Twitter: The Importance of LGBT+ Educators Collaborating and Elevating One Another

By Jared Cawley @JaredCawley

In a profession deeply impacted by COVID-19 – where research is beginning to reveal its huge impact on LGBT+ people in particular – it’s more important than ever to elevate one another, writes teacher Jared Cawley.

Our teaching profession has been catapulted into a world of uncertainty and turmoil, yet I find the global pandemic has forced us to seek connection and build community in ways that we would not have done, before Covid-19. For me, Twitter has provided a platform to build and foster collaboration with a wonderful group of LGBT+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender plus) educators. Being a teacher can be isolating as we spend most of our days standing in front of a group of students facilitating learning, sometimes barely interacting with another adult. If you are lucky, you may have a teaching assistant to remind you there is an adult world outside of your classroom’s four walls.

Being an LGBT+ teacher adds a further level of isolation. Schools are predominantly heteronormative, where being straight is the default and encouraged sexuality. From my experience, I find myself being the only out gay teacher in my school. This can cause loneliness, lack of support and understanding about how being LGBT+ impacts your professional life. The absence of somebody to share, the sometimes-invisible prejudices and discriminations you face for being non-heterosexual, can be difficult. You may have an extremely supportive leadership team or be surrounded by straight allies, but I feel there is a need to be part of and collaborate with other LGBT+ educators, wherever they may be in the world.

It was only when I read Catherine Lee’s book, ‘Courageous Leaders. LGBT Teachers Share Their Stories’ that my epiphany occurred. For the first time in my teaching career, I was exposed to other LGBT teachers’ lived experiences, stories I could relate to. Inspired and encouraged, I used Twitter as a tool to actively connect with other LGBT+ educators across the globe.   

Using Twitter as a platform to collaborate and curate a supportive Professional Learning Network (PLN), opened a gateway of opportunities to connect, create friendship, and support me as a gay man, but also enhanced my teaching practice to be more inclusive and diverse. I found that by adding the pride flag emoji to my Twitter handle, helped give permission for others to contact me and be a voice in the LGBT+ #edutwitter world.

As well as powerful, collaboration is resourceful. Connecting with other LGBT+ educators has opened doors to multiple LGBT+ education events and opportunities.  Through curating my PLN and actively connecting with other LGBT+ educators, I believe I have achieved the following:

  • Gained a sense of community and a support network
  • Built a feeling of shared responsibility
  • Introduced me to other LGBT+ lived experiences
  • Intellectually challenged me, connecting with LGBT+ researchers and academics.
  • Provided a safe space to discuss LGBT+ issues and create solutions together.

As an oppressed group, we must do everything in our power to elevate and amplify one another and other minority voices. To help achieve this, we must take deliberate action to raise the profiles of others.

Below are some examples of just some of the people who have used Twitter, to create platforms and spaces to encourage collaboration and elevate the voices of LGBT+ educators:

LGBTQ+ Inclusion Research and Network Event by Professor Jonathan Glazzard

“The purpose of the conference was to bring together teachers and researchers who are interested in collaborating. The conference created a network which will work collaboratively to advance inclusion and social justice for LGBTQ+ young people and teachers. The space provided an opportunity to hear about research from people at different stages in their research careers and to draw on international perspectives.”

The Category is Books #TCIB, LGBT+ Book Club for Primary Schools by Lauren Duffy

“The Category is Books #TCIB was started to give educators the skills and confidence to embrace using LGBTQ* friendly texts in the Primary classroom. Throughout my time at school I was never shown that LGBTQ families or people existed. As I identify as part of this community, I feel it is our duty to ensure that this changes. The book club provides a safe and supportive space, to discuss effective teaching strategies for each book, and a collection of answers for possible questions that may be asked about the texts. The book club runs bi-weekly, supporting teachers in the run up to the compulsory RSE curriculum. If you would like to get involved, or help co-host a session, feel free to contact me via my Twitter handle.”

*Q can mean queer as well as questioning.

Pride Event for LGBT+ Educators by Joseph Brassington

“Pride month is usually a time where our community comes together, and this year I was disappointed to be missing out on that support. I organised a Zoom event for LGBTQ+ educators to get together, share experiences, celebrate pride, and begin to build a support network for those who need it. The event went brilliantly, and I’ve made some great friends as a result. Keep a look out for the next Zoom event happening at the end of August.”

