A very warm welcome to the dedicated website of the multi-award winning Shaun Dellenty, who has been striving to positively prevent LGBT+ and identity based prejudice in the UK education system and communities since 2009.
An Opening Message From Shaun Dellenty
Welcome and a heartfelt ‘thank you’ for stopping by.
I parted company with state education back in 1987, when I walked out of school from a system then blighted by a prejudicial piece of legislation from then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative Party known as Section 28 which left schools and teachers too frightened to openly discuss or often even positively acknowledge the existence of anyone whose identify was anything other than heterosexual. I’d known I was different for as long as I could remember being alive; like so many others I not only lacked any positive role models but had during my seventeen years internalised countless prejudicial thoughts. Homophobia came at me from my own family, from some quarters of the media, some of my peers, some of my teachers, some politicians and some faith leaders. Having deeply internalised so may negative opinions I had also begun hating myself and some other gay people.
This being the 1980s, I was also regularly internalising the voices telling me I ‘deserved to get AIDS.’ In and around school I was being regularly openly and covertly bullied, with some attempting to use their knowledge of my identity to exert power and control over me. As a result of these profoundly damaging experiences, I ultimately formed the conclusion that my presence on planet Earth was unwanted, bogus, irrelevant and perhaps even the work of the devil!
Education became the least important thing in my life, as the need to survive day to day took precedence. In May 1987, following a conversation with a school leader that left me feeling rejected and hopeless, I walked out of the school gates and went home to pour one final bath armed with a razor blade and Martini bottle whilst a chorus of internalised voices overwhelmed me, urging me to end my life. Yet at the last possible moment, from somewhere, arose the faintest glimmer of hope, a fleeting thought that just maybe if I made a choice to stay on this beautiful planet, perhaps the day would come when people such as myself would be accepted and be able to love without violence or judgement. I finally emptied the bath and put the razor blade way.
For years I battled internalised homophobia and sought to find happiness, flitting between badly fitting jobs and some damaging relationships.
By 2009, I was working as a school leader in an inner city London primary school. I wasn’t openly gay with the pupils or parents, although some staff were aware of my identity; which in itself sometimes led to homophobic comments, intrusive and inappropriate questions about my personal life. There was even a vain attempt to ‘turn me into a real man’ by a female colleague. In November 2009 we undertook some pupil questionnaires about bullying and prejudice, a similar questionnaire was given to teachers, enquiring about their own confidence in preventing bullying.
The resulting data delivered the following sobering messages:
- 75% of 7-11 year old pupils in and around the school were experiencing direct homophobic bullying on a daily basis.
- The same number were also regularly hearing the word 'gay' used to describe something or somebody as rubbish, uncool or without worth.
- 0% of staff felt they had been given training to prevent bullying related to LGBT+ identity (including I must add, myself)
In 2009 sexual orientation was yet to be included in the UK Equality Act, nor were Her Majesty's schools inspectorate OFSTED advocating positive LGBT+ inclusion as they would (with some input from me) by 2013. Appalled by this data, I urged staff to consider how they would react to such data if it had related to racist bullying; the staff agreed we would not hesitate to act upon racism by planning in relevant assemblies, teaching and learning and by using BAME role models. This was no different in my eyes, it was prejudicial behaviour that would only result in suffering for our amazing young people. Yet we felt unsure and nervous about tackling the issue in primary schools without legislative backing - it was also quite clear that there existed within the staff itself, a range of views about LGBT+ people such as myself and so in order to start deconstructing myths I came out to the whole school community in an assembly, eliciting a very favourable response.
Schools (whether faith or secular) have a duty of care to all of their wonderful and unique students, regardless of identity or orientation and I would also extend this to staff and parents. Those who choose to enter the noble profession of teaching surely have a duty to leave their own prejudices at the school gates in order to support everyone. This does require specific training in order to allay oft held fears and create a sense of consistency in whole school approach.
Prejudice related bullying causes mental health issues, and adversely affects school attendance, academic engagement, development and achievement, and can result in self harm or suicide. Deep wounds inflicted during the emergent years of childhood can adversely impair brain development, resulting in life-long problems with relationships, mental health and emotional well-being, often leading to unhealthy relationships and life-choices.
