Five years ago, if you’d have told me that teachers from other schools would look to me for advice on running an LGBTQIA+ group – I’d have had to respond with the question so overused in student vernacular at that time, “are you mad”?
The first obstacle I hit with the first group of students who brought to my attention the need for such a support group in school was The Head Teacher’s PA. Or more specifically, her diary. We would ask the Head for permission to present an assembly (because, what’s the use of a support group, if no one but the founding members know of its existence?) and he would invariably respond by giving his blessing. And so the students would studiously (they were a very studious bunch those founding members; very earnest) prepare their parts – I was to be there only as facilitator – this was their project. On the Eve of The Big Day I would send out an email to the relevant Head of Year, reminding them, copying in the PA. How naive I was not to see that the Head’s permission meant nothing. He was not privy to the details of The Diary, you see. It took me a while to cotton on to the fact that we needed, not just his green light, but access to the all important Assembly Schedule. So, our official launch took almost a year.
By that time, many of the Earnest Originals had outgrown the club; they were headed for the dazzling lights of Post 16; trading in their surveys and speeches and petitions for Cards Against Humanity in the common room.
The next members that signed up were a very different animal indeed: socially awkward misfits looking for somewhere they could just be themselves, in all the colours of all the spectrums you care to mention. Around school, they were the silent wall huggers – those kids you see hanging out under stairwells, you know the ones. But when they were in THEIR room, they flourished and blossomed and bloomed like a frost shriveled tomato plant in a hothouse. Our first project was to hold a Pride event. It would be a first for the school; and looking back now, I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t even realise that November was kind of a little late in the day. I’d seen something about Rainbow Laces and just thought, well, let’s make a celebration of it. So I purchased a bulk order and went to seek the Head’s approval. The word ‘Pride’ seemed to make him nervous. He was worried about ‘promoting L-B-G-T (he still stumbles over the letters to this day) to parents’ you see. ‘Leave it with me’, he said – famous last words. I went back a week later suggesting we call it, ‘Express Yourself’; a special day for all students to celebrate whatever they were proud of: be it family, football club or maybe, just maybe, being a little bit queer. He brought it and our first event turned into a rainbow laced Christmas Fair.
The following year I proposed a more conventional Pride day, during Diversity Week. And surprisingly, it was OK’d straight away. Well, I thought, it was about time. He’d finally come around to the idea. We started planning – it was going to be our most ambitious project yet. We were spending every lunch time making flags, planning cake sales and learning dance routines. When I was summoned to the Head just days before, I got a little carried away, imagining he was about to offer us a Budget or to be our Key Note Speaker. Nothing of the sort. Three members of staff had ‘raised concerns’. We wouldn’t hold a religious festival in school, now would we? So why would we celebrate Pride? The absolute worst thing about this (aside from the fact I have spent the last three years wondering who among my colleagues are so anti-Pride) was that he supported them in their ‘concerns’ instead of showing solidarity with the protected characteristic he should have been supporting under the Equalities Act. I fought and won this battle, refusing to tell a group of vulnerable students, who had been looking forward to and working hard to organise a celebration of their uniqueness. But only after I’d started collecting signatures from supportive colleagues and was approached by a union rep who advised me to take a less political route.
Before the end of Summer Term, I was already researching organised school pride events (as in Pride, but during the school day and just for kids). I was tired of the struggle; ready to give in and take our flags elsewhere, somewhere they were actually wanted. Alas, no such thing existed. How could this be? What a gigantic oversight. I approached Stonewall and a couple of other charities to suggest they get behind the idea, but no one would get on board. It is testament to my pig headed nature that I rallied my students and suggested we embarked on a community project – reaching out to other local schools and staging a large event at a local venue. I sent letters and emails to the Heads of a dozen schools across the area and waited. And waited. Eventually I established contact with a number of schools and we began networking and planning our event.
All was going so well. We had a free football stadium for the day, we had a make up artist booked, a drag queen would make a special guest appearance and lead a catwalk show. In February we held a Drag Day as part of LGBT History Month and the group created outfits and Vogued for our page of the school website.
And then Covid.
The less said about that the better. When we returned to school this year, after the Winter Of Dis-content (as in discontinued curriculum content) I started to wonder and even tentatively hope that maybe, just maybe we could reschedule. I put the feelers out and some of the original schools who had been involved expressed an interest in trying to organise something, even if a scaled back version of our 2020 vision. On the venue though, I was getting no response from my contact. This could be a deal breaker. Then I remembered that one of our leadership team has very close ties with a rugby club. This was the beginning of School Pride 2.0. We held a Zoom meeting just before Easter and actually met in real life just before Spring Break. Yes, I was the one who sat in the middle of the sports field with my mask on for a full hour. Things were taking shape. We set a date – July 9th; this seemed far, far out of the reach of Covid’s clutches. When the final stage of the Road Map was announced for June the 21st, we were sure nothing could get in our way this time. I was interviewed by the local paper – a pre-event promotion to raise the profile. What could go wrong now? We were home and dry.
And then the Delta variant.
But Delta would have no dominion over Pride. Yes, we lost a couple of schools whose heads were just too nervous to consider such an undertaking. But the DFE have been consulted; the risk assessment duly written (all three hundred pages of it); and we have a local supermarket sponsoring us and providing catering.
I’m sure that the next three weeks are going to be fraught with last minute hitches and uncertainties: not least of all when it comes to the weather – we have planned for an outdoor celebration. Will the Great British Summer be the final hurdle that brings down an event that has now been two years in the making? Not if I can help it. There’s got to be some incantation I can recite or Pagan sprite I can invoke to stop rain. Just for one day. Serious suggestions welcome in the comments section.