Inclusion, Staffroom - Opinion

The Staffroom: How to drive inclusion for the ‘people of pride’

LGBTQIA+ inclusion must go much further than tokenistic actions for pride month, write Mark Child and Kelly Townend, but the sector is taking strides

LGBTQIA+ inclusion must go much further than tokenistic actions for pride month, write Mark Child and Kelly Townend, but the sector is taking strides

24 Oct 2022, 5:00

We’ve seen first-hand the lack of consistent support for LGBTQIA+ within the sector and its impact on staff and learners. For a long while now, we’ve been alert to a tokenistic sector-wide ‘pink washing’ that takes place annually during Pride Month. We’ve been asking ourselves, ‘But what about the other 11 months? How are we supporting pride 365 days a year?’

So, we’ve taken matters into our own hands.

To be fair, we’d been guilty of this kind of tokenism too; we’d printed our Pride logo and posted it up through June, then taken it down again in July. When we reviewed observations which had taken place, we could clearly see that other important areas of inclusion like race and disability were regularly embedded into the curriculum, yet sexual orientation and gender identity seemed only to be covered during June.

At a push, it might make another appearance in February for LGBTQIA+ Histories month in February. We allowed that to persist. We didn’t challenge it enough.

So when we started working on the Skills First level 2 certificate in LGBT inclusion in the workplace, we already knew there was a lot more to be done. But what we found through our informal conversations with practitioners was a pervasive lack of knowledge and ultimately confidence around LGBTQIA+ inclusion, even down to terminology.

So our first step had to be to raise greater awareness and to provide CPD for our members to build their confidence. It wasn’t that they were opposed to doing more; we just had to remove the barriers that were holding back their ability to make positive change for LGBTQIA+ staff and learners.

Then, serendipitously, ETF funding became available that allowed us to speed this up. With Skillsfirst and the Association of Colleges partnering and providing guidance through the steering group, we developed a project that would eventually be called Pride in FE.

Sector-wide LGBT inclusion is still in its infancy

We brought in the LGBTEd group to provide expertise and to develop a rigorous and accessible programme of CPD that stretched from basic terminology to a range of complex topics including intersectionality and accountability.

But just like organisations’ commitment to LGBTQIA+ inclusion has to go beyond a calendar month, the sector’s commitment needed to have a legacy beyond the funding of Pride in FE. That’s how the Pride in FE Charter – with 10 commitments for providers to sign up to including to staff CPD and to challenging poor attitudes and actions towards staff and learners – came about.

We knew before and feel even more strongly now that sector-wide LGBTQIA+ inclusion is still very much in its infancy. More work is needed to build on the initial success of the Pride in FE project, which is why Mark Child has formed the ‘People of Pride Collective’ which brings together people who want to work collaboratively to further develop inclusive curriculums and environments for learners and staff alike.

The collective’s membership welcomes everyone regardless of identity or gender, neurodiversity, colour, disability, or place in the sector. Parents and learners are particularly welcome, because they are their children’s strongest advocates and consistently highlight the need to better support young people.

The goal remains accessibility – for people of pride across the sector to work and study in welcoming environments where they see themselves reflected, but also for their allies to better understand how to make that a reality.

It’s with that aim that we feel it’s time to move away from the use of acronyms such as LGBTQIA+ and LGBTQQIP2SAA and towards an overarching name that, as Mark says, stops putting people into categories and is all encompassing. We propose a community title of ‘People of Pride’ instead.

Ultimately, we want to ensure that all identities are recognised and included at all times, and that significant others such as chosen family members, friends, and allies are also acknowledged for their positive support.

That’s about more than a name. It’s about commitment, listening and challenging ourselves. But we all know identities matter, and we need to be proud enough to display ours all year round.

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