Oral History Interview - Elly Barnes MBE

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Oral History Interview - Elly Barnes MBE

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Video recording of an oral history interview with Dr. Elly Barnes MBE, who was born in Leicestershire, UK in 1971 and moved to London in 1998 after her teacher training. Barnes began LGBTQI+ initiatives at Stoke Newington School in 2005. They went on to found Educate & Celebrate a national programme that gives staff, students, parents and governors the confidence and strategies to implement an LGBT+ inclusive curriculum to successfully eradicate homophobia, biphobia and transphobia from schools and communities.

Topics discussed include growing up, university, LGBTQI+ education in the curriculum, LGBTQI+ language, coming out and social life in Stoke Newington.



Q. Hi Elly [00:10]
EB. Hello Josh, hello Thea.

Q. Would you mind starting by stating your full name, where you were born and when you were born? [00:15]
EB. When I was born, oh my gosh. I was born Ellen Barnes but I use Elly Barnes and I am from Leicestershire, so really out in the sticks from a really country-fide family and I was born in 1971.

Q. So what was it like in Leicestershire, was it a village or a town? [00:42]
EB. Oh well my dad you see, was a builder which meant we moved around from place to place. So every few years we would move to the next project that dad was working on so we would either live at my grandparents’ house whilst he was building it or live in a caravan whilst he was building it on the grounds of the house and eventually we would get to live in the house which was rather fabulous but only for a short period of time before we went on to the next project, so a lot of time moving around. So we lived in loads of different places all over Leicestershire.

Q. Where was your favourite place you have been moved to in Leicestershire? [1:24]
EB. Nowhere. I couldn’t wait to leave. It was a very quiet upbringing, there was no public transport in the villages that we lived in so you relying on parents so I could not wait to get out. And thankfully my dad gave me keys to a motorbike when I was 16 and said, there you go love I know you are chomping at the bit to get out of here, off you go. So at 16 off I went and it was great so I joined bands and played in them because I was studying music at that point, music and art and design so I was well happy to join local bands and play the working men’s clubs and it was great, I loved it and eventually went off to uni.

Q. What was the first place you went off to? [2:13]
EB. The first place for uni? Oh gosh, well uni, I made the mistake and left because I went off to Crewe and Alasager College doing creative art, so it was all the arts but focusing on music and art and it really wasn’t making any sense anymore because I really didn’t want to make things out of cardboard and paint them purple and varnish them and try and do some explanation of what this is and what it meant to me, so I realised I had to go and study music. I left and went off to the Birmingham Conservatoire to study Opera and vocal studies which was great and where I stayed for the next six years. So I did that and my masters and my teacher training in Birmingham.

Q. I like the art gallery there. [3:07]
EB. Yea the art gallery is good. It’s got some good things going on actually. They did a whole trans-exhibition there last year which was good, so there doing some really good, inclusive work.

Q. So when did you first come to London? Was it a visit? [3:33]
EB. Well I came to live here after my teacher training which I think was 1998. So I have been here nearly 20 years now, so well settled, just done a progressed inwards. So started on the outskirts in Enfield and then Walthamstow and then to Stoke Newington and now I am in King’s Cross where I have been for nearly 10 years now so I guess I will stay there for much longer, through teaching as well.
So I came down to teach and I got a part time job at Stoke Newington School which was teaching singing but after that I got dragged into the education system which is where this project started. It’s like ‘Oh, do you want some classroom teaching?’ ok. ‘Do you want some more classroom teaching?’ Ok. ‘Shall you be second in department?’ Ok…and then started running the recording studio and then I got head of music and then head of year which is where this particular LGBT+ project started where Educate & Celebrate started back in 2005.

