Attending the #DiverseEd Conference in Bristol on Saturday felt perfectly timed. The backdrop of recent developments from the UK government regarding the trans community weighed heavily on my mind as I prepared for the day ahead. It seemed as if the trans community was under siege from multiple angles: teachers potentially being allowed to discriminate against trans young people in schools (https://www.thepinknews.com/2023/09/23/ehrc-guidance-trans-misgendering-pupils-schools/) and the proposed ban on trans women from women’s wards (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2023/oct/03/trans-hospital-patients-in-england-to-be-banned-from-female–and-male-only-wards).
As a cisgender gay man who had previously faced adversity under the infamous Section 28 (and the legacy since), I felt a deep empathy for the trans community, witnessing their increasing vulnerability and the reported surge in hate crimes against them (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/hate-crime-england-and-wales-2022-to-2023/hate-crime-england-and-wales-2022-to-2023).
As an LGBTQ+ education consultant, I was acutely aware that action was needed to ensure the safety of trans+ children, young people, and staff in schools. Fortunately, the conference offered a range of sessions on just this, highlighting the need for greater trans inclusion & diversity.
Every session I attended resonated with me on both a personal and professional level, but my mind was consumed with the urgent need to address the ongoing challenges faced by the trans community.
The first workshop I attended was led by Sarah Bonnell School, focusing on social justice in schools and empowering students to enact change within their communities. Their discussion of “cold anger” as a catalyst for change struck a chord with me (https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/brave-talk/202109/4-types-anger-everyone-should-know-about). This anger, when harnessed, could drive the transformation needed to combat the prevailing discourse around trans inclusion.
Equally, Shaun Dellenty’s keynote, highlighted the importance of challenging the narrative of fear and division, emphasising that we are stronger together, whether or not we identify as trans. The theme that stuck in my mind: How do we channel this anger and negative energy into positive action?
Similarly, in Bennie Kara’s keynote, the power of stories to reshape narratives was explored. She discussed how we need to move beyond viewing the trans community as victims or dangerous (a perception which has continuously been fed by media and entertainment). The history of LGBTQ+ rights is full of unsung heroes such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who spearheaded the original Stonewall uprising. Yet, their stories are often overlooked in the narrative of our school curricula.
It is imperative that we teach about these individuals to reframe the narrative and challenge prejudices and biases. This will foster a more respectful society, one that goes beyond mere tolerance to genuine acceptance of every individual, regardless of their identity.
Jo Brassington, in their session on trans and non-binary inclusion in schools, passionately reminded us that silence and indifference regarding trans+ inclusion make us complicit. It reminded me of the words of David Morrison, Chief of Army in the Australian Army, which echo this sentiment: “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”
This is not about understanding what it means to be trans but about having compassion and acceptance for every trans person; knowing them as individuals and hearing their story. Stories have been central to human culture since time began, and it is now time to reshape these stories in the public eye. As agents of change, we must stand with the trans community, working towards a compassionate view that acknowledges them as individuals.
The #DiverseEd Conference offered a glimpse into the power of collective action, empathy, and storytelling to take back the narrative, ensuring that the voices and experiences of the trans community are heard, respected, and valued. We, as educators, have a unique opportunity to lead this transformation, shaping a more inclusive and compassionate society by ensuring our curriculum fosters a positive narrative of a range of trans people; from the books we read, to the significant role models we explore and the policies we have in place. Taking back the narrative is not just a goal; it’s a collective responsibility that we must all be conscious about in our schools.