is a celebration in the UK that takes place annually in February. It is a month-long event which aims to increase the visibility of LGBTQIA+ people within education by commemorating the past experiences of LGBTQIA+ people and ensuring important events and issues are explored and highlighted.
In this article, we speak to colleagues including our Pride Network co-chair, David Wikramaratna, and Jill Duffy, Chief Executive, OCR and Executive Sponsor of the Pride Network, about their personal experiences of learning about LGBTQIA+ themes at school, and their views on why the inclusion of these topics is so important.
...the power of knowing that you aren’t alone, and that there are other people like you out there in the world is powerful and inspiring
“It can be hugely inspirational when we see people like ourselves succeed”, said David Wikramaratna, Cambridge University Press & Assessment Pride Network co-chair.
“Seeing and hearing people who share your characteristics can be extraordinarily validating. As a child on a journey of self-discovery, the power of knowing that you aren’t alone, and that there are other people like you out there in the world is powerful and inspiring.”
He added: “I have been one of those people, trying to work out who I am and where I fit in in society. When I was younger most of my own exposure to LGBTQIA+ culture at the time was through magazines and the internet. Seeing celebrities like Russell Tovey and Ian McKellen as ‘out’ gay men helped cement my own understanding of myself, starting my own journey to self-acceptance. Others I have spoken to in my capacity as co-chair of the Pride Network have not been so lucky – it took them a long time into adulthood to realise their true identity, partly because they didn’t realise that people like them existed.
“Many wonder what the impact of schools talking more about LGBTQIA+ people throughout the curriculum, in a routine and matter-of-fact way, might have had on their own lives. The history of LGBTQIA+ people and their oppression by others around the world is a colossal anthology of stories of people which LGBT+ History Month aims to celebrate. There are documented instances of LGBTQIA+ people in cultures around the world being welcomed and celebrated, as well as demonised, criminalised or even executed throughout documented recordings.”
I don’t recall LGBTQIA+ topics or people being mentioned, nor were there specific role models to look up to.
Benjamin van Wijngaarden, Delivery Manager within the Cambridge Dictionary Programme, grew up in the Netherlands and went to primary school there from 1988-1997 and secondary school from 1997-2003. He said: “My primary school was a Catholic school, which may have influenced the lack of LGBTQIA+ inclusiveness in my education there. I don’t recall LGBTQIA+ topics or people being mentioned, nor were there specific role models to look up to.”
In secondary school Benjamin recalls it was a topic that was implicitly addressed, for example in teaching about figures from history that were known or alleged to be LGBTQIA+. He said: “There was a philosophy teacher who, I realise in hindsight, was gay, but he never spoke about it. The only explicit references to LGBTQIA+ people were during sex education, but even then, it was more as an aside, like a flavour on a menu. The word ‘gay’ was used a pejorative among students, which in my experience was tolerated to a high extent. In contrast, bullying for more overt reasons, like being LGBTQIA+ was addressed quite well, the caveat being that very few kids were out openly. Things like and rainbow alliances weren’t around, but it’s common now, which is great, and I know I would’ve benefitted from these kinds of initiatives.”
LGBT+ History Month has always been right up my street. It’s also an important corrective.
Ian McIver, Content Team Lead and Pride Network Committee Researcher, has always been interested in history and said: “LGBT+ History Month has always been right up my street. It’s also an important corrective. I don’t recall any meaningful discussion of LGBTQIA+ history, culture or relationships during my schooling in Scotland, although Section 28 had been repealed before I started high school. If you heard the word ‘gay’ at my school, it was probably being used pejoratively. What little I learned about queer history then was just snippets picked up from independent reading. Looking back on my schooling makes me even more pleased that Scotland became the first country in the world to embed LGBT+ inclusive education across the school curriculum in 2021, following a campaign by (TIE). I think this will open up space for a lot of important conversations, and will help foster empathy, self-discovery and a more inclusive culture in schools. LGBTQIA+ children deserve the chance to learn about people like themselves.”