Q. What were your first impressions of being in London? [4:50]
EB. I was absolutely terrified. I couldn’t understand why I was sitting in my car and nothing was moving around me. Sitting there literally for hours and hours going why isn’t this moving and I could not understand what it is all about. Everyone’s walking around with bottles of water, walking around looking very stressed, very miserable, very loud. It was a complete culture shock when I arrived here but I just very quickly grew into it because I was so attracted by the level of diversity.
The school I ended up in was such a beautiful eclectic mix of young people and at that point it was predominantly boys because there were several girls’ schools in the area so we had a big group of boys, so I got all boys classes to teach and I really enjoyed that and the sort of demographic at that point was a third white working class, a third Turkish-Kurdish and a third Afro Caribbean. So it was a real beautiful mix of kids and I just had that lovely feeling that none of these kids - even though I am hearing racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic language - they are not born racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic. Something has happened at some point on their journey because they came to me when they were 11 years old. So something in their formative years has stopped them and not made them embracing of difference because they could be, especially when you are living in such a diverse place as Hackney when you are so used to diversity as well.
So the project really started by honing in on that and wondering why was that? What are these outside influences on these young people that are making them this way and really what can I do about it? What can we start doing? And I very quickly realised that within our curriculum we were doing very little work on diversity. So looking at different cultures really, as simple as that, looking at disabilities, looking at sexual orientation or gender identity as a whole it was pretty bare in the curriculum so that is where I wanted to start interrogating the curriculum. What we were saying, what we were doing and probably what had got to our kids, because I totally believe as our role as educators to start from the very beginning, as soon as kids enter the education system and smash all those negative barriers that are around them.

Q. Do you think about kids really mean the language that they are using or that it is just adopted from other places? [7:39]
EB. A lot of the time it’s what the kids said to me, ‘It’s just street talk Miss’. So when I say ‘oh my pen’s run out Miss, it’s so gay,’ what do you mean by that? Oh well we mean its crap, it’s broken, so gay now means, like … So the use of that word in my opinion it was totally out of control. You know, how can your pen be gay, what does that mean? You mean like the Flinstones? ‘We’ll have a gay old time!’ You know, do you mean that? Like your pen is happy? I don’t think you mean that do you? Oh G-A-Y as in good as you? So that was used as a slogan.
So it was used in lots of different ways and it was really a lot of our conversations at that point was about how do we use this word, what does it actually mean and why has it become to mean something that is rubbish? You know? So we challenged that of course as a staff and we got rid of that word. But then how very quickly its replaced by something else. All of a sudden, ‘it’s so Jewish.’ Now we have to get rid of that.
But I remember when I was at school, I mean I don’t know, but when I was at school everyone was a spaz or a mong and we were using a lot of that disabilist language when we were kids. I think that part of it is a generational thing that potentially doesn’t really mean what they think it means and is not offensive, but …

Q. How do they see it now? [9:20]
EB. You know what, they see it as offensive. All the kids that we have taught over all these years, they understand as soon as we talk about it, they understand straight away that they probably shouldn’t be saying that. Imagine saying, ‘my pen’s run out, it’s so black’ you don’t use that sort of language because it is highly highly offensive. You know different types of people are around us at all times. You might be on the bus, library, or cinema because LGBT+ people are all around you all of the time, you know. So you cannot be sure, you cannot be using that language, it is highly offensive and you are going to offend somebody.
Particularly when we started looking at the statistics around it. I remember a particular assembly when I am saying ‘oh look’ at that point it was 10 percent, but right now the Office of National Statistics it has shifted up to 12 percent now because more people are identifying as bisexual. But I dare say that is on paper. So obviously it is much more than that and the more we create an awareness and talk about gender identity and sexual orientation the more it is going to increase. I do think it affects at least a quarter of the population. It is there all around us.

So even when I presented the statistics to the kids and said there are lots around us, the kids (reacted with disgust) saying who, where? It is that kind of attitude. But as the years when on, that kind of attitude died down and it’s just all about education and showing that this is something and we called it ‘usualising’ so the term is usualising. That was a word that Sue Sanders who is the chair of Schools Out invented. So I have cited that word in all of my research and it works really well and a word that we use in everything. So in every school we visit and whatever training we do we try and get all the teachers to usualise different types of people within the curriculum.
So it would be something like, if you are teaching an art lesson, ‘cos we do a curriculum audit…

Q. What does that (a curriculum audit) mean? [11:42]
EB. Well we are looking in the curriculum, so what are we saying to young people and what we find in our curriculum …

