and helped school staff to feel more confident in their work. Families also often recognised that it was important for people who are LGBT+ to ‘come out’ because being honest, generally, was important in their religion. Other students had become comfortable that they could accommodate their own LGBT+ identity within their faith.”

Dr Elly Barnes said: “This much needed report is very timely as we enter into LGBT History Month 2019 with this year’s theme of Peace and Reconciliation. Our goal at Educate & Celebrate is to give teachers in all schools the confidence and knowledge to successfully provide an LGBT+ inclusive education by eradicating any perceived barriers. This report succinctly demonstrates how through tried and tested strategies we can all successfully create cohesive communities.”

Read the full report here