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LGBT+ Role Models – Bring Diverse Voices into the Classroom

LGBT+ Role Models

Written by Selena Whitehead – Education Manager

Bring new role models into your classroom this LGBT+ History Month. Use our free resource to start the discussion with your students.  Explore the stories of these amazing people and learn more about what they have achieved and how they have turned adversity into triumph.

Amazing People Schools primarily uses historical role models to explore not only their achievements but the character strengths that helped them overcome adversity and challenges. Our story world is packed with representatives from around the world, different walks of life and from different points in history. There are two key benefits using role models: as a way of bringing diversity into the classroom and secondly, they’re an ideal way to explore character strengths.

The first important aspect of using role models is to expose students to a diverse collection of inspirational trailblazers from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life. This month we are particularly looking at LGBT+ role models and we are offering a free resource to school to assist with this. This allows us to not only shine a light on the amazing historical achievements of mathematician Alan Turing and artist Frida Kahlo, but to also appreciate the amazing competitors Megan Rapinoe and Tom Daley as well as the contributions of the likes of April Ashley and James Baldwin.

The second benefit of using role models is to explore character. Through studying people, students can immerse themselves in their stories and explore the character strengths they recognise. Once students are familiar with examples of integrity, courage and resilience in a historical context the conversation is then easier to bring into everyday life. These historical inspirational characters act as a stepping-stone to considering contemporary figures, with students being more comfortable looking around public life and reflecting on where those strengths are being demonstrated and where they are lacking.

Our free resource provides examples of contemporary figures as well as crucially important activities and questions on character and identity.

You can’t be it if you can’t see it

In writing the resource celebrating LGBT+ achievers we wanted to achieve two things. Firstly to shine a light on these amazing people, and the brilliance they achieved. The second is to empower students to identify and develop a deeper understanding of character which can then lead to them actively using these strengths in real life, becoming more empathetic and open-minded to the prejudice and issues faced by LGBT+ people.

Celebrating LGBT+ Achievers

If you’re wanting to teach about LGBT+ issues during Pride month, or at any point, then bringing in inspirational trailblazers from history is essential. The characters we’ve included in this resource are both historical and contemporary, and come from different countries and walks of life. Here’s why your students would benefit from knowing their stories:

James Baldwin

This incredible African American writer worked with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights period in America in the 1960s. He wrote extensively about race and social issues and as a gay man he understood the complexities of being at the cross section of multiple prejudices. Introducing young people to his essays and books opens the important conversation surrounding that of racial issues, poverty and specifically faced by gay people.

Alan Turing

He is one of the amazing people celebrated in our story library. A passionately curious boy, he was instrumental in helping to crack the German codes which were being used to blow up Allied submarines. After the war he pioneered work in Artificial Intelligence, much of which is still being used today.

However, the world was a different place for gay men in the 1940/50’s. He was arrested for having a relationship with a man which led to his downfall from public life and ultimately his death in 1954. His story and that of the laws surrounding homosexuality are ones that students should be aware of. It is especially important for students to understand that there are still some countries where people do not have the same rights to freedom of sexuality as they do in Western countries.

Task: Ask your students if they think this law was fair? Turing had helped so much in the war. Should he have been prosecuted for his relationship? Can your students find out what has happened to Alan Turing’s legacy since the change of law in the UK?

Megan Rapinoe

This incredible athlete is an inspiration to many. She has captained the US football team whilst staying true to herself and campaigning for LGBT+ rights. When she was growing up there was a lot of drug abuse amongst young people in her area. Playing soccer was one way to get away from this. In addition to soccer, she has campaigned for fairness in the treatment of all.

Frida Kahlo

An influential Mexican artist, political activist and feminist, who was attracted to both men and women. She contracted polio as a child which left her with a withered leg and later, a traffic accident left her bed-ridden for many months. Perhaps because of the physical hardships she endured, when her own work started to be recognised, she became her own unique voice and lived by her own rules.

April Ashley

Trans trailblazer who was a model and actress, she was the second person in the UK to have gender reassignment surgery. At that time secrecy was essential as it was illegal in the UK under the so-called ‘mayhem’ laws, which involved the deliberate maiming of another person. At the time of her surgery she said:

“I know more than anyone how people can judge, but I also know if you are true to yourself, that’s all that matters.”

April Ashley

Task: Ask your students to research the laws which meant it was illegal to conduct gender reassignment surgery in the UK in the mid C20th. What other laws have impacted LGBT+ people?

Tom Daley

The British Olympian diver has been in the public eye since making his Olympic debut at the tender age of 14. He was bullied in school and feared the repercussions of revealing his sexuality. He came out as gay in 2013 and is now married and a father to his son Robert Ray Black-Daley. Named after Tom’s Dad, Rob, who sadly passed away from a brain tumour in 2011.

“I feel incredibly proud to say I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion. When I was younger, I thought I was never going to be anything or achieve anything because of who I was. To be an Olympic champion now shows that you can achieve anything”.

Tom Daley

Tom has gone on to win Olympic medals, including Gold in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He also works with numerous charities, including The Brain Tumour Charity and London Pride.

Task: Can your students name the character strengths Tom Daley might have needed to use to help him through tough times in his personal and professional life? Have they experienced any similar issues themselves?

Using Character to Explore LGBT+

Having discovered a variety of LGBT+ role models teachers can explore different character strengths. The following are a few ideas to get you started:

Humility

Keeping a modest opinion of ourselves involves listening to others and understanding different words and terms. For example, what does LGBT+ stand for?

Courage

Being an ally means not only judging someone yourself, but also sticking up for them if they are being bullied. Can you find examples of people from outside the LGBT+ community who have acted as allies in action?

Open-mindedness

We live in diverse communities, meaning our world and our schools are made up of lots of different people. How can we celebrate all our differences?

Fairness

Some families have two dads, and some have two mums. Why is it unfair to treat people differently because of who they fall in love with, or who is in their family?

Use Role Models to Explore Character

This blog set out to explore why it is important to raise awareness of the achievements of key trailblazers, both from history and modern life. Bringing diversity into the classroom and telling the stories of different people increases empathy and tolerance. Using those stories to explore character is a key tool in delving into different character strengths. Starting with historical figures can be an easier way to discuss character but once done students are encouraged to consider current role models and those, they see around them, who can be said to be ‘everyday amazing’.

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