Pink List's Elly Barnes speaks out on Anti-Bullying Week
Publish Date: 14/11/2011
When Music Teacher Elly Barnes topped this year's Independent Pink List it highlighted the impact that real people and community leaders have on changing people's hearts and minds, she topped the poll ahead of TV stars and politicians.
This Anti-Bullying Week we talk to Elly about the importance of tackling bullying through education, and what it felt like to be named the most influential LGBT person in the UK.
What was your reaction to topping the Independent’s Pink List?
It was a real shock when I discovered I'd won! It’s a recognition of all the tireless work teachers do in schools up and down the country to implement diversity work into the curriculum to change hearts and minds.
It feels wonderful that recognition has been given to those of us who work at grassroots level and are fighting every day in classrooms and schools to achieve equality and change out-dated opinions.
It was exceptionally emotional to find out that it was my students who had voted and thanked me for making their lives so much easier in school.
Why do you think polls like the Pink List are so important in recognising and celebrating LGBT people? both celebrities and everyday people.
The Pink List is very important in terms of highlighting activists and celebrities from the LGBT community who are fighting every day against discrimination and acting as role models.
Since the Pink List began many laws have been fought for and passed most notably for me as a teacher was section 28. We still have some way to go especially around trans laws and changing widespread homophobic opinions. So yes, there is still a need for the Pink List.
It’s Anti-Bullying Week and this year’s theme is Words Can Hurt. What are were the words that hurt you when you were growing up?
Gosh when I was at school the words young people used were outrageous but in the 1970’s and 80’s racist/sexism/homophobia were rife on TV and in the media. Thank goodness those words have now been eradicated through effective campaigning and improved equality laws all round.
The hateful words that students use with one another, of course they matter! Its not street talk, its not just because they are young - its wrong and its offensive and it is up to us educators to stop it. We eradicated the use of the word ‘gay’ in my school as the kids were using it in the wrong context.
This involved a whole school effort by training our staff on how to deal with homophobic incidents effectively along with setting sanctions for the students.
Yes, the kids were horrified at first that they could be put in detention, sent home, excluded for using homophobic language - but soon enough, it wasn’t just the teachers challenging the homophobia it was the other students too. Great - the message had been received loud and clear.
Can you tell us more about the work you do in education around challenging homophobia.
My LGBT work involves training teachers how to make their own schools LGBT friendly through a programme I devise called ‘Educate and Celebrate’. Here we discuss current school policy, government policy, resources, assemblies, lesson plans and how to take a whole school approach to effectively change homophobic opinion.
I work with teachers on lessons plans and schemes of work to use each February to celebrate LGBT History month in both mine and other schools.
I am very keen to dispel the myth that LGBT inclusion in the curriculum causes more work for teachers, in fact what I found was that the LGBT content was already there, we were just not we were just not emphasising the "LGBTness" of our projects.
For instance the Humanities department were studying the treatment of the Jewish people in the prisoner of war camps, so we extended the project to include the treatment of LGBT people.
Art were already studying Keith Haring, Grayson Perry and Frida Kahlo, who all fit perfectly in to our LGBT history month model each February.
My method is not to confront students with LGBT issues but to seep LGBT people into their consciousness through inclusive lesson plans.
An example is when I teach my Disco unit my starter activity is to play them a clip from Priscilla Queen of the Dessert where the drag queens (one being transgender) sing ‘I will survive’ in the dessert to the indigenous people.
Another method I use is to simply give young people the facts about LGBT people. For instance I ask ‘What is a Lesbian?’ and I explain the laws. Yes, they laugh and giggle but they go away enlightened and educated.
They may not be getting this education anywhere else in their lives. Parents are 99% supportive and relieved we are tackling these perceived ‘difficult’ issues in school.
I will continue to campaign and liaise with as many organisations as possible to infiltrate the education system as a whole to make the positive changes throughout all tiers.
A fear though of mine is the recent rise of free schools and academies who are allowed an open curriculum not bound by the same policies as our state schools.
But remember - ALL schools can reap the benefits of happy "out" staff and "out" students who are NOT bullied and can thrive in a safe and enlightened environment.
I had 8 students come out in my year group, I doubt some of them would have made it through school let alone go on to higher education without the confidence they took from celebrating LGBT History Month - it engages and educates and changes opinion effectively of staff, students and parents and in turn decreases homophobic bullying statistics.
It is essential that our schools curriculum reflects the community we live in; LGBT people are a part of our community.
For more information about the ‘Educate and Celebrate’ LGBT training course for teachers on 17th November 2011 visit (http://www.sns.hackney.sch.uk/ and search LGBT) or contact Elly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Ali Press