EB. …teaching about dead white men. It is only giving one particular point of view. A lot of Christian, white, history and that is not fulfilling ‘cos it is not the truth. LGBT+ people have a history too and that is what we should be having in our curriculum. So what we do now is write lots of lesson plans they are all on the website. So we have someone like Frida Kahlo in the art lessons for instance. So from Mexico who is a women, identifies as a bisexual but also has a disability. So what we are doing is combining all of the different equality strands and creating this more intersectional approach to teaching. So our educators celebrate, that is the work we roll out in schools. Get teachers to look at what they are teaching, get them usualising, creating a more intersectional approach to eradicate basically heteronormaltivity.
When I explain heteronormaltivity is, to teachers and to kids they go ohhhhh. Because it is almost like we have been brainwashed right from the get go. You know as soon as we have a baby and you are pregnant it is like what have you had. What is it? Is it a boy or a girl? No it is a baby! It could be born intersex it might be gender fluid, non-binary. It could be any of those things, so it is getting us out of that model of assuming that everybody is heterosexual or they identify as male or female. And a lot of the time that is what we see and it is getting our teachers to change the language around it so let’s not line up our kids boys and girls, let’s find another way. Why do we do that?
I did a lot of my research in the nursery schools. You have nursery teachers asking the kids, three years old, can all the boys stand up? And what happens when you watch that is in front of you is they all stand up. Because they haven’t learned to segregate by gender and I do wonder why we force our kids into that binary right from the get go. And I wonder if we didn’t do that, if we were gender neutral right from the get go I am almost convinced we would not have half the problems with the gender gaps, pay gaps, boys achieving more than girls, all these things we suffer from now in our communities, I just don’t think it would be there. So a lot of our work is really goal orientated to make things gender neutral, to eradicate those perceived differences between male and female, because there are many more genders than that.

Q. Before the repeal of section 28 in 2003 what kind of barriers did you face working in schools and trying to implement this structure of education? [3:05]
EB. There were so many barriers. It was quite an interesting time, but as a personal rule, I never let it get to me at all. It was like, come on, really!? I am a person and I am just like everybody else. Right now I guess I identify as queer because that word has been reclaimed but at that time I guess I identified more as lesbian. At that point and have been predominately lesbian for the last 20 years. But now I’d use the word queer instead just because it is a more encompassing term and it is much easier to understand that you are somewhere in that gender identity or sexual orientation spectrum.
So when I first started teaching, my first teaching post I was told not to come out which I thought this is utterly ridiculous and took no notice of it whatsoever because for me it’s about having open and honest relationships when the kids that I teach. And I would not ever want to lie to my kids or the people around me or indeed the parents, about who I am because it is really important to me. It is not all of me, but is quite a big part of me and now I do this for a living it is probably everything to do with me and who I am. So it is very important to be out. But there is still cases that go on now, Section 28, 1998 all those years ago and I remember being at school.

Q. Can you explain what Section 28 is for people who might not know? [5:01]
EB. Yeah, Section 28 was a local government act which was brought in by Thatcher and it was due to a book. So on the back of a book that was in libraries and it was called Jenny lives with Eric and Martin. Very simply, it was a beautiful book. It was about a young girl that had two dads and very similar to the books that we promote now on our book collections on the website for early years, primary, and secondary, books for kids to use in the language and literacy framework. And this book was used as a kind of a caveat to then take that out of library and it also comes to teachers, and the words around it were, to not promote sexual orientation within schools because it is a pretended family unit.
So that idea that this is a pretended thing was very rife at that time. But that went on a very very long journey and I do remember how brilliant it was where what was a group of women, fantastic women that broke into the nationwide studios. It was just wonderful. One of the women was called Boen but I can’t remember the name of the actual group of women, and they broke into the studios and I believe it was Sue Lawley who was at the desk, and it was live then. And they broke in and they went underneath her desk and they were shouting ‘down with Section 28’, live on the news.
So it might be worth finding out, I might have got the names completely wrong, so check that out because that was absolutely brilliant. But it didn’t get repealed all the way, Labour government of course, 2003. So 2003 and I started teaching by that point and there were a lot of teachers that had suffered at the hand of that and to be fair it still happens. I still hear from teachers right now in 2017 who are having a really hard time in school even though legislation has completely change. And to be fair it did make a massive difference.
It did kind of slip away very quietly, section 28. There wasn’t a massive deal. No not at all. And that is such a shame because it did really make a lot of difference to us in education for a long time. So I was doing staff meetings up until recently when I still had teachers saying, ‘we can’t do this because of Section 28’ and you are like wooah. They didn’t know it had gone away until that was explained clearly that it is no longer there.
Subsequent legislation, LGBT history month in 2005, brilliant. How great. What a brilliant… Sue Sanders said it wasn’t a response to Section 28 it was response to an equality duty that came before that so she says it was a response to that. And of course we didn’t get the Equality Act until 2010 and it was only really in 2010 that the work began to settle in schools as something that was now in legislation and in law and it made a massive difference to our practices in schools in terms of it gave us a kind of way in because we really needed a way in. Because unfortunately saying this is the right thing to do, is just not enough.
You got head teachers, educational authorities that will say, why do we need to pay money for this? It is not in law. So when we did get the law made it made a massive difference. And then after that we got Ofsted criteria. So the first lot of Ofsted criteria which said, criteria for primary and secondary about talking about different kinds of families. That was in the criteria, making sure that there is signposting for kids if they need it and really what we are talking about in the curriculum is if the school is a safe place. So that criteria was all there and that made an awesome difference in 2012.

