Feedback from young people involved in SO What

Previously I ran a blog called So What Squad alongside this one, but time constraints meant I needed to fine tune my social media presence, so I am moving all the posts over to this blog. This is the sixth of six posts.

Students shared with me their thoughts about being part of SoWhat (Spellings are theirs!).

“When I first joined the SO What Squad in our school it was barely a group at all. It didn’t have a name, the school didn’t know we existed, and most of the students didn’t know what we were trying to achieve. Or even some of the teachers, for that matter. But that is exactly for me why it seemed so important to start up.

In many ways, homophobic bullying can seem a silent form of bullying. People use derogatory phrases all the time that would never be picked up on – ‘that’s so gay’, for instance – unless it was something that personally upset you, as it does for many young, LGBT students. Not only that, but it surprises a lot of people to hear the range of homophobic bullying, that many heterosexual students have experienced it too.

As part of the group, we went to an anti-bullying conference in our local area where it discussed a range of different techniques to ensure that schools and colleges have as little an amount of bullying as possible. One really interesting seminar discussed how homophobia is tackled in primary schools, not by looking out for aggressive behaviour or derogatory language as we had focused on, but by broadcasting acceptance, and teaching children that people with difference backgrounds, families, people from different races and religions, people of different sexual orientations were all ordinary people, just like everyone else. The leader of the seminar, a teacher who identified as LGBT, was able to discuss the fact that he was gay with his older students, and told us how on seeing a figure of authority, a person that they liked, as gay, the students easily accepted it, and as far as he was aware there was no homophobic bullying within that group.

I think if we were to go back and change the way we established SO What at our school, it would be less focused on the bullying, and more focused on the need for acceptance and appreciation of different people, spreading the message that diversity may seem strange and unfamiliar, but it is good. I feel we needed to spread campaigns such as ‘It Gets Better’, which has a hopeful message for victims who may feel upset or dejected. The younger that people learn that LGBT is no more a label than heterosexuality is, the quicker we can hope that in schools in the future it will be better.

Lucy, Former SoWhatSquad member.

I am a former member of the SoWhatSquad and i am proud to say that the logo design was my idea, my most creative piece yet.
Seeing homophobic bullying was very common before the group started up. The term “Gay” was used in everyones regular vocabulary. A person didnt need to actually be or identify themselves as part of LGBT to get called names and be taunted, if they showed stereotypical attirbutes of a LGBT person, they would be targeted.
The group for some was a place to retreat and feel welcome. It didnt matter if you were part of LGBT Group or just had views on the matter, everyone was treated equally. The logo which was displayed around school was a sign that our school was not going to tolerate any discrimination.

It is a shame however that the group, as former students left, is no longer as prominent in the school community, although i have noticed more students in the school which would identify themselves under the LGBT group and could be in need of a SoWhat Squad.

If i had the chance to relay or help build such groups in other schools, i think it would benefit a huge amount of people, to be themselves, to feel comfortable and to be happy in their school years.

K- Former SoWhat Member

“The so what squad helped a few people i knew come out as well as myself. Ii only had one friend who knew that i was a lesbian but apart from that my life involved a hell of a lot of lying! I didn’t know many gay people at the time and whenever i heard a conversation about homosexuals it was negative. By the time i had joined the so what club i had already come out to a lot of people and most was good and well except i had not told my family yet. The so what squad helped me tell my mum etc by providing me with a safe postive environment where i felt normal an could talk about my fears with people who were in the same position as me. The so what squad was really helpful and what have been an even greater help if i knew about it when i was figuring out i was gay i know it helped a lot of people and schools should definatlly have some sort of group to support other children.”

J- Former SoWhat Member

Another Student who went to set up So What in their college wrote this about their school experience:

As a young gay person growing up in a school with no openly gay students and staff, and an under current of homophobia amongst my peers, I felt incredibly isolated. The homophobia in the school was systemic; it was a very hostile environment and homophobia was routinely unchallenged. As a result I did not feel it was a safe space to come out in. I censor my feeling and behaviours, and became incredibly self loathing. As a result I acted out and began to perform the homophobic actions and behaviours I saw. It was only after leaving the school and that I was able to become the real me. I came out and my confidence grew: my grades improved significantly and I was able to shake off the feeling I was lying to people.

