LGBTQIA+ young people are three times more likely to have an eating disorder; they’re also twice as likely to contemplate suicide, and they feel less safe at school (58%) when compared to non-LGBTQIA+ peers (73%). These statistics are alarming, right? Coming across this data during Pride Month in 2021 is shocking, to say the least.
Thanks to Just Like Us, an LGBTQIA+ charity that supports young people, this information is being shared to bring awareness of the numerous issues the community faces. We spoke to Amy Ashenden, Head of Communications – responsible for promoting the organisation across all their channels – to understand more about their work and what we can do to help. Just Like Us works with schools and universities educating, and ensuring they are safe and welcoming towards the LGBTQIA+ community. It was founded by a desire to make long-term and positive change in the lives of a community that still has a tough time being accepted and respected. They have many different initiatives in which people can participate, like Pride Groups and School Diversity Week. Pride Groups focus on training educators and school staff to support pupils in establishing and running these groups, creating a student-led safe and welcoming space for LGBTQIA+ pupils and allies. This helps make schools and universities more inclusive and provide support all year-round – including online during the pandemic.
We want to shed a special light on School Diversity Week, which in 2020 reached 1.97 million pupils. This year, from the 21st until the 25th of June, thousands of primary, secondary schools and colleges across the UK will be involved. Just Like Us provides the resources institutions might need, and team up with them to develop creative ways to celebrate diversity and inclusivity in an educational environment. It’s a free initiative open to any school that wants to take part and provides masterclasses, talks, and events tailored for different age groups. This year’s topics include LGBTQIA+ history, faith and being LGBTQIA+, and being your authentic self, to name a few. It’s easy and quick to sign up as an organisation – all via an online form – and as a student – you can use an email template Just Like Us has on its website too to send to anyone you’d like to recommend it to.
“At Just Like Us, we’d love all primary schools, secondary schools and colleges across the UK to take part in School Diversity Week – it’s really important to Just Like Us that the burden doesn’t fall heavily on school staff who are already under immense pressure, so we provide all the resources you’ll need. For change to happen, schools simply need to let their pupils know that: LGBT+ people exist and that’s OK. Celebrating LGBT+ equality in primary schools is all about acknowledging and celebrating different types of families, such as having lesbian mums” says Amy Ashenden.
It’s not always easy for pupils to get help from their schools, so initiatives like these are vital to educating teachers and school staff on how to deal and point a direction to those in need. The organisation’s latest independent research found that pupils whose schools had positive messaging about being LGBTQIA+ had reduced suicidal thoughts and feelings – regardless of whether they were part of the community or not. This shows how critical inclusive education is for everyone’s well-being.
Having a supportive and encouraging family is another important aspect of the journey. A study published in 2010 in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing established, for the first time, a link between accepting family attitudes and behaviours towards LGBTQIA+ children and significantly decreased risk and better overall health in adulthood – making it clear educating families is a vital part of the acceptance process in our society. This isn’t only crucial for families that have an LGBTQIA+ relative but for all families, as learning to accept differences in people is the only way forward. Another way of working together with Just Like Us is through their Ambassadors programme. Helping spread awareness about the issues the community faces and community issues, the ambassadors are volunteers aged 18-25 years old who provide community support, career mentoring and training to speak in secondary schools about their experience and how to be an ally. Last year saw a rise in people wanting to become volunteers for Just Like Us, doing their part in making education more inclusive and helping however they could. They are always looking for volunteers, so sign-up on their website if this interests you.
The talks around diversity, inclusivity, gender and race issues ignited last year by protests worldwide are just the beginning of much-needed reform and debate. This is why any and every opportunity for members of these communities to be celebrated and encouraged to speak matter a great deal and why Pride Month is so meaningful.
If you’re struggling with mental health issues, related or not to being part of the LGBTQIA+ community, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Just Like Us doesn’t provide mental health services but recommends speaking to Childline for help and support. The organisation Papyrus also has an open line for anyone that needs help.