Q. Why do you think there wasn’t a major roll of promotion, that Section 28 was now gone, why wasn’t there a major training to improve education around that? [9:33]
EB. Gosh, you know I have absolute no idea apart from general apathy and fear. Because I still do meetings now and one of the things that comes up, what I ask all the staff that are in these meetings, what are the boundaries to this work? So the one thing that comes up all the time is fear, still. Now there is a fear surrounding it and we do get to the bottom of it. We do analyse it, what do you think this fear factor is? A lot of the time it comes from well, they are all perverts, still there, still the word pervert comes up. Still the word, which I can’t stand, taboo. Someone 9 times out of 10 will say well it is taboo isn’t it. And I say oh wow, sorry we don’t talk about race and nationality in our school because it is taboo? We don’t talk about disabilities because it is taboo?
So this very negative language still surrounds it and of course it steeped in the idea that it is about sex where really it is about different types of people. We are talking about equalities and who lives in our communities. When we talk about black history month do we talk about people having sex? And when we celebrate women’s history month do we think about women having sex? No we don’t. But as soon as we talk about LGBT stuff there is a thought process that goes around sex and that has come through in every meeting that I have delivered over the past what, 12 years. So there is still that fear factor and of course what has come up in a few interviews and the emails that we get back to us, you are teaching young kids how to have gay sex. You are like, gay sex? What is gay sex. Is that somehow different and what do you mean by that…

EB. Conversations where that does come up, then I have been prepared to go down that road and have those conversations with those people that have brought it up and it always comes back, well which part of sex are you talking about? Oh well, that bit of sex it is what they do, well who? Who and what do they do?
And as it turns out in several conversations, it’s what men do. Oh who gay men? Ah right, they are having anal sex. Ah right. That is a problem for you is it? Well yes, that is a problem. Oh anal sex, well doesn’t everyone have anal sex? Isn’t that just a sexual act that everybody does? What is the difference if two men are having anal sex because heterosexual couples do it as well. And lesbians, you know, and all sorts of couples of every combination, it is something that is available to everyone.
And that’s it, that’s what it is. And that is what I have found out through all my conversations with anyone that’s come to me with a problem, it’s been that. It’s been, you are going to make my child gay or trans by talking about it and as I explain, well we also study black history month and gypsy roman traveller month and women’s history month and none of us turn black, or into a gypsy or into women.
Amazing isn’t it ‘cos all we are doing is learning about different types of people we are going to meet in our lives and it is as simple as that. And it is with the whole, whole remit of treating everybody, guess what, equally and fairly so we can get that lovely land of social justice and I want to live in that land. And I do ask everyone all the time, do you want to live in this lovely land of social justice where everyone is treated equally and fairly. Who wants to live there? And everyone goes yes. Well if you want to live there then we have got to start treating all these people equally and fairly and not discriminating against sexual orientation and gender identity and don’t be scared of it. There is nothing to be scared of.

Q. Absolutely. So you touched on some of the homophobic, transphobic and biphobic sexists comments that the young people at the school would make and the barriers in place to teaching about it before 2003, but during your time in schools has there ever been any direct, purposeful homophobia or transphobia that you have experienced or witnessed? [2:24]
EB. Towards me?

