Highlights: Back in Time

Sue Gorbing reflects on the successes of ‘Back in Time’ – The 2016 National Festival of LGBT History/Shrewsbury, Schools & Education morning, and the city's much needed work with young people.

InspiredImages / Pixabay
InspiredImages / Pixabay

A highlight of ‘Back in Time’ – The 2016 National Festival of LGBT History/Shrewsbury, Schools & Education morning, was a presentation by Cameron and Bradley, Year 10 students from William Brookes School, Much Wenlock. The presentation had, at the Head’s request, already been given to all the school’s students and at an open evening for parents considering the school.

The presentation, covering myths and facts around sexuality/attitudes/awareness, included research by the students themselves, and inspired our audience, even moving some to tears, especially those who remembered the days when ‘being out’ as a teacher had felt much more difficult and consequently probably made it harder for school pupils to feel able to ‘come out’.

William Brookes School has been ahead of the game in Shropshire for many years, and credit must go to Maureen Turner who has worked tirelessly around equality and diversity.

Other schools are also developing their equality and diversity work and have worked with local LGBT groups who have attended Diversity Days, talked with students and staff and generally raised awareness around LGBT issues

A real turning point came in 2005 when, to mark the Equality Act, Shropshire Lesbian and Gay Campaign Group screened two films, ‘Wilde’ and ’Get Real’, inviting the Director of Education and teachers to attend. The screening was followed by a Q&A session. (This screening was the spark point for Shropshire Rainbow Film Festival, which started in 2006).

The cinema was packed, but very few teachers attended. This shocked the Director of Education and a ‘Homophobia in Education Group’, linked to Shropshire County Council, was formed. Subsequent pressure from the Council’s LGBT Staff Group led to the production of two tower banners: ‘We are everywhere: in every country, in every town…’ We are: Your Father, Your Mother, Your Aunt…’ and Shropshire Archives contacted us, wanting to ‘fill the hole’ around Shropshire LGBT History.

Six display boards around LGBT history, were produced. A further 13 were created for ‘Back in Time’ and these have already and will continue to tour libraries, schools and colleges around Shropshire.

The History Boards were the cornerstone of the LGBT exhibition in Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, during ‘Back in Time’ festival. Following this exhibition we are liaising with the Museum and Art gallery around how we can collaborate to start exploring how to increase the visibility of LGBT history, stories and presence in the Museum.

William Brookes School also collaborated with the Archives, to make a dvd/cd rom teaching resource ‘Some People Are Gay’ which was distributed to all Shropshire schools and colleges.

So what are the plans for 2017?

We are working with Alice Cruttwell, Shropshire Council’s Public Health Curriculum Advisor, who has contacted all schools who attended or been a recipient of support and training on relationship and sex education and, or, their pupils participated in the Shropshire PSHE review. She is reminding them that the theme of History month this year is Law, Citizenship and PSHE and that Shropshire young people via the Shropshire PSHE review and as part of members of Youth Parliament and Health Champions work have identified this as one of their top priorities.

Young people want to learn more about, recognise and understand different sexualities. They identified this as the single biggest omission in the delivery of PSHE in schools and colleges in Shropshire.

We hope that schools will participate in some way in the Schools and Young People session on the Saturday morning of the festival, inspiring teachers, students and parents throughout Shropshire and encouraging others by showing what can be achieved in a large rural area. So far, three secondary schools and two colleges are on board.

We have also invited a local primary school, whose year six students organised an ‘LGBT Awareness Day’, which featured in the local press, following the Orlando shootings.

One idea is to collect school case studies from primary, secondary, maintained and private schools and sixth forms, and examples of local practice to showcase as part of the festival. We are also planning schools visits during festival in Shrewsbury.

Caroline Paige and Jane Traies will be going into schools/colleges to talk to students – in 2016 Stuart Milk and Peter Tatchell addressed almost 1000 students between them. The students at Shrewsbury Sixth Form College were so inspired by Peter’s talk that they set up an LGBT group and, several students organised a local vigil following the Orlando shootings.

We are also working closely with XYZ – the LGBT Youth Group who came along to our 2016 Festival and were inspired by hearing ‘stories of old’! They recently participated in the ‘Feel Happy with my Gender Fix’ event in London  on Wednesday, November 23 2016. It was a one-day event and included a series of workshops where transgender and gender-fluid young people discussed what went wrong for them in different aspects of their life – school, work, healthcare, media and home. They then came up with ways to put things right, so that other young people don’t experience the same discrimination they did.

Experts on the topic of gender were then given the unique opportunity to listen to the young people’s experiences during a discussion led by transgender broadcasters Stephanie Hirst and India Willoughby. The outcome will be a set of policy proposals for decision-makers and government.

They are intending to make a film for schools and have sent out their own survey locally. We have invited them to the History Festival to share their experience, update us on how the survey is going and inspire other young LGBT people to believe that they can make a difference/change things and that it’s good to link up with our histories. And, illustrate to older people what’s going on and inspire them to support younger people?

For more information, visit shrewsburylgbthistory.org.uk.

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