Sue Sanders

Sue Sanders

Since 2005, February has served as LGBT History Month, an initiative (and now institution) launched by Schools OUT, the charity ultimately aimed at making educational institutions safe for LGBT people. For the past three years, LGBT HM has been celebrated by OUTing the Past, The National Festival of LGBT History. In February 2018, 11 hubs will operate up and down the country for the festival – five in London, as well one each in Liverpool, Manchester, Cardiff, Belfast, Bedford and Birmingham. The month will witness over 60 presentations, mainly from non-academics – and then, in March, OUTing the Past’s academic conference (SEXing the Past) will take place in Liverpool.  

Sue Sanders is Professor Emeritus of Harvey Milk Institute; she has also been the chair of Schools OUT for nearly 20 years. Everybody who works for Schools OUT is unpaid, she explains, and “has to earn their living doing something else”. They haven’t got the personpower to physically go into schools, she says, so the main thrust of their work is putting resources online. “We constantly pump out the free and accessible resources to educate out prejudice. That to me seems an absolutely crucial job, and more crucial now because we are facing a right wing backlash – and we can’t hide from that.”  

This backlash, she says, arrives in the form of the Law and Justice party in Poland, The New Right in Denmark, and The Swedish Democrats. It is further supported by the fact Theresa May has joined forces with the DUP, and the fact America is governed by Donald Trump – “a president so vile I can hardly get my head round how vile he is”. Trump’s views and expressions are “not being challenged by the majority of the press”, says Sue. “The fact he can call black people, who are peacefully demonstrating against appalling killings by the police, ‘sons of bitches’ leaves you breathless.”  

All of the above shows that, as she puts it, “the right is on the march”. Apparently, both she and LGBT campaigner Peter Tatchell have been saying for years that “you cannot just assume because we’re getting these laws (like the Equality Act and same-sex marriage) that all will be well: they can easily be taken away from us”.  

She’s actually not “the biggest fan of same-sex marriage, because I don’t necessarily see that as the cornerstone of liberation – I think there’s many more things which are more important in some ways”. Having same-sex marriage can be risky, she states, it can create the illusion that LGBT people have complete equality – when in actual fact they don’t. “Hate crime is still very high; after the referendum in this country, homophobic crime went up 149 per cent,” she says, before pointing out that this doesn’t even account for the homophobic crime that went unreported. There is also still homophobic bullying in schools, although that’s not how she describes it: “I call it hate crime wherever it is, I think it’s euphemistic to call it bullying, it’s hate crime.”  

Schools OUT’s online teaching resource, The Classroom, boasts over 70 free lessons plans. It is for all ages, and operates in accordance with the national curriculum. With its aim of ‘usualising’ LGBT people, it continues to be used by educators to stamp out prejudice in schools. Even so, there is some way to go before LGBT people are visible in such institutions, says Sue. “Some schools do very well, some schools are appalling. We still get LGBT teachers being told they can’t come out – which is actually illegal.” Some of the academies are making good progress insofar as LGBT visibility goes, she says, but many are doing dreadfully – the same applies to faith schools. “There’s a lot of work to be done. I’m even being told by some university lecturers that they don’t feel confident in coming out, which is kind of shocking, isn’t it? Homophobic attitudes and heteronormativity is still predominant in our education establishments. That’s still the base problem.”  

However, Schools OUT has generally made the LGBT community more visible. LGBT HM has got to a point now, says Sue, where certain institutions wouldn’t dream of letting February go by without doing something in celebration of it. Further, “OUTing the Past is proving a great success,” she says, enthusing about the amount of hubs in place for 2018, and the number of people giving presentations. This not hiding from a right wing backlash seems to be going to plan.  

The year’s LGBT HM theme is ‘Geography: Mapping the World’.  

schools-out.org.uk 

lgbthistorymonth.org.uk  

the-classroom.org.uk  

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