Supporting LGBTI+ Students

Image of person who wrote the blog.
Helen Gallagher, Art teacher, Moville Community College.

Supporting our LGBTI+ students in our schools, FET Centres and services is an important aspect of our work. But how do we do this? In this blog, our Moville Community College Art teacher Helen Gallagher tells us what her school does.

At a Donegal ETB school Principals meeting in 2013, Principals were informed of research on Ireland’s LGBTI+ community. BelongTo, the national organisation supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI+) young people in Ireland, sought two schools to take part in a pilot project to raise awareness of LGBTI+ issues and how they could be addressed in second level schools. Moville Community College volunteered to be part of the pilot. The project was led within the school by Guidance Counsellor, Sinead McCarron who led a BelongTo pilot ‘safe and supportive schools’ programme. The aim was to educate staff and students about LGBTI+ issues in schools and to show how a school community can help and support all students. In addition to this training, school management also brought back a past student who, since leaving school, had come out as gay, to guide and advise us.

As a staff member who took part in the training, I cannot express just how powerful I felt it was. It was thought provoking and emotional and had a genuinely profound effect on many of us.

It was a topic of conversation for many weeks and as a staff we made the decision to be more visual and active in our support for LGBTI+ students. The student council got on board as did the wellbeing committee and others. all guided by the school’s supportive staff and management.

Two flags on flagpoles.We began by displaying the LGBTI+ flag during Stand Up Awareness Week in November and looking at just how we could address and support these issues within our classes. Each department in the school looked at how they could address the issues particularly during Stand Up Awareness Week and this was supported but our SPHE/CSPE coordinator Noreen Meehan. The History Department talked about LGBTI+ history, the English Department looked at LGBTI+ writers etc. The SPHE classes were introduced to LGBTI+ issues and in Art they created artwork to display around the school.

As an art teacher myself I can recall the first big project we began. I had been

Art on a wall.
Art work on a school wall.

debating about which groups I would involve. I am aware that young people can be quite uncomfortable with teachers talking about these things but I had to start somewhere so I chose a Junior Cycle class and had accepted that it might be a disaster. I began by speaking about friendship, looking after each other, fear in a new school, feeling different and eventually spoke about LGBTI+ itself. I was so impressed and inspired with how these students dealt with it. I asked for them to create two to three large graffiti style artwork pieces to display. They worked tirelessly to get them completed including sacrificing lunch times to get them finished for the end of the school year. When the following academic year began our caretakers had already framed them and displayed them in the upper floor of our upper building. They were a colourful and meaningful sight to behold.

And that was the beginning of our journey.

Open umbrellas hanging from a ceiling.
Rainbow umbrellas on display at Moville Community College.

Since then we have created LGBTI+ zebra crossings in our corridors to show that our school is a safe place, distributed rainbow wrist bands to show support, arranged for rainbow manicures and make up for Stand Up Awareness Week. We have displayed our collection of rainbow umbrellas to represent protection and have created a framed piece of LGBTI+ icons. We have also painted windows during Stand Up Awareness Week, along with many other events, projects and classes.

The important thing in our school is that we always had the unwavering support from management. We are permitted to order whatever is needed to help celebrate Stand Up Awareness Week every November. We have welcomed students’ ideas of what they wanted to see in our school. When a request was made to acquire the Transgender flag to show inclusivity it was immediately purchased and we have created more and more artwork, projects and displays to increase the level of education and awareness in our school.

Last year we were able to have our very first LGBTI+ group within the school and this year the students involved were central in deciding on our LGBTI+ events over Stand Up Awareness Week.

Staff continue to celebrate the LGBTI+ community very visually too while wearing LGBTI+ ally lanyards all year round and ally badges on our coats. Last year we chose outfits in the rainbow colours during Stand Up Awareness Week.

All of these efforts leave no one in any doubt that in the eyes of the management and staff of Moville Community College, the LGBTI+ community are accepted, seen and equal.

Group of people standing side by side.
Teachers wearing rainbow jumpers.