...history is for everyone, and everyone should be able to see themselves in the story
Making our products diverse and inclusive is important to Jill Duffy, Chief Executive of our UK exam group OCR and Executive Sponsor of the Pride Network. She said: “I believe history is for everyone, and everyone should be able to see themselves in the story. As an exam board, OCR has a part to play in broadening the history that young people study at GCSE and A Level. We want school history to be more inclusive so all students can see their identity and we stop marginalising the histories of groups of people. OCR has made some good progress at GCSE; we were the first exam board to include the and our , which has diversity as a guiding principle, includes lots of opportunities for LGBTQIA+ history within popular topics such as Living Under Nazi Rule. At A Level, where we give students the chance to choose a personal investigation in their coursework, topics such as the influence of the film industry on LGBT+ rights and Alan Turing now feature regularly. Students can research questions such as ‘How far was equality for homosexual people in Britain advanced between 1967 and 2014?’”
Benjamin says the huge reward of LGBTQIA+ inclusive education is normalising it from an early age: “For the LGBTQIA+ child this helps them to grow up being comfortable with their identity, and for others it helps them to see it as a natural part of who people can be. Simple things like LGBTQIA+ examples in learning materials really make a difference. I’d have loved to learn about the historic struggle for LGBTQIA+ rights, especially as the , when I was in secondary school. It would have made for fascinating contemporary education.”
I wonder how much quicker I would have accepted my own identity if I had been shown examples of queer people throughout history.
Another colleague, said: “When I started secondary school in 2005 it had only been two years since (a series of laws that banned local authorities and schools from 'promoting homosexuality’) had been repealed. These laws had deprived generations of LGBTQIA+ pupils the chance of seeing people like them in the books, plays, leaflets or films their schools could stock or show. Teachers weren’t allowed to teach about same-sex relationships and anyone who broke the law could face disciplinary action.
"While LGBQIA+ students were protected from bullying, the content taught in classes was missing examples of LGBTQIA+ people. I wonder how much quicker I would have accepted my own identity if I had been shown examples of queer people throughout history.”
Highlighting the discrimination that still exists today, David said: “There are 71 countries worldwide that criminalise same-sex activity between men, half of which draw their legacy from laws imposed by the British Empire in the 1800s. Forty-three countries go further by criminalising same sex acts between women, and 11 countries still list the death penalty as punishment for consensual acts between two men or two women. Of those 11, six continue to implement this policy. Fifteen countries also criminalise the gender identity or expression of transgender people. Beyond these legal frameworks, LGBTIQIA+ people continue to be harassed, bullied, and discriminated just for being themselves, even in countries like the UK. While talking more about the history of the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights and LGBTQIA+ figures in history won’t necessarily change the adversity people face, it might provide that spark of inspiration that helps people realise who they are and inspire them to keep fighting for true equality.”
LGBTQIA+ people have always been present in human society all around the globe, no matter how hard people might try to deny our existence or claim that being LGBTQIA+ is a new phenomenon
Since leaving school, David has read about a huge number of different historical figures who were LGBTIQIA+ including Irene Clyde, Emperor Hadrian, Alan Turing, John Maynard Keynes, and Lucy Hicks Anderson. He said: “Speaking and learning about this history, both the good and the bad, is vital to all. What is clear from even very brief searches online, and in archives and books, is that LGBTQIA+ people have always been present in human society all around the globe, no matter how hard people might try to deny our existence or claim that being LGBTQIA+ is a new phenomenon. While situations are improving for some LGBTQIA+ people worldwide, it is important to remember just how recent these improvements have been, how hard LGBTQIA+ activists and groups have had to fight for basic civil rights and dignity, and to prevent society from taking steps backwards. The names above are barely scratching the surface, and I encourage you to spend some time this month looking into different historic notable events, and sharing them with others, if you feel comfortable – what you find out might amaze you!”
Although there's more that we can do to make history more inclusive, with the help of experts we’re working hard to bring LGBT+ history into the classroom.