12 common questions about sexual orientation to use with students

Previously I ran a blog called So What Squad alongside this one, but time constraints meant I needed to fine tune my social media presence, so I am moving all the posts over to this blog. This is the fifth of six posts.
The question and answers below were developed from a fab PDF resource from an activity for Life planning education program produced by Advocates for youth. However some of the terms we weren’t happy with and as it is an American resource we angliscised it slightly and also had colleagues from Stonewall to vet the answers to be as comprehensive and accurate as possible.
You could do this in a lesson (the resultant discussion may take up an entire lesson!): With the class either ask students to come up with their own questions about sexual orientation or ask the class the following frequently asked questions. Discuss each question using the answers below as a guide.

1) How many people are lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB)?

It is estimated between 5 and 10% of all people are LGB. However, there is no hard data on the number of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals in theUKas no national census has ever asked people to define their sexuality. Also many people hide their sexual orientation to protect themselves against stigma and discrimination. Various sociological/commercial surveys have produced a wide range of estimates, but there is no definitive figure available. Within the next couple of years, data about sexual orientation will be included in national data sets and sexual orientation will be monitored more habitually, for example in job applications so clearer statistics will be developed and we will all have to become accustomed to answering questions about our sexual orientation.

2) What makes people gay?

It is not known what makes people gay, lesbian or bisexual just as it is not known what makes people heterosexual. Biology may play a role either in genetics or within the womb. There is no evidence to suggest how you are brought up affects your sexual orientation. Reinforce that it is not a choice whether or not you are gay, just as you cannot choose your ethnicity.

3) Is being gay a disease?

Homosexuality is not an illness of any kind-mental or physical. On 17th May 1990 the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders ending centuries of medically legitimized homophobia. Because ‘homosexual’ was the medical term to describe being LGB as a disease, many LGB people still find the term offensive and often prefer to be identified as ‘lesbian, gay or bisexual.’ Remember we should respect how other people identify themselves.

4) How do I know if I am lesbian, gay or bisexual?

Some people know from an early age that they are lesbian, gay or bisexual and others may take longer to realise or come to terms with their identity- remember social pressure to be heterosexual can make it hard for people to accept being lesbian, gay or bisexual. Sadly, many people don’t come out until much later in their lives, after living a ‘heterosexual’ life because of social pressure or being unable to accept their identity. Just because someone has lived many years as ‘heterosexual’- this doesn’t make their identity as LGB any less valid when they do eventually ‘come out.’ As public attitudes towards LGB people become more accepting it should become easier for people to ‘come out’ earlier in their lives. Many people have same-sex relationships or sexual experiences at any point in their lives but do not identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Its up to each person to define their sexual orientation.

5) Can you always tell if someone is lesbian or gay?

No, the only to know if a person is lesbian, gay or bisexual is if they tell you. There are as many different types of people in the LGB community, as there are in the heterosexual community so relying on stereotypes about how LGB people look and behave won’t tell you anything.

6) Is it against the law to be homosexual?

Laws making it illegal to be lesbian or gay would violate the most basic human rights of an individual. In most parts of the world including the UKit is NOT illegal to be gay. However some countries have criminalised sexual activity between two people of the same sex. Punishments for breaking these laws can be fines, imprisonment or even the death sentence. See Avert age of consent chart for more information- In theUK the age of consent for 2 people to have sex is 16 regardless of sexual orientation.

7) Do gay men, lesbians and bisexuals try to make other people LGB?

