I had a secret identity at school. I was not a superhero; I was queer. My superpower was acting ‘normal’, my cape and mask was blending into the crowd. When I got home, I would ditch the school uniform for something which felt more like me, but it still was never the rainbow super-suit I needed.
Being openly LGBTQ+ at school could have made me feel like an Avenger, but I never got that opportunity. If I had had School Diversity Week when I was at school, could I have found my inner superhero earlier?
I grew up in a small village in the South West, in a town voted one of the “worst places to live in England,” where diversity was certainly not seen as something worth celebrating. The two sides of my family come from different ethnic backgrounds, and I was starting to notice my differences. School can often be a sanctuary to kids who are struggling, a place for growth and an important part in developing your identity. But for me, school was just another place of putting on a “mask”.
I always felt queer, both in my gender and sexuality, but I never felt like this was something to feel proud of. Instead of seeing the superpower which was always in me, I felt weak and unseen. I was looking for a sense of acceptance, for support or a little compassion, but there was never even a mention of LGBTQ+ identities in my school. It was hidden in the dark; a place I felt constrained to. I felt compelled to hide behind a mask, as my school environment left me feeling unsafe to be the real me.
School Diversity Week would have helped me understand the value in my individuality. LGBTQ+ representation at school is extremely important, it shapes how young people see themselves and can empower, encourage, and inspire. Growing up, TV and media lacked the LGBTQ+ representation we see today, but there were moments of positive representation.
During my school years, I watched TV shows like Orange is the New Black, and RuPaul’s Drag Race, and listened to artists like Tove Lo, Frank Ocean, Lady Gaga and Troye Sivan. This was my guiding light into who I was. Google was my teacher, and my education was TV, music, and LGBT+ literature; these are what shaped my identity. But it shouldn’t have been my responsibility to fill in the gaps left by my school, and this self-taught education made me feel isolated and left me without a system of support.
I experienced my fair share of hurtful comments at school, remarks which teachers witnessed but ignored, that will stick with me for life. Celebrating LGBTQ+ diversity is critical in preventing bullying, as it helps create a safe environment for young people by encouraging every student and teacher to be part of inclusive education.
I can envision my younger self in the kind of environment that School Diversity Week fosters, finally feeling safe and encouraged to express myself in a way which I thought only existed in my dreams. A school which promotes diversity and encourages acceptance can bring hope to individuals who need to feel welcome, and it would have helped me and so many others to gain the strength needed to embrace how being LGBTQ+ can be a superpower.
I now have no reason to wear a mask, I show and express my true self, and my cape is the Pride flag I proudly wear. LGBTQ+ individuals are like superheroes; we have to overcome unique challenges and obstacles in our lives, and need to be brave and resilient in the face of adversity. Being an ambassador for Just Like Us has made me realise just how desperately I, and many others, needed support and representation whilst at school. Being able to share my experience with young people in schools has shown me how important it is to learn from past experiences, and help schools today be that shining example of hope and the embodiment of inclusion.
This School Diversity Week, I feel hopeful and excited for a new generation of LGBTQ+ superheroes, where the support schools provide leads to a brighter future for all young people.