Stories + Views
Celebrating Diversity at Stoke Newington School
“Stoke Newington schoolkids are marching in Clissold Park for gay rights! “I blew them a kiss and shed a little tear” tweeted @sioframacherie this afternoon. It is LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender) week at Stoke Newington School. The whole of Year 8 had spent the day creating banners and other materials and this afternoon the whole year, over 200 students, walked round the local park displaying their messages.
“When we walked into the park the first person we saw was an elderly man walking his dog”, explained Elly Barnes – the teacher who co-ordinates LBGT week at the school. “He burst into tears when he saw us. I talked to him and he explained ‘Iwas on the very first Gay Liberation demonstration in this country in 1970. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would see this sight.’”
Tonight was the school’s annual LBGT celebratory concert. Now concerts at Stoke Newington School are always great events, with the students enthusiastically cheering each other on and showing huge support even when their colleagues get things wrong. But tonight was especially inspiring and moving. Musical performances alternated with student drama and examples of the work they have been doing.
A Year 7 student explained how they had been working in ICT on Alan Turing, a key part of the codebreaking team at Bletchley Park and held by many to be the father of modern computing. He was arrested for being gay in 1952, forced to take hormone tablets and committed suicide in 1954.
The Head of PE presented six members of the girls’ Rugby team, some of whom play for Middlesex, and talked about how the school’s first LGBT week had led him to challenge stereotypes in sport. Five years on the school has had champion girls teams in Rugby, Football, Basketball and Cricket.
There was a special guest appearance from paralympics athlete Clare Harvey, who captained Scotland at Rugby before a horrific bicycle accident confined her to a wheelchair. Now she is part of UK’s floor volleyball team, getting up at 4.30 each morning for intensive training. She talked about the decision about whether to keep her sexual orientation hidden and live a lie in public or be open about being a Lesbian.
This was a local community school at its absolute best. It was a celebration of diversity and a call to support all our students for who they are, and for all of us to be proud of who we are. Banners round the hall, made by the students, carried messages like “No matter who we are, we are all human” and “Some people are gay. Get over it.”
It made me very proud to be associated with the school (as a parent and a governor) and hoping that, in all the changes being introduced, this crucial work not only continues but expands.
Postscript, 19th March 2011
This article prompted Toby Young to write a mocking piece on the Spectator web site, and then to a range of other articles.
Click here for Toby’s Spectator piece, which includes some great responses from staff, parents and students in support of the school. He then wrote a further article in the Telegraph, attacking those who had disagreed with him.
To find out more about LGBT week at Stoke Newington School, read this inspiring and moving interview with teacher Elly Barnes, who is responsible for the work. Also useful is the information on the school’s own web-site. And this is an article from the Guardian in October 2010 in praise of Elly’s EGBT work. Earlier this year Pink News wrote about David Cameron’s support for LGBT week.
For further reactions:
Francis Gilbert responded to Toby’s article with ‘Its not only left-wing nutters that believe in great local schools for all‘ on this site.
An ex-student wrote “In defence of LGBT month” in Liberal Conspiracy. Duncan Evans asked for an apology from Toby Young on For What its Worth. This article appeared in Labour Teachers, criticising Toby’s “crass assumptions”. SoSoGay commented that Toby Young continues to lose friends and alienate people.