Shaun Dellenty

SHAUN DELLENTY
Founder of Inclusion for All
From the IFA website: “The journey to this website began one day in May 1987, aged 17 when I walked out of state education with the full intention of taking my own life. Having known I was gay from an early age, years of ‘drip feed’ homophobic messages and bullying from some of those closest to me, some of the media, some of my peers, some of my teachers, some politicians and some faith leaders all contributed to me forming the conclusion that my very presence on planet Earth was unwanted, bogus, irrelevant and perhaps even evil. Sitting on the side of a bath tub that day with a rusted razor blade and a Martini bottle a chorus of internalised messages and voices urged me to end my life. Yet amongst the multitude of voices came a whisper of hope, a fleeting thought that if I made a choice to stay on this beautiful planet, perhaps one day there would come a time when people such as me, born more attracted to those of the same sex than the opposite, would find a time and place where we truly and authentically belonged.

So I made a choice to try and fight on, yet tragically many young people around the world are not so fortunate in finding this glimmer of hope.

By 2009, I was working as a school leader in a very inclusive inner city London school. In November that year, the school undertook pupil questionnaires around bullying and prejudicial language. Questionnaires also went to teachers, asking them questions about their own confidence in preventing bullying.

The resulting data delivered a shocking message; 75% of pupils in and around the school were experiencing direct homophobic bullying and language on a daily basis. The same number were also hearing the word ‘gay’ used to describe something or somebody as rubbish, uncool and without worth. 0% of staff felt they had been given training to prevent and tackle this. At this point sexual orientation was not included in the UK Equality Act (as it is now) nor were Her Majesty’s schools inspectorate OFSTED actively seeking out good practice in these areas as they would by 2013. I tried to place this pupil data within the context of racism and urged staff to consider how the school would act upon similar data for racist bullying; we would not hesitate to act upon it in our assemblies, teaching and learning and our use of role models. Surely then for bullying related to sexual orientation we owed it to our children to adopt the same urgent response to homophobia or risk putting young lives at risk?

Over Christmas 2010 I wrote the Inclusion for All (IFA) teacher training program using my experiences as a bullying survivor, as a class-teacher, as a part-time education consultant, as a school leader and as a concerned human being who wants the best for all, not merely some of our school children. It was apparent from our pupil data that bullying related to sexual orientation could be targeted at anyone, whether LGBT+ or not; it was also clear that these kind of bullying behaviours could also harm anyone with LGBT+ friends and family. IFA emerged after 15 years of me working in U.K. schools, during which time I had witnessed school leaders, staff and governors unable or unwilling to pro-actively tackle LGBT+ bullying. Most schools simply lacked the relevant training and in primary schools there was a palpable sense that children were somehow ‘too young’ to know about LGBT+ people. In 15 years in UK schools I had witnessed first hand some school leaders and teachers ignoring homophobic bullying and condoning homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language by using it themselves. I saw some gay teachers living in fear of being ‘outed’ living inauthentic lives and I saw some brave ‘out’ LGBT+ teachers being openly bullied by parents, pupils and even their colleagues with no managerial support.

I will never accept the view that political, personal or theological beliefs should enable discrimination towards children and young people of any identity. Article 2 of the UN Convention of Human Rights of the child states that the convention applies to children ‘without discrimination’ whilst Article 28 states that all children and young people have a ‘right to an education’. Article 30 states that children of minorities have a right to learn and use the customs and identity of their own family, this means that LGBT+children and those with LGBT+ families have a right to be included, authentic, represented in our schools. Preventing LGBT+ bullying is not about promotion, instead it is education and information about the rich diversity of human existence. LGBT+ people exist and they are a fact of life.

The UK Equality Act 2010 provides a legal requirement for all schools (including those of faith) to tackle all forms of bullying, including bullying related to sexual orientation and gender identity. There is also an expectation for schools to pro-actively promote and foster good relations between those in our school communities that fall under the nine protected equality act characteristics – including sexual orientation and gender identity. It is important to note that under the current OFSTED criteria, schools are expected to show how they are fostering good relations and pro-actively tackling all forms of bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.