Q. Either towards you or other people? [2:49]
EB. Yea, it is very casual though. It is that casual kind of use of language, you know? That kind of, it’s so gay, as a starting point, which is offensive to those who are LGBT+ in the room, general sexist comments within the classroom. I could see that young people were really struggling, you know. But equally on the side of that once you start talking about it, in lessons as well. There was also a level of uncomfortability for those young people as well and it was about, how do we move forward? How do we get out of this place? To get to a place where everybody is very comfortable. And it was very drip, drip and it took a really really long time.
So the starting point is to get rid of all that casual use of language and the nasty comments that the kids were getting quite blatantly and the comments I was getting and the abuse I was getting outside of school. Being shouted at by kids, ‘cos I came out in my school because I thought it was really important to come out.
Well, the way it happened I was just talking about the rainbow flag and I use to sing in a bar called Blush that was the lesbian bar in Stoke Newington.

Q. I am aware of it. [4:07]
EB. You’re aware of it! I believe it is gone now someone told me.

Q. It’s been gone now for a while. [4:12]
EB. Have we killed it? Oooh, the interrogation continues.

Q. Sorry about that, you were talking about blush [4:22]
EB. So as I started talking about the rainbow flag at an assembly the kids had seen me singing in there with a rainbow flag on the outside. As I was talking they kind of put the clues together. Oh so you sing in there… and that has got the flag …? Ohhh It was like that. It was a very sort of subtle I guess way of doing it. I just didn’t see it as a big deal, coming out. I was quite happy to come out and I have always thought it was really important. But what you are taking on with that is you are taking on a lot of responsibility and definitely need to be prepared for all the abuse you are going to get, verbally. Only verbal abuse that I got, nothing, no physical abuse whatsoever but not just from the kids but also from staff that found it uncomfortable as well and also from parents that found it uncomfortable. So you have got to ride through it and you can only do that with the help of everyone in your community so it is really important to me that all the staff in my school were supportive and I was so lucky that I worked with such an amazing staff body to eradicate all of that verbal abuse that was happening.
So we started it just with our year team so we focused just on our one year group because it was too big to start doing as a whole school. You got kids from the age of 11 to 18 and to break that down and what is happening out in the community is just too big to take on and clearly you can’t do that in an afternoon. It is going to take a while.
So I pretty much decided that we’d do it just as a year 7 project to start with and we’d have assemblies with our year groups. Which was a lot of kids to be fair, 240 kids in every year group. So that’s reaching a lot of their brothers and sisters its reaching a lot of their parents

[Brief break in the interview]

Q. There is quite a few things here, I don’t know which you would rather talk about in the time that we have, either your own experiences coming out and acceptance within the LGBT+ community, activism in general, if there was anything else you would like to add, I guess it is kind of up to you. I know the young people involved in this were really interested in your experiences of coming out and also LGBT+ and religious life. Which I thought was a really good question, but … [0:59]
EB. I guess, my coming out was boring. I guess I would like to talk about the sort of projects we did and how that brought together religion and that was part of it and all the shows and everything that we sort of got a lot of communities to come together and formed, so that was good. So I think I could probably cover those and all the activities that we did if I think about that.