It is not possible to ‘change’ or ‘turn’ someone’s sexual orientation and LGB people are more aware of this than anyone. Some people within the heterosexual community may try to ‘turn’ LGB people heterosexual or tell them it is wrong to be LGB. This is discrimination- we should accept everyone for who they are. It is a myth that lesbian and gay men want to have sex with everyone of the same sex. In the same way that within the heterosexual community there are many types of relationship and sexual practices, so it is the same within the LGB community and many lesbian and gay couples have long term monogamous relationships in the same way that mixed sex couples do.

8) How do two men or two women actually have sex?

Two men or two women have sex in most of the same ways that straight couples do. It may involve mutual masturbation, oral sex, penetrative sex (vaginal or anal), using sex toys and having orgasms together. These activities are not exclusively for people within opposite sex relationships or same sex relationships.

9) Is HIV a gay disease?

No across the world HIV is mostly transmitted through heterosexual sex. Having anal sex is a significant risk factor in transmitting sexually transmitted infections including HIV. Straight couples have been found to be less likely to use condoms for anal sex than gay men. Although when HIV/AIDS was first discovered it was the gay community in theUKthat was hardest hit, the infection level is now much higher in heterosexuals than gay men.

10) Do gay men sexually abuse little boys?

Most cases of sexual abuse actually involve heterosexual men, not gay men. Perhaps as many as 85-90% of sexual abusers are heterosexuals and a family member or friend of the family. Paedophilia – being attracted to children is in no way linked to being gay. This is very offensive myth about gay men. Remember that since 2002 same-sex couples can adopt and many gay men now have families and are parents in the same way that heterosexual couples are,

11) Why are gay men so camp? Or gay women so butch?

These are stereotypes about the LGB community. Not all gay men are “camp” and not all gay women are “butch” (and using these words can cause offence to some people). Making assumptions about someone’s sexual orientation because of the way they look or behave is discrimination. Just because a man or a woman does not fit into a perceived stereotype of masculinity or femininity, does not make them gay or lesbian. There are many different types of lesbians and gay men as there are heterosexual people. Think about your group of friends- do you all look the same, dress the same, act in the same way? Of course not, so why would a whole community all look, dress and act identically!

12) Why don’t gay men or lesbians just have a sex change?

People who want to have a sex change are called “transsexual” or “transgender”. Some people feel they have been born into the wrong body and undergo an operation to change their sex so that their body matches the way they feel as a person. Other people may dress up as the other gender but not want to have a sex change (“Transvestites or Cross-dressers). Gender identity is different to sexual orientation. Both heterosexual and homosexual people can be “trans”. Trans people have a sexual orientation as well as a gender identity and the two are not related. Trans people may identify as heterosexual or LGB.

Why set up a SO What squad

Previously I ran a blog called So What Squad alongside this one, but time constraints meant I needed to fine tune my social media presence, so I am moving all the posts over to this blog. This is the fourth of six posts.

Taken from from Stonewall’s School Report which can be viewed here (N.B Stonewall have produced an updated 2012 version of the school report- here)

Homophobia in Schools

Homophobic bullying is almost epidemic inBritain’s schools. Almost two thirds (65 per cent) of young lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils have experienced direct bullying.

Even if gay pupils are not directly experiencing bullying, they are learning in an environment where homophobic language and comments are commonplace. Ninety eight per cent of young gay people hear the phrases “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” in school, and over four fifths hear such comments often or frequently.

Ninety seven per cent of pupils hear other insulting homophobic remarks, such as “poof”, “dyke”, “rug-muncher”, “queer” and “bender”. Over seven in ten gay pupils hear those phrases used often or frequently. Less than a quarter (23 per cent) of young gay people have been told that homophobic bullying is wrong in their school. In schools that have said homophobic bullying is wrong, gay young people are 60 per cent more likely not to have been bullied.

Over half of lesbian and gay pupils don’t feel able to be themselves at school. Thirty five per cent of gay pupils do not feel safe or accepted at school.

Why set up a So What Squad?