After IFA had very positive impact in my own school on all types of prejudice related bullying it made sense for me to start offering IFA out to other schools (on a not for profit basis) and to other interested organisations. The first schools to accept IFA were a special school and a pupil referral unit in Southwark. Very quickly the National College, Stonewall and the Department For Education wanted to know more about IFA’s ground-breaking vision (especially in primary schools) and I was invited to speak at national workshops and conferences. Press interest was positive and rapid, articles about IFA’s work in primary and secondary schools soon appeared in a variety of national newspapers and education journals. I began to deliver training across the rest of the UK, in the form of workshops, twilights, one day regional ‘pop up conferences’ in addition to running three IFA teacher ,training days in my own school involving pupils and other staff members to share good practice. This work was awarded the Southwark Good Practice Award in 2013 and I was voted one of the ‘101 most influential LGBT figures in the UK’ by readers of the Independent on Sunday in 2012 and 2013. Soon I found myself appearing on national and children’s television, on the radio and writing and blogging for the national press including The Guardian, The Huffington Post and Gay Star News. In the absence of profit or formal funding I used You Tube, blogging and free social media to try and facilitate political and educative change and change in wider communities. I was surprised to find my work increasing reported around the world and many private messages seeking help via this very website taught me that with very limited funds, any human being can make a difference, however small that might be. In 2012 my story and IFA work informed the production of the play ‘Hero’ by EV Crowe at the Royal Court Theatre In London. In 2014 I delivered training to delegates from the House of Commons and in the years following I was twice been invited to speak at Education Committees.Since 2013 I have supported the Amnesty UK teachers program in preventing LGBT+ bullying. In 2015 this website was recommended in the Church of England’s anti LGBT bullying resource; I was invited to launch this alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury on national television In 2015 I was ‘Highly Commended’ at the National Excellence In Diversity Awards. As of Spring 2016 I have trained over 7,800 UK teachers alone and told my story to around 6,000 students in UK schools. In addition I have now worked with all of the main teaching unions, teacher training providers, national anti-bullying organisations, child protection organisations such as the NSPCC in addition to providing training for non educational organisations such as banks, police and NHS. I also speak at LGBT+ Pride events across the UK and increasingly abroad.

IFA is not a full time occupation, nor it is actually my job-I am currently a full time Deputy Headteacher of a primary (elementary) school in London, England. I am blessed with a Headteacher Stuart Hayter and a board of school governors who currently share and inform my vision. Some of my work takes place during my working week in the form of release time; much of it takes place at evenings, school holidays and weekends. IFA is mostly funded from my own pocket, money for events during school hours are used to back-fill my role; paid work undertaken outside of the school day is not undertaken for profit but is used to promote IFA and to maintain an online presence.

Finally I just want to share with you one more thing; since I first put my head above the parapet back in 2009 on these issues, so many of you have taken the time to write to me, Tweet, email or speak to me at conferences or even in the shop or restaurant to share your own experiences of being bullied or your own concerns. Where time allows I endeavour to reply to as many as I can in person. I want you to know that each story touches me and makes me even more determined to make a difference, not just for the sake of children and young people in schools now but also for generations of children and young people yet to come.The timeframe of the stories you have kindly shared with me over the past four years stretches out from the early 1900s to the present day; horrific, heart-breaking stories of bullying, self-harm, suicide and so many lives young and old blighted in passage through our education systems whilst governments and schools failed to act.

In 1968 I was born as an optimistic, happy and loving gay child onto this beautiful planet but years of homophobic bullying and the homophobic messages I internalised from my peers, adults, the media and some politicians and some people of faith made me hate myself, cut myself and want to end my life. I hold no anger, no judgement, but I want to try to ensure in my own small way and with my limited means that no child suffers in this way again in our schools. If this sounds like you now, please reach out for help and I beg of you, do not lose hope-there can and will be a better place for you and I want you there to see it.

IFAThank you for your interest and your support; feel free to join me on Twitter @ShaunDellenty and my blog can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/shaun-dellenty/

If would like to offer support, to donate or to volunteer for IFA please get in touch shaun@inclusionforall.co.uk

Be kind, be safe, be authentic, be proud, be you. Keep hopeful.

Love and respect – Shaun Dellenty Spring 2016.”

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