Making workplaces as inclusive as possible is widely agreed to be important, yet not always best understood or delivered upon for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT+) workers.
LGBT+ people face much higher levels of conflict, prejudice, and discrimination in the workplace. Subsequently, they often hide or conceal who they are at work in the fear of being mistreated. These aspects have long term negative effects on a person’s health and wellbeing as well as performance and productivity, which ultimately may lead to them leaving the organisation or sector altogether.
Given the current challenges facing the sector whilst needing to maintain high quality, inclusive education, it is critical that we understand the experiences of LGBT+ staff in the education sector.
In this report, we detail the findings of a survey conducted by the NEU of their LGBT+ members. We shed light on the extent to which LGBT+ staff are open about themselves at work, feel psychologically safe and a sense of belonging at their school, and ultimately feel supported and enabled to thrive in their school environment. We also provide insight into how LGBT+ inclusive curriculum content is embedded and taught within different school settings.
We reveal that whilst there are some shining examples of best practice across a range of schools, there are also many examples where LGBT+ staff have experienced being bullied at work, feel unsafe and unsupported at work, and feel unable to be who they want to be. Some schools also avoid or exclude LGBT+ inclusive content being taught, whilst others embrace LGBT+ inclusive teaching and embed it in a considered way so that all staff take responsibility.
I hope that the findings of this report enable LGBT+ staff to be heard and seen in their schools, and for schools to learn from others’ best practice. But more than that, I hope the report instigates action and a change in mindset and approach across the whole education sector.
To make real progress, schools should try to collectively tackle the barriers and challenges raised in this report, rather than act individually and in isolation from each other. The NEU has a critical role to play in enabling these changes and actions to happen.
Dr Luke Fletcher
University of Bath, School of Management
One teacher in our report reminds us how much we can learn if we ‘’Listen to LGBT+ colleagues and take the lead from them and their experiences’. They urge others to ‘Get involved and support developing an inclusive curriculum - don’t leave it all to LGBT+ staff’’.
Listening and using the expertise within this great profession is what we need. Using LGBT+ students to develop solutions appears once again as a vital element of the solution, particularly in secondary schools.
In this study,LGBT+ staff remind us about what is important and transformational- feeling safe, valued and respected in a workplace, having a voice and being able to see representation of LGBT+ staff and students and ensuring the curriculum is inclusive and representative. There were some differences across primary and secondary settings but a really strong sense that the SLT must be proactive in terms of setting the right climate and the value of visible LGBT+ role models among management teams, as well as the value of support from senior managers who are not LGBT+ themselves.
This survey reveals the large extent to which developing a curriculum which is inclusive, and challenging negative attitudes and bullying still sits on the shoulders of LGBT+ staff.It shouldn’t. It need to be owned as a collective professional responsibility. This has to change because every single student benefits from an education which challenges stereotypes, promotes equal rights and builds positive attitudes about LGBT+ people and their contribution to British society.
One teacher wrote “I have gathered some LGBT+ student voice on this and the response is overwhelming. It has such a fantastic impact on students - they feel welcomed, safe and included”.
We hope this report will give schools ideas and questions and promote self-evaluation and reflection. How do LGBT+ staff in your setting feel? How do LGBT+ students feel and how do you know? What needs to change?
The statistics around what is happening should also be an urgent call to action. A whole school approach to inclusion needs to cover the curriculum- all year round - and making sure negative attitudes and language is properly challenged, on an ongoing basis. This study reveals patterns of bullying, schools in which LGBT+ staff can’t be open about themselves, and a range of persistent barriers. Where staff aren’t able to be out, this is caused by an unsupportive environment (highest barrier) and/or by students’ attitudes and/ or because of a fear of the impact on one’s career. Bisexual staff reported particular challenges and the experiences of gay and lesbian women were in some places different to their male peers. Trans and non-binary staff face harder challenges across the board, and feel less supported.
It is 2022. It is not acceptable that in some workplaces LGBT+ staff and LGBT+ students can’t be themselves. Please read this report, share with your colleagues and talk about it with them. Please join the members of the NEU who are creating a new climate for representation, respect and equal rights.
Joint general secretary, National Education Union Autumn 2022