This Lesbian Visibility Week the chair of Schools OUT UK and co-founder of LGBT+ History Month emphasises the importance of “educating out prejudice”

BY SUE SANDERS, IMAGE BY SHARON MCCUTCHEON FOR PEXELS

It was with great surprise and pride that I received the Rainbow Honours Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019. Having worked with Schools OUT UK for over 40 years, I accepted the award on behalf of the many unpaid volunteers that have been part of the organisation since 1974.

As early members of the Gay Teachers Group (GTG), Paul Patrick and I helped it to become Schools OUT UK in the 1980s. We owe those brave teachers who founded the GTG so much. Schools OUT UK has been growing ever since and initiated vital projects, all of which in their different ways aim to make LGBT+ people in all their diversity visible, proud and safe. We are determined to “educate out prejudice”.

Since receiving the Rainbow Honours award, Schools OUT UK has been very busy! We have had two quite different LGBT+ History Months (LGBT+ History Month). In February 2020, we were lucky that most of the events that we and our many partners organised did take place before the lockdown began. Should you be interested to see what happened in both years you can check it out here. There was a wide variety of events representing the richness of our community. One of my highlights was to be in Derry to see the first NI LGBT+ History Exhibition and the premier of a play, A Queer Céilí At the Marty Forsythe, performed at the Marty Forsythe Theatre. The piece was commissioned by OUTing The Past to explore a forgotten but crucial story of LGBT+ activism during the time of the NI “troubles”.

In 2021, things were obviously vastly different. But it was no surprise to me, knowing the profound creativity of our community, that the calendar was as full as ever with a great diversity of events. Given we were digital, it did mean that I could engage with many more events than I could have had physical presence been required. Some days I did several presentations: to schools, universities, corporations and museums. This meant that we did get our message out to new pastures, about LGBT+ History Month and our great website that supports it. It is often a surprise to people to learn that we are a largely unfunded organisation and all our work is produced by unpaid volunteers.

I was grateful to Laila El Metoui, who taught me and the various hubs who hosted OUTing the Past her digital skills and how to Zoom. Zoom gave us some free licences which enabled so many exciting meetings and webinars. Having had over 70 offers of presentations for the OTP Festival, the 18 hubs had much to choose from and we were pleased to be able to advertise the presentations on the LGBT+HM website. The presentations are up all year, so should you want to access them, click here and there are plenty of videos of HM events here.

Some you will be aware that we lost Tony Fenwick in July 2020. He had been the CEO of Schools OUT UK for many years and his death was great personal loss as well as a massive loss to our communities. Steven Boyce, who was our chair of trustees and had worked with Schools OUT UK for over 30 years, decided that it was time to retire so we have needed to refresh the organisation. We are very lucky that Lynne Nicholls decided to join the trustees and has since become the Chair and has been instrumental in getting Schools OUT UK more organised by putting in much needed structures. Sophie Lowndes-Toole has become our treasurer. We also were very excited to be in receipt of a grant to be able to employ our first paid project worker, Sarah Cosgriff, who will help us part-time for the summer. 

As for next year, we have had the pleasure of judging the first national competition to design the badge for HM 2022 whose theme is “Politics in Art”. Many of you know the sale of our unique badges each year constitutes our main funding. This year we were not able to sell as many in past years when I was able to be out and about and encourage people to part with the £3, our price for years. We also sell the badges and lanyards from our online shop so you always have the opportunity to avail yourself of our current and past badges!

In the last two years I have had the pleasure of reviewing some great books and would definitely recommend to you the Educators Guide To LGBT+ Inclusion by Kryss Shane and No Modernism Without Lesbians by Diane Souhami

I have also had the pleasure of being published in several forms as a consultant on a great book on LGBT+ history for schools, Have Pride by Stella Caldwell, which I think should be in every school!  

With the help of my partner, Jeanne Nadeau, I have contributed an in-depth piece about the founding of LGBT+HM to aFinnish academic journal. We wrote a chapter in the Big Gay Adventures In Education, a book which gives LGBT+ teachers the chance to speak out about being out in the classroom. The blurb says:

to be out or not to be out from ‘legendary lesbian’ Sue Sanders. Sue shares her experiences of navigating the education system since the 70s, and her campaigning against the damaging Section 28 legislation, which prohibited schools from teaching pupils’ acceptance of LGBT+ people and families.”

It is a powerful book full of inspirational stories of how LGBT+ teachers recognised the power that being out gave them to be better teachers and to become the role models that they had needed as students.

It has been my pleasure to play a small part in my local Margate Pride. It is a joy to be part of a small lively grass roots pride that pulls together the local community and also welcomes many visitors that have recognised that Margate is not only LGBT+ friendly, but also offers many other attractions!

I also worked with Laila El Metoui to produce two Pride in Education (PIE) conferences which were digital, international, very exciting and productive. It was a joy to be able to involve many people who we have worked with over the years, as well as new activists. I am honoured to be a keynote speaker for the third PIE conference to be held this June. 

So pandemic or no pandemic, the work to make LGBT+ people visible is still crucial and we know that young LGBT+ people, and particularly Black young LGBT+ people, have had a particularly rough time. 

Just recently as a member of the Independent Advisory Group to The National Police Chiefs Council, I helped the Hertfordshire Police Service to audit how they were recording and dealing with hate crime. I attended virtually the Annual Conference on Hate Crime held on Stephen Lawrence Day.

It seems to us at SOUK, that some of our hard-won human rights are at risk of being eroded by members of our government and their agents. Meanwhile the movements, Me Too and Black Lives Matter, are speaking to issues that affect all of us and the many young voices involved in these movements give me hope. Our desire to widen the curriculum to include LGBT+ issues and decolonise it has met with criticism. The rights of young trans people are at issue. Local Authorities and the Crown Prosecution service have withdrawn much-needed teacher packs on tackling homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Some young trans people are struggling to get their medical desires met. The government seems to be downplaying the importance of tackling hate crime.

Therefore, Schools OUT UK, with my help, will continue the work that was started so long ago. We will produce resources that celebrate the importance and diversity of LGBT+ communities and play our role in “educating out prejudice”. 

Find out more about Schools OUT UK here and LGBT+ History Month here

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