In celebration of LGBT+ History Month 2016, Ayrshire College’s Equality and Inclusion Officer Sara Turkington has agreed to share her thoughts with us.
Sara has been instrumental in organising a number of important LGBT+ initiatives through her work at Ayrshire College and as the College’s representative on the Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group.
Thanks to her efforts, and the efforts of the Equality and Inclusion team, the Ayrshire College Student Association and the aforementioned Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group, Ayrshire College received award nominations in the Equality Initiative of the Year category at Equality Network’s LGBTI Awards 2015.
Growing up my heroes were male or teenage mutant ninja turtles – they certainly weren’t gay.
Born in 1982, and with a tomboy persuasion, my family TV was always tuned into programmes like the A-Team, MacGyver, He-Man and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I also spent hours practising ‘that kick’ from the Karate Kid. They were my heroes because, well, they were heroes. They always defeated enemies or overcame hurdles; MacGyver had the brains and He-Man had the brawn. And they almost always saved or won the girl or had a female companion who wasn’t quite as strong or as clever as them.
Okay, there was Princess She-Ra, twin sister of He-Man, but, for me, she still embodied powerful cues about what it meant to be female. Let’s face it, Princess She-Ra was like a really strong Barbie – blonde, thin and immaculate at all times. Honestly, I was happy being a tomboy. Being a girl? No thanks. These characters taught me that.
33 years on, the undercurrent of heteronormativity which also accompanied these TV programmes still arguably exists in some form or another and permeates throughout all aspects of our everyday lives. I didn’t realise it when I was younger, but now I know that ‘who’ I am in terms of both my gender and sexual orientation weren’t portrayed as ‘good’ or ‘desirable.’ And that was difficult.
Times have changed, I don’t doubt that. But I am not a young person who has to contend with having language like ‘that’s so gay’ said to them or around them in their most frequented spaces such as school or college. In 2014, for example, Stonewall Scotland’s ‘The teacher’s report’ found that 91% of secondary staff in Scottish schools hear pupils use expressions like ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’.
Such acceptance of this language does not betray the fact it is homophobic – irrespective of how it is meant or whether or not it is directed at someone who is gay or lesbian.
We all have a responsibility to challenge this, especially those of us working in the education sector when we know gender and sexual orientation are still major factors in determining or at least most certainly impacting upon educational experience.
Having first started working in education almost 10 years ago, I never imagined I would become a champion of LGBT+ equality. I am immensely proud to be part of a college which takes LGBT+ inclusion very seriously.
We, for the first time in Ayrshire, with our partners in the Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group, held LGBT Conversation Cafes in our Ayr, Kilmarnock and Kilwinning campuses in February 2015.
Having grown up and lived in North Ayrshire for most of my life, I knew how significant these cafes were in bringing people together to discuss and make better the experiences of LGBT people living, working or studying in Ayrshire.
As I introduced the Café at Kilwinning campus, I saw faces who, I believe, wanted to make a difference to the lives of LGBT people. These were the faces I wanted to see when I was younger; the faces who would have told me it was okay to be gay.
The Cafes told us that the education sector as a whole, despite some examples of good practice across Ayrshire, was still a difficult experience especially schooling education.
The College was marked out as being a more supportive environment in comparison, however key points were still raised about the visibility of LGBT role models, the availability of LGBT literature and a more confident staff team equipped with the knowledge and skills to support LGBT students.
Since then, we have been proactive in addressing these and I am especially pleased that we continue to be innovative in achieving many firsts; a trans awareness webinar on GLOWTV, a non-binary webinar on both GLOWTV and College Development Network (CDN) and LGBT student forums to name a few.
We are also developing ever stronger relationships with our local schools such as Kilwinning Academy.
Recently myself and Oceana from Scottish Transgender Alliance (STA) facilitated LGBT+ training to Kilwinning Academy’s teaching staff. This was not only personally an important moment but one too which demonstrated the College can positively support others in being LGBT+ inclusive environments with the effects potentially felt much wider in the local communities of Ayrshire. I thank Kilwinning Academy for this opportunity as well as their determination to successfully support their LGBT+ pupils and staff.
Our commitment to the wider community will also further be demonstrated in the upcoming ‘Translating LGBT+’ Conference on Monday the 29th of February.
With all 100 attendees’ spaces now taken, the College as a member of the Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group, have achieved yet another first – an LGBT+ conference in Ayrshire. And so whilst I may channel my childhood heroes on the day as I co-facilitate one of the workshops, I will be proud to be female and gay knowing that real heroes celebrate diversity and promote acceptance, understanding and tolerance of all.
The Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group is a multi-agency partnership of Ayrshire College, NHS Ayrshire & Arran, East, North and South Ayrshire Councils, Police Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Third sector organisations, including Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), Break the Silence and LGBT Youth Scotland. The group work together to improve the experiences of LGBT+ people living, working or studying in Ayrshire.