Spurned into action, over Christmas 2010 I wrote a teacher training program called ‘Inclusion For All’ drawing on my personal experiences as bullying survivor, class-teacher, part-time improving schools consultant and strategic school leader. Research shows that bullying related to sexual orientation can be targeted at anyone, whether LGBT+ or just perceived to be, thereby anyone perceived to be ‘different’ or not conforming to widely accepted gender stereotypes can be potential victims. Bullying behaviours can be targeted at those staff and children with LGBT+ friends or family. Creating a fully inclusive, positive LGBT+ environment in a school can benefit everyone.
After nearly 20 years of working in a wide range of secular and faith schools I’ve too often witnessed school communities unable or unwilling to pro-actively tackle LGBT+ bullying. Most schools simply lack relevant training whilst in many early years settings and primary schools there often exists the view that children are somehow 'too young' to know about LGBT+ people, a view in my experience often closely tied to the really quite offensive belief that LGBT+ people can only be described as or defined by sexual acts as opposed to all the other far more interesting factors that make us unique human beings. There also still exists in some school communities the view that by merely defining what LGBT+ people are (and what they are not) that somehow children will become ‘confused’ or ‘turn gay’. This is a view that is simply not backed up by research.
Preventing LGBT+ bullying is not about promoting anything except basic humanity, authenticity and kindness; it is education and information about the rich diversity of human existence. Over the years I’ve witnessed first hand some teachers actively ignoring homophobic bullying or condoning prejudicial attitudes via their own use of homophobic language. I’ve also met LGBT+ school leaders and teachers living in fear of being 'outed' and living inauthentic lives. I’ve met brave 'out' LGBT+ teachers suffering from being openly bullied by parents, pupils or even their colleagues, attempting to do their best for their students with no clear managerial support for their own well-being.
I will never accept the view that political, personal or theological beliefs should enable discrimination towards children and young people. Human beings (including myself) harbour the potential for prejudicial thoughts. It is for us to take ownership of our own prejudices and work pro-actively to first notice and then understand why these thoughts and feelings arise before mindfully striving to reduce their hold on our thoughts in order to reduce their impact upon others. It is also worth remembering that:
- Article 2 of the UN Convention of Human Rights of the child states that the convention applies to children 'without discrimination'
- Article 28 states that all children and young people have a 'right to an education'
- Article 30 states that children of minorities have a right to learn and use the customs and identity of their own family, meaning therefore that LGBT+ children and those with LGBT+ families have a right to be included and authentically represented in our communities, churches and schools.
- The UK Equality Act 2010 provides a legal requirement for all schools (including those of faith) to tackle all forms of bullying, including bullying related to sexual orientation and gender identity. There is also an expectation for schools to pro-actively promote and foster good relations between those who fall under the nine protected Equality Act characteristics - including sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Her Majesty’s Inspectorate ‘OFSTED’ now expect schools to show how they are ‘fostering good relations and pro-actively tackling’ all forms of bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. For many schools this can be quite new and challenging and this is why Inclusion For All exists - to help build confidence.
In January 2010 I delivered Inclusion For All first to my own school community, thereby significantly reducing all types of prejudice in the process. I then offered IFA to other schools across London (on a not for profit basis) and to other interested parties. Very quickly the National Teaching College, Stonewall and the Department For Education wanted to know more about my ground-breaking impact in primary schools and I was invited to speak at several national anti-bullying conferences. Press interest was highly positive with articles about the work in primary (and later secondary schools) appearing in a variety of national newspapers and education journals. I continue to deliver IFA training right across the UK, in the form of workshops, twilight sessions and one day regional 'pop up conferences.’ I ran IFA training days in my own school, involving pupils and teaching colleagues in order to share good practice.
IFA was awarded the ‘Southwark Good Practice Award’ in 2013. I was voted one of the '101 most influential LGBT figures in the UK' by readers of the Independent on Sunday ‘Pink List’ in 2012 and 2013. I appeared on national and children's television, on the radio and was invited to write and blog for national press including The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and Gay Star News. In the absence of profit or formal funding I used YouTube, blogging and free social media to try and facilitate positive change within the government policy and the education system.
