Thursday May 5, 2016
With equal measures of trepidation and excitement I made my way, a few weeks ago morning, to an East London primary school for my first ever day of Diversity Role Models workshops. It turned out to be a day of heart-warming affirmation that I will never forget.
I met with the DRM facilitator at the school reception as she tried to navigate her way through the snazzy self 'signing-in' pod. We were promptly met by the delightful Deputy Head, our host for the day. She explained the amazing work that the school had already undertaken in terms of promoting diversity: to the point that it is now firmly embedded in the school's policy, culture and ethos. By no means did this appear tokenistic or 'tick-boxing', but a genuine desire to educate and celebrate difference.
The school's self-penned mantra on respect and diversity was displayed in every classroom we entered. Also on prominent display was an LGBT wall that the children had recently designed. I thought of my own daughters and the primary school they attend in North London. Less than a year ago I received a call from the Headteacher requesting that I ask my youngest to stop talking so openly about her two gay dads and going to Pride in London!
As you can image, this only fuelled my own pride about my daughter's willingness to go against the grain and talk freely about her family. On a positive note, the Headteacher came round full circle and within days a Stonewall poster was put up on display.
The day began with a Year 4 workshop (ages 8/9), which is designed to address and depict different sorts of families. I was surprised at how much the children knew already, not just about the meaning of the words such as gay, lesbian, transgender, but the contexts and knowledge that difference can cause discrimination.
My first activity, as the 'special guest', was to stand in front of the class whilst they became detectives and took guesses about my family, my job, my hobbies, based on how I looked. The predictions ranged from married with a wife and two children, to being an astronaut, firefighter or a secret agent! I eventually put them out of their misery, when they found out the boring reality of me living with a gay partner, having two adopted daughters and enjoying baking cakes! They seemed a little disappointed that I wasn't a celebrity of any sort!
The children's engagement, their commitment to challenging any form of bullying and their comfort in talking so freely about diversity, resonated throughout the day. If only my own schooling had been so open, perhaps I wouldn't have experienced the bullying, angst and depression I faced being a gay child and teenager in the 1990s.
The workshops gave the children the opportunity to ask me any questions they had about my life and family. These were just as varied, from the articulate - 'How was it for your parents when you came out to them?" - to the concerned - "Were you bullied at school?" - right through to the most important - "Do you like ice cream?"
In the short space of an hour-long workshop, I felt the children came away with a little more knowledge about all sorts of factors and people that make a family. They identified that all families needed love, support, care and fun!
That day we undertook 5 workshops in all with the school's Year 3s and 4s, a total of 150 children participated!
I walked away that day with a fuzzy feeling! What an experience, what an amazing opportunity. The children were inspirational, so open, welcoming and committed to learning about diversity and challenging discrimination. It was a great day!