#EduPubChat – LGBT+ focused by @MenTeachPrimary
@MenTeachPrimary co-host @TJGriffiths

“When we set up #EduPubChat we wanted to be inclusive and ensure each chat was themed around important areas of education. All of us involved in the #EdPubChat are passionate about a well-rounded curriculum with the vision that all children should be able to see themselves (and their families) in their learning. When we were discussing hosts, I had suggested Joseph (@jjBrasington) as I find him such an inspirational voice on Twitter. His tweets have also allowed me to learn more and educate myself. It was Joseph who asked questions for that #EduPubChat and we felt there were great threads of conversation on the night. Lots of people were open about their own experiences, resources were shared, and I know all of us were really proud of how the evening went.”

Bucks Teacher Learning Day by Dr Emma Kell

“The initial focus of our Bucks Teacher Learning Day was on preparing for the challenges facing us as the result of a global pandemic. It had become increasingly clear that far from ‘in it together’ the diversity of experience of the pandemic is huge, and that representing the voices of different groups was essential. We couldn’t assume that relying on volunteers in our usual circles to speak would result in a range of voices being represented, so we actively sought out and ‘shoulder-tapped’ people from key groups to speak. These included those representing the voices of gay, bisexual, queer and transgender educators. Simultaneously, we didn’t want to assume that those who are LGBTQ+ communities would automatically want to speak about LGBTQ+ issues so were very conscious of this when asking around. Ultimately, we were delighted to welcome several speakers from the LGBT+ community, of whom two: James Hodge (@MrHodgeTeaches) and Dr. Ellie Barnes MBE (@elly_barnes) spoke specifically of practical steps schools can take to be more inclusive. Their sessions were well-attended and received excellent reviews.”

Educational Equity launch event, by Professor Paul Miller
@ojukomiller @EdEqServices

“Minoritised groups [those with one or more protected characteristics] could be seen as endangered species. Put differently, there is no hierarchy of protected characteristics, and this makes us equally vulnerable and susceptible to individual hate, lack of institutional support and protection and the repetitive failure of government to protect us in deeds and not only in words. Accordingly, minoritised groups need to come together, despite their unique missions, interests and struggles, to fight for a collective good – equity. This common or collective good is for all peoples, although unfortunately some of us have to wrestle with individuals, organisations and systems to earn this. For minoritised peoples therefore, our fight is a collective fight, and the sooner we come together, the stronger we become, and the better it will be for our mission to achieving equity for all.”

Diverse Educators by Hannah Wilson

“Diverse Educators started 3 years ago and is an annual event held in January in the South. Due to lockdown the summer event planned for the North went virtual and the reach increased from 250 educators attending face to face, to 13.5k attending remotely! With panel sessions on Landscape, Curriculum, Culture and Leadership, the diverse line up of diverse voices explore intersectionality and representation for the whole community in schools. You can access the recorded broadcast via Periscope and Youtube. You can also contact Hannah if you would like to express an interest in speaking at one of the 4 #DiverseEd events planned for next academic year.”

#LGBTedchat @LGBTed by Nick Bentley

“#LGBTedchat is the official LGBTed Twitter Chat which happens weekly during term time on Thursdays from 7-7:30pm. It provides opportunities for educators to think through issues in LGBTQ+ education and what it means to be a queer role model in education settings. Each week a key topic is discussed and four questions are considered. Examples of topics we have discussed include developing an inclusive curriculum, the value of being “out” in schools and colleges, and tackling bullying.

The discussions mean that colleagues have the chance to celebrate examples of what is going well in schools, to give advice about how to overcome challenges, and also to connect and gain a sense of professional solidarity. It has been completely wonderful to see colleagues’ incredible engagement and I feel so proud when I see the fabulous work that is being done. People have shared links to valuable charities and resources too, which helps get the message out there. I hope that the chats have meant colleagues have felt better prepared to support their students and that they have felt more empowered to be their authentic selves.”

Pride in Education Conference organised by Laila El-Metoui

“Schools OUT UK in partnership with this year’s Stonewall Lesbian Role Model of the year organised an international conference to support LGBT+ inclusion and celebration. Sir Derek Jacobi CBE , Bonnie Greer OBE  who together with Professor Sue Sanders launched the event.”

Laila El-Metoui commented: “It is of the utmost importance that teachers and educators continue to provide an inclusive and compassionate education. This very well attended conference was put together really quickly to ensure LGBTQ+ people continue to be visible and celebrated.”

Professor Emeritus Sue Sanders, Chair of Schools Out UK, commented: “I wish everyone would recognise their responsibility to educate out prejudice; at this time, to leave it to just teachers is not acceptable or practical. We at Schools OUT UK have worked tirelessly to produce free resources to usualise and make visible LGBTQ+ people in all their diversity. These resources are available not just in February – LGBT History Month – but all year round.”

Final thoughts

In a world changed by Covid-19, Twitter has