We recently had the privilege of creating some webinars for National Online Safety – a fantastic company specialising in supporting education settings with ensuring their children and young people are safe online.
In the course of our research, we came across the article linked below, which gave some helpful pieces of advice to schools who wish to become more LGBTQ+ inclusive.
However, it was No. 2 of the 7 steps that really got us thinking…
‘Usualise’ LGBTQ+ people
As practitioners, there is a simple step we can take to make out lessons more inclusive – what the organisation School’s Out calls “usualising“. While “usualising” won’t be found in a dictionary, it is much less problematic than the word “normalising”. Let’s face it: what is normal, anyway?
Usualising is about integrating LGBTQ+ representation into the curriculum – whether in the images we use, the questions we write or simply using the words “lesbian”, “gay”, “bisexual” and “trans” to describe people. Usualising is not about tokenism, but about students feeling represented in the curriculum and seeing positive modelling of inclusivity from all teachers.
Many of us are probably guilty of using the term ‘normalising’ without ever thinking too much about it. However it suggests that those of us using the term are the gatekeepers of ‘Normality’ who – like some sort of Bouncer outside a nightclub – get to say who’s in or out. Put simply, when we suggest something should be ‘normalised’, we can unwittingly be implicitly suggesting it wasn’t normal in the first place.
On the other hand, ‘usualising’ something is more about representation; LGBTQ+ people and relationships have always been here, it’s simply about making it far more ‘usual’ to see, hear and learn about them in our everyday lives.
The recent Just Like Us 2021 report ‘Growing Up LGBTQ+’ found that when there is positive messaging on LGBTQ+ people and issues, it benefits all students, whether they could consider themselves to be LGBTQ+ or not. This feels like a win-win situation for education settings as everyone benefits from this representation. I would hazard a guess that this is beneficial for education staff too; particularly those who can remember a not too distant past of Section 28 laws within schools and the harm this caused.
In my experiences within schools, it has always been my mistakes that have led to far better conversations and learning opportunities for young people. For example, when I have caught myself falling into gender stereotypes or accidentally misgendered a non-binary student. Modelling the practice of catching oneself making a mistake, then apologising and correcting the mistake has had a far greater impact on the students than any carefully curated lesson plan on the theme of LGBTQ+ people!
This idea of ‘usualising’ rather than ‘normalising’ also must be a priority when we think about children and young people with SEND. Realistically, where does this community see themselves represented – and celebrated – within their school settings? If we are thinking about intersectionality and trying to be as inclusive as possible, we also need to think about whether our well-intentioned attempts to usualise the LGBTQ+ community can fall into the old traps of only using imagery of White European, able-bodied, attractive LGBTQ+ people.
For now, let’s draw this to a close with this wonderful image I saw on social media about a child who saw themselves represented when watching the Disney film Encanto. Having young children myself, I’ve watched the film more times than I’d care to remember but it was a joy upon first viewing, to finally see a Disney heroine wearing glasses!
The image below captures perfectly the impact usualising can have on young people and the look on the child’s face is surely one we would love to see on every face of each child in our setting:
Image taken by Kah Brand. Instagram.