Q. And what you actually did … [2:12]
EB. Yea I can put that into various nutshells. Right, ok I am going to put it into 5 areas, I will do it that way. Maybe that is the easiest way to explain it. I’ll try and incorporate all those things. Yea. Where should we start?
So we talked about language, that use of language being really important and letting people have their say ‘cos that is the only way I found that we could overcome all the barriers to it, because it was very closed. It was just, no. We can’t talk about this. So I wanted to open up those conversations and it soon became very apparent to me from working with the kids that the kids had absolutely no problem with it whatsoever.
The kids were really open and embracing of it right from the start and of course that probably has a lot to do with the media so there was more happening on the tv at that point and there is more newspaper articles, magazines, of course there is like artists, pop singers and all that, musicians of all sorts across the board that the kids saw on the telly.
So the kids were absolutely phenomenal and loved the work and got loads out of it but what quickly became apparent is the staff were not as comfortable and that to me is where one of the major barriers lay. Because potentially it could be a generational thing. I mean I wasn’t brought up, my background, complete silence around the whole thing. I didn’t particularly have a coming because it was something that no one talked about and no one knew anything about. It was only when I went to university when I was 18 that someone said, oh you are one of those, you are a lesbian, aren’t you? And I was like am I? What is that?
I’d been having relations with women for years but, so no one questioned it and no one really knew. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was so naïve. But it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world to be to have a relationship with a women and I didn’t know there was really a name for it until I went to uni.
So I can see from my own background being so ignorant and not knowing about it why potentially people my age who are teaching then, were not so uncomfortable talking about it. So it was important to train staff, it came through training staff. To get them to look at language, look at their policies in the schools that was massive, looking at the curriculum, what are we teaching? what are we saying?
Looking at the environment, well what are we saying on the notice boards, is there anything here that is telling us anything about diversity and equality or you know gender or sexual orientation as a whole. What are we doing in the community about it?, how are we engaging the parents?, ‘cos there are people out there. And as it turned out there happened to be a lot of people out there in Hackney that wanted to get involved.
So really for me it was a combination of setting up a teacher training program which fortunately my head teacher was very supportive of. So as soon as we got legislation in terms of the equality act in 2010, I then started rolling out teacher training. So that was teachers in Hackney, they could come to us our school anywhere actually, all around the country, advertised widely, and I rolled out CPD, Continuing Professional Development days for teachers using Stoke Newington school.
And also got asked to come into the Learning Trust to roll out some training there so we had a few sessions there over the years. So they became partners in the work so did the mayor and we began to get the community involved as well but holding LGBT History Month celebrations in the assembly rooms in the town hall. Which was fantastic.
So we linked up with Green Door which was a youth project, also the mayor of Hackney, Jules Pipe, The Learning Trust and the LGBT liaison officers from the police and looked at how we could get the community involved and fortunately the school that I came from was so fantastic for music, drama, performance in general we put on a massive show this was back in, oh gosh, what year would that be?
So we started in 2006, so we brought the kids down on what was great, we had one of the students who was clearly struggling with coming out in school and I asked him if he would sing. And I first he said I can’t, I am too scared. I don’t know if I can come out. It was that type of environment at the time and right at the last moment he went yes, I’ll do it, I’ll do it. I want to sing a George Michael song. He sang ‘An Easier Affair’, which is a song about coming out. And what was brilliant about that, he sang it, obviously we were very nervous for him, we didn’t know what was going to happen but he was just met with rapturous applause. All the kinds were like yes, come on, this is brilliant. So for him, in terms of his self-esteem and where he was at that point it was amazing and it fundamentally changed his relationship with the kids and the teachers after that one performance. Something as simple as that.
We got Mz Fontaine who was a rapper at the time. They transitioned, now a he and at the time was identifying as lesbian, but then said to the kids I am transitioning and there was just like, tumble weeds, weren’t quite sure what that was. And luckily Mz Fontaine explained what that was and then say a song to everyone and all the kids joined in, she worked the audience and it was just fantastic.
And we did projects within very specific subject areas within my year team. So I had a D&T [Design and Technology] teacher which was great, the D&T teacher got the kids to make the symbols connected with the LGBT community so like the lambda like the labrys or the transgender sign, the pink and black triangles which were put on the lesbians and gays in the prisoners of war camps. So we brought all of that rich history into the curriculum and the teacher, she asked the kids to make axes basically axes out of wood which was the labrys and one of the kids stood on stage and said ‘this is my lesbian axe and I am really proud that I have made this’ and he was just one of the most, phenomenal, and the kids, I was a music teacher at the time, so I did the choir, so we got the kids singing, Gonna take your momma out all night, wearing their feather boas, they also made rainbow umbrellas and all sorts of things to just hang, oh key rings was the main thing and the kids loved the key rings. So what we did then was that the kids bought the key rings.
English started looking at queer theory. Carol Anne Duffy is part of the anthology so looking at, how do you read this poem when you know it is written from a lesbian to a lesbian. Does it mean anything? Oh sorry, when you read this poem it is from a women to another women so how does it make you look at this any differently. And looking at Shakespeare’s sonnets, some of them were written from a man to a man, do you read it any differently?
In Maths we did lessons around statistics and percentages using LGBT data. Art lessons Grayson Perry was quite an important person, it was great. Is it George and Georges?

