My name’s Hazel and I’m Co Chair of the Respect network, as well as the Co-op Partnership Manager working with our Co-op Academies. As part of National Inclusion Week I wanted to share why this week is important to me.
I’ve been involved with the Respect network since last July, but have been passionate about equality and diversity since university. Moving away from home gave me the space to start to be myself and explore who I truly was.
School was a difficult place
I decided not to come out at school. I was too scared because I’d seen others braver than me be ‘out and proud’ and get physically and verbally bullied both in school and on the way home.
I spent my school years feeling like I needed to hide my true self, and I know that both my studies and self-esteem were hugely affected as a result.
It was a difficult time for schools, because of Section 28, which prohibited the promotion of homosexuality in schools. This meant that schools felt they couldn’t challenge homophobic bullying. It also meant that thousands of children and young people grew up in environments which failed to even acknowledge their existence.
Thankfully Section 28 was repealed in September 2003, and schools are now able to proactively tackle homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. They create safe, inclusive spaces where all students and pupils can learn and be themselves. And this is what inclusion means to me.
Our Co-op Academies are leading the way on this
This is why I’m really proud of the work taking place in our Co-op Academies. They’re creating safe, inclusive spaces for students to express themselves and recognising that young people need a safe space to explore their own identity.
Those who attended our AGM will have seen members of the LGBT+ group from Co-op Academy Failsworth, who shared how they’re supporting students to be themselves, always.
All of our Co-op Academies in Greater Manchester are working with the Proud Trust to provide training and information for teachers. They’re also supporting students to set up LGBT+ groups for students who identify as LGBT+ and their allies.
Through the relationship with Co-op, Co-op Academies are also able to link in with Respect and the partnerships we’ve developed. Partners like Iris Prize, an international LGBT Film Festival, providing education and outreach support for film-making.
Why we still need to do more
I recently saw an exchange on Twitter responding to incredibly sad news that a 9 year old boy had taken his own life as a result of homophobic bullying.
Someone asked: “How can a 9 year old child know they are gay?” Another responded: “Should the question not be: Why his fellow 9 year olds knew to bully him for being gay?”
So while real progress has been made since my time at school, this demonstrates why we need to continue to talk about inclusion. Both in the role we all play in enabling people to be themselves, always, and how we can all recognise and celebrate our differences.
This will make Co-op a better place to work for everyone.
Co-op Partnership Manager