We've often written from an adult perspective about why Diversity Role Models is needed and how it can encourage confidence in LGBT students and empathy in their peers. We asked Jess, a 16 year old college student from Manchester, about her experiences of school and why she wishes she'd had role models to help her through some difficult years.
How would you describe your school experience?
Throughout high school, I only received negative attention, despite my abilities and the fact that I played quite a significant part in the pupil voice with regards to student-teacher conferences and student forum meetings. Basically, I felt particularly isolated and controlled all the time, as though I was being watched from day-to-day, simply for excuses to be abused.
In particular, what harassment did you receive?
Well, I would say the worst happened in my first year shortly after being outed. At the age of eleven, a confidante that I had only recently got to know decided it would be fun to spread my 'secret' around the entire school; perhaps I shouldn't have assumed that something so personal could be kept between two people. Some of the older students thought it would be fun to question the origin of my sexuality, in particular some very graphic questions regarding family members and friends within school.
This wore off after a little while, but everything else continued and soon became a daily routine for the perpetrators, making my schooling a living hell. For months I was thrown about, kicked around and harassed, especially by a group of girls in my year. I was shoved up against walls and beaten up (not severely, but, who can rate the impact of something like that?), I was excluded from groups when we were on our lunch hour because people were ashamed to be seen with me. Even friends that I knew from primary school became distant memories.
In later years, during the period of time I was attending school, I was spat at twice, once was on the way to school by a man in his late 30's and the other was within the grounds by a younger student. Every day I received verbal abuse, particularly when I was doing jobs for the school office and had to go into other classrooms; it was always "Oh look, the lesbian's come to see us!" or "She's the dyke, right?". It was even worse when I experienced the ONLY lesson on homosexuality throughout the five years, I was announced as a "poof" in the classroom, and the teacher barely flinched. Younger years became aware of who I was, or, what I was and they soon started harassing me too. When this happened, I stopped eating; I was uncomfortable being around people I didn't know in the dinner queue, so I waited until I got home to eat, and even then I threw it all back up.
How did your school try to tackle this?
To be completely honest, they didn't. Almost all the teachers knew, but it was getting the more senior teachers to notice, or to take it further. On more than one occasion, myself, or people who knew what I was having to deal with, spoke directly to the Head Teacher, yet it continued to happen; the students barely even got a slapped wrist. It's difficult to judge where the system actually went wrong, or if they even had one for that matter.
How would having workshops from organisations such as Diversity Role Models have affected your school experience?
I've said this since the first year I was out as a lesbian; having a better influence from successful/happy LGBT people would have made me feel so much more confident about myself. Confidence was something that took me a very long time to develop, and I'm still cautious around certain people. Just seeing that people could be happy with who they are when I was younger would have made me more comfortable with myself. This opportunity would give other young people a better chance to understand that we're not some kind of alien species, and that we're just as important as everybody else. That chance would have meant a lot to me.