Q. Gilbert and George. [10:41]
EB. Thank you. So project around that just fantastic eclectic mix, so every subject area that was in the year team we did lessons and the kids responded to it positively, you know to that work, I saw the changes in the kids, they became so open and they were just really happy that we were talking about it.
And of course the knock on effect of that is more kids come out. And then you have got the lovely knock on effect of more teachers come out and then you get the parents that are LGBT coming into school saying can I help with this project and it just became this most beautiful warm sort of embodiment, I don’t know for me, it was such a magnificent time and it was so exciting to be like at the forefront of something so amazing because these are the things you can’t, it is so difficult to write this in words. ‘cos when they say, teaching is all about impact, isn’t, impact, how can you show that you have created change, well sometimes you can’t because it is a feeling

EB. The feeling is that there is all these people in this room and everyone is very happy to sit in the same room with each other and that is a lovely thing and it is bringing more people on board. So we suddenly had this fantastic mix of people that would come and help at all the events which then led to us going into more looking at faith and religion because that came up as a potential barrier for us.
So deliberately we did one of our LGBT History Months, I think it was 2008, at St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch who were incredibly supportive of the work and that made a massive difference and we followed that on with the launch of LGBT History month in November which we did at the Urswick School.
(Interruption) [0:47]

Q. I have a question. I have a friend who went to Stoke Newington School while you were teaching there and he started in about 2004, he was in that period and out of all of my friends he has the best story of growing up LGBT. The most uplifting etc. And he attributes it all to the school and personally the work that you did, that is the first time I heard your name. How long do you think it would take for his experience of growing up LGBT to transcend to not just other schools in London but to the rest of the country? [1:13]
EB. I totally believe it is a generational thing which is why right now it is so important, our number one goal is to focus right on nursery schools and primary schools right now. So we are completely interrogating the curriculum within the primary and early years so that generation will grow up without absolutely no sense of discrimination whatsoever. They are not going to have those outside influences on them because we have taken control of that within the education system because a lot of the kids that come to us by the age of eleven, it is too late. Their views, their young peoples’ views set really early on and it is very difficult to change those opinions and I know that we did, I know that we changed lots of kids opinions. I know that we changed lots of teachers’ opinions and parents and governors and everyone within the community because that is how powerful the message was.
But for us right now I wasn’t the next generation to grow up where it won’t, it will just be like, you know that lovely day of social justice, where it is just a non-issue and I can just be Elly you can just be Josh, you can just be Thea and we won’t have to identify with anything. So we won’t have to say oh we are queer, or lesbian or non-binary or we are this, you can just be yourself without any labels whatsoever and that is the day that I am working for. So if we can all just get on the rainbow bus and not stop driving until we all reach that lovely land of social justice, hooray, brilliant, get on the bus everybody.

Q. Will there still be rainbows there? [3:56]
EB. There will always be rainbows, rainbow touches everywhere.

Q. Finally from me, a bit cliché, I do apologise, but what would you say to a young person who is struggling with their gender identity, or their sexuality, right now in 2017? What would you say to them? [4:06]
EB. I’d be really sad that right now in 2017 if a young person was struggling. That’s a really sad thing that that might still be happening. But if it is I just want to reassure that young person that there is so much help.
Yes, so I would really just love to reassure that young person that there is so much help out there, you are going to have a youth group, an LGBT youth group around you. You have helplines you have just got to go on the internet, so something like Switchboard you can ring and call at any point. You can get in touch with us, we will come and help you in your schools so if there is any issue in your schools we will come in and work with the staff and make sure that every single policy within that school is updated. So your anti-bullying policy is dealing with HBT bullying. There is a gender neutral uniform, there is a healthy relationships education that is inclusive of talking about LGBT+ relationships and also there is an equality statement within that school. So we would work really hard with that person to make sure they are extremely happy. So please, please, please, go out there and be yourself at all times.

Q. I feel like there should be some specific Hackney question, but I can’t think of a good one. When you first moved to Hackney what was your favourite thing to do socially as an LGBT person? [5:46]
EB. You know what, when I first came to Hackney, the first bar I was introduced to was Blush and that was the lesbian bar and I pretty much say that the whole time that I was working in Hackney that most Friday nights we would be down because there was a karaoke night every Friday at Blush. And I absolutely loved it and that started off a lot of the work for us.
I was in a duo, so we sang within the bars and lots of different LGBT bars all over London but Blush was our spiritual home really and then I started the activist work and thankfully, Hackney, with its beautiful eclectic mix and all those beautiful people that came on board with the project we managed to go from the starting point in 2005 of literally just rolling out an assembly to 240 11-year olds to right now that we are established nationally and working outside of the UK charity that does now go and transform all schools and organisations into LGBT+ friendly places so what a leap. Thank you Hackney!

Q. Amazing, Fantastic. Thank you so much Elly. [7:23]


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