  • This culture of homophobia and discrimination needs to be challenged and LGBT young people need a safe space in schools. This can be achieved by setting up a So What Squad- with a sample mission statement of; “The So What squad aims to promote acceptance and education of Lesbian, Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) issues and eliminate ignorance and discrimination as well as provide a safe space for LGBT students”




Sample initial letter for school newsletters about tackling homophobia

Previously I ran a blog called So What Squad alongside this one, but time constraints meant I needed to fine tune my social media presence, so I am moving all the posts over to this blog. This is the third of  six posts.

Below is a letter I sent out in the school newletter about tackling homophobia at our school and informing parents of the existence of the SoWhat Squad. I was expecting some parental backlash given our parents. I never heard a negative comment. It was brilliant! Feel free to amend adapt for your parents.

Anti-Bullying work at XXXX

XXXXX is actively working on an anti-bullying project to update our anti-bullying policy and to raise awareness of bullying and its unacceptability. We’re combating all forms of bullying, and wish to educate pupils on specific issues one by one. We’ve chosen initially to specifically focus on homophobic bullying because we’ve observed a significant number of incidents in the school and schools now have a legal duty to ensure homophobic bullying is dealt with (Education and Inspections Act 2006).

Homophobic language such as “that’s so gay” has now become commonplace and this is propagating a culture of homophobia within schools. Almost two thirds (65 per cent) of young lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) pupils will have experienced direct bullying within school however in schools that have said homophobic bullying is wrong, LGB young people are 60 per cent less likely to have been bullied.

As a school we have adopted the stance that homophobic bullying is unacceptable in our school. We are also establishing a zero-tolerance approach to homophobia and homophobic language. Since we started this we have noted a reduction in the use of homophobic language and a raised student awareness of its unacceptability. We are also developing curriculum opportunities within PSHE and Citizenship that examine this issue. In addition a student group has been established to help combat discrimination amongst peers and to provide a safe space for LGB students at the school.

If you would like to find out more please visit the school website where further information about homophobic bullying is available or contact the following members of staff who have been working on this project: XXXX XXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXXX

Eight steps to setting up a SO What squad

Previously I ran a blog called So What Squad alongside this one, but time constraints meant I needed to fine tune my social media presence, so I am moving all the posts over to this blog. This is the second of six posts.

1. Get Senior management on board. You can’t do this without them!

2. Once you have the okay from SLT. Get teachers on board- mention what you intend to in staff briefings etc. Find a supportive network of teachers who want to help (they don’t have to give any time commitment but knowing they are also on your side will really help you feel not like you have undertaken a David and Goliath task!)

3. Mention you want to set up a SoWhat Squad in every lesson and ask if students are interested in joining- ask them to tell their friends. Get your supportive teachers to mention it to their form groups etc. Get it announced in assembly. Once you have a list of a few students who want to attend set up an initial meeting to brainstorm what the group will look like.

4. Initial meeting- discuss what the group aims to do- our group came up with this one:

“The So What Squad aims to promote acceptance and education of Lesbian, Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) issues and eliminate ignorance and discrimination as well as provide a safe space for LGBT students”

Yours doesn’t have to be the same- make sure the group own it! If it will help invite an outside person in from Stonewall or School’s out to help you with the first meeting and planning.

5. Plan your meetings- what activities will you do? What time and where will meetings be held? (consider a time and place that meets the students needs- we found friday after school in a tucked away classroom to be the best as some students were worried about being “outed” if they were seen attending. In fact I had one student who came every week for “detention” with me just so he could attend the meetings. He was a fairly good kid so it was a stretch but it was important to provide him with that cover so he could still attend the safe space. Even to the other kids in the group he was in “detention” to them until he felt more comfortable.

6. Launch the group- advertise via posters, assembly announcements, school counsellor referrals, word of mouth. Also send a letter home in the newsletter to inform parents about the group (you can see a sample letter I wrote here.)

7. Have fun! There are so many different ideas and activities your group can try out. We did logo design, badge making, campaigning, eating biscuits and gossiping and all sorts. It was brilliant.

8. Ensure sustainability- how will you get the group to keep going if you leave the school, or the students leave (many of our group were in the 6th form).

Any questions? Email Sexedukation at