How Tech is Making Education LGBTQ+ Inclusive in a Pandemic
The surge in popularity over the past year of Zoom and casual multiplayer games like Among Us reflects a general need to find new ways to stay connected and entertained virtually during the pandemic. Lockdown has been tough on everyone socially, but what if you were already feeling isolated in your environment, to begin with?
Like most LGBT+ young people, I’ve had to rely more than ever on social media to maintain a connection to my friends and my community to cope. These things can have a big impact on my mental health. Isolation can be a lot more difficult for those only just discovering their identity, or who don’t yet have access to the resources that might help them through a difficult time.
It might not be immediately obvious why LGBT+ inclusive education should be an essential part of learning for all school pupils, especially during a lockdown. But inclusive education is not just teaching pupils the definitions behind LGBT+ but more importantly, it is about having compassion and empathy for one another, regardless of identity. It comprises lessons about anti-bullying, self-acceptance and cultural differences, which all pupils can benefit from.
Additionally, vulnerable young people need access to stable support networks. This access is particularly limited without any permissible face-to-face contact. Especially if your primary support network are your friends, losing access to this can have consequences on your mental health, but additionally on your academic performance. With classes now taking place via online remote learning, many students who are at home all of the time with families that don’t quite understand them are struggling to see the point in staying motivated at all.
This is why vulnerable pupils need to hear directly from other young people who have already lived through some of the hardest chapters of their stories. Just Like Us is a charity which provides secondary school talks, including pupils at home. I volunteer as an ambassador and delivered these talks. The talks involve easy-to-understand explanations of LGBT+ identities, workshops about discrimination and bullying, and anonymous Q&A forms which allow the pupils to ask whatever they’d like, without fear of judgement. I also share my story of being a transgender man growing up in a Muslim family, and the lessons I’ve learned about patience and self-acceptance.
It can be pretty specific stuff but, for most of the kids, it’s a perspective that they are unlikely to have heard directly before. It’s one thing to see it in a TV show, but another to be able to ask questions to the person telling you their story. The positive feedback we receive from the schools and from the pupils themselves through the Q&A form reflects the huge difference it makes. They can often relate parts of their own experience to my story.
Moments like when you receive a comment from a gay pupil who has been worried for a long time about coming out to their family but takes comfort in your story, are amazing. Or you see a non-binary pupil who is already out and proud in their class but is ecstatic to finally be able to talk about their identity in the context of their school curriculum. Moments like these make it clear that these talks are absolutely essential.
As a teenager, the first place I was ever able to use my name and pronouns was my local LGBT+ youth group. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have lost that for over a year. So, I am incredibly proud to help provide a virtual space for pupils to feel understood and accepted, even if it’s only for an hour of their school day because it can truly make a lasting impact.
Images from Isaac S & Just Like Us