I was surprised to find my work increasingly reported globally and many messages and requests for help came via this very website, including invitations to work abroad. In 2012 my journey informed the play 'Hero' by EV Crowe at the Royal Court Theatre In London. In 2014 I delivered training to the House of Commons and I have since advised several times on Government Policy at Westminster. Since 2013 I have supported the Amnesty UK Teacher Training Program and I also helped produce the Amnesty LGBTQ Education Resource. I lecture for trainee teachers up and down the UK, in addition to serving as an inspirational speaker in school assemblies and at after dinner events.
In 2015 my work was recommended in the Church of England's anti LGBT+ bullying resource and I was invited to help launch the resource alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury which was filmed for national television. In 2015 my work was 'Highly Commended' at the National Excellence In Diversity Awards. By Spring 2017 I had trained over 10,000 UK education professionals and told my story to around 9,000 students in UK schools. I have now worked with many of the main teaching unions, teacher training providers, national anti-bullying organisations and child protection organisations. I have also provided lectures for business organisations such as banks, the police and NHS. I also speak at LGBT+ Pride Anti-Bullying Week and IDAHOBIT events.
IFA is not my full time occupation, nor it is actually my paid job. I am currently a full time Deputy Headteacher of a primary school in London, the very same primary school that inspired the work that has now amazingly gone on to inspire so many others. Some of my work takes place during my working week in the form of release time from school; much of it takes place at evenings, school holidays and weekends. IFA is mostly funded from my own pocket, but money for events during school hours are used to back-fill my role as school leader; paid work undertaken outside of the school day is not undertaken for profit, but is used to promote IFA and to maintain an online presence. For the past three years Brighton Actually Gay Men’s Chorus have kindly served as principle fund raisers and I can’t thank then enough for their love and support.
In 2016 I collaborated with HyperFusion Theatre Company to devise an anti-homophobia play for schools called ‘BOY’ inspired by my own work and other focus groups undertaken in schools. This play continues to tour UK schools and was recently performed in UK Parliament. In 2016 I helped pave the way for LGBT+ inclusion work in schools on the Isle of Man by speaking at the International Isle of Man Diversity Conference. In May 2016 I was honoured with three major awards within the same week; the Education Champion Award at the Excellence In Diversity Awards, the Mayor of Southwark’s Highest Civil Honour awarded at Southwark Cathedral and a ‘Point of Light’ award from Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street. In July 2016 I was also very happy to marry my long term partner at the Houses of Parliament.
Since I first put my head above the parapet back in 2009, many of you have kindly taken the time to write, Tweet, email, and talk to me at conferences or even when I am just out shopping or socialising, and share your own experiences of prejudice and bullying. Where time allows I endeavour to reply to as many as I can in person. I want you to know that each story touches me and makes me even more determined to make a difference, not just for the sake of children and young people in schools now, but also for generations of children and young people yet to come and for all of those of you who suffered. The timeframe of the stories many have shared with me stretches out from the early 1900s to the present day; horrific, heart-breaking stories of bullying, self-harm, suicide and so many lives young and old blighted in passage through our education systems whilst governments and schools failed to act. I am also deeply concerned about the shift towards intolerance and exclusion that seems to be going on at home and abroad - there is still much to be done and I pledge to do what I can to help. I certainly don’t see myself as an ‘expert’, no-one ever trained me in all of this and there is still much for me to learn; however I have learned that my key skill seems to be building bridges, opening doors and making people feel less governed by prejudice, myth, fear and misconception when it comes to difference.
In 1968 I was born an optimistic, happy and loving child onto this beautiful planet; then years of prejudice resulted in me hating myself, cutting myself and wanting to end my life. I harbour no anger, no judgement, but I do want to try to ensure in my own small way and with my limited means that no child suffers in this way again. If you are suffering now, please reach out for help, you can call UK Samaritans on 116 123 or Childline on 0800 1111. I beg of you, do not lose hope - there can and will be a better place for you- you are beautiful and you belong. Thank you for your interest.
Please join me:
- on Twitter @ShaunDellenty
- My blog http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/shaun-dellenty/
- Please ‘like’ the Inclusion For All/Shaun Dellenty dedicated page on Facebook; over 8,500 members strong, here you can see a complete visual record of the work undertaken since 2009.
Be kind, be safe, be authentic, be proud, be you. Keep hopeful.
Love light and respect - Shaun Dellenty