Two representatives from the LGBT+ charity for young people, ‘Just Like Us’ , came to our sixth form to talk about why growing up a part of the LGBT+ community can be difficult but how it can become easier. Ella and Filip, both aged 20, spoke to the sixth form about the LGBT+ community they work with and shared their own personal stories.
They started with definitions about how sexuality and gender comes from within and how they both are on a spectrum. Your sex organs, genetics and hormones class your sex. Your gender identity, however, is what is in your mind, it's not physical, it is feelings. It is often expressed by the way someone dresses and acts. The way you are defined at birth is based on your physical organs and then you grow up being pointed towards things that are assigned to that gender. Some people are fine with this but others aren't. They stressed that you shouldn't assume someone automatically identifies with their birth assigned gender but allow individuals to express what it is to you first.
Gender identity is rigidly constructed in western culture but some other cultures do not have such a rigid structure, for example Native Americans have various genders. They then did an exercise where everyone in the room was asked to close their eyes and think of a moment and raise their hands where they may have been homophobic, bi-phobic or transphobic. This can even just be assuming someone's gender or sexuality. Filip then asked people to open their eyes and the majority of the room had their hands up including both Ella and Filip. This illustrates how easy it is to make a wrong assumption or comment and how people have to start being more aware and open towards others.
Ella then shared her experience of being bi. She had gone to a mixed boarding school and there she stayed closeted due to anxiety about coming out. She was in a heterosexual relationship for two years and feared coming out, particularly after what happened to her friend. This friend, who was straight, was head girl and got drunk at a party and was filmed kissing a girl. The next school day, before assembly, some girls were watching the video and laughing and one girl said that she couldn't believe that they had a gay head girl. This made Ella become very closeted and she did not come out at school. She wishes she did more and so now at university she is part of this charity ‘Just like us’ and is very active within the LGBT+ community. She then went on to talk about her flatmate, who is lesbian, but had to be closeted to her family because they would disown her if they found out. When she moved out she became very open and was an inspiration to Ella in her pride of being part of the LGBT+ community. She still hides her sexuality from her family but is happy with a large LGBT+ family.
Filip then told us his story. He had messed around with typical ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ stuff throughout his childhood. Although Poland, where Filip is from and used to live, is quite conservative he had a very accepting family and best friend. His aunt came out as gay which made it easier for him. However, he did not want to make a big thing of coming out and so just started slipping that he was gay into conversation. Moving to the UK has helped him to be more open and proud about who he is.
They both then told the sixth form how 1/10 people identify as LGBT, meaning that potentially around 100 people in the school are a part of the community. They continued with some more facts that shocked the sixth form, that is that 75% of LGBT people self-harm and 40% LGBT people consider suicide at some stage. Following this, Ella and Filip ended with the message that we need to be accepting and caring of others, in order to help prevent these figures and create a better environment, but also that being LGBT does not stop you from doing anything.
The sixth form were then asked if they had any questions. One question asked was whether it's right that there are still single sex schools in this country, considering the amount of trans and nonbinary people there are. They suggested that it's not necessarily ideal but it's a very difficult issue as in many areas single sex schools are the better schools. Another question was about whether information about the LGBT+ community should be taught in primary schools or are children at that age too young? Filip and Ella responded that they feel it should be taught, it’s not too young to learn about LGBT+ people and relationships. Hetrosexual relationships are taught so why can’t other types of relationships and choices also be taught. A final question asked was whether asexuality should be included in the LGBT+ community? They answered that it definitely should be! People dismiss it to easily and it should be more normalised and talked about.
It was most definitely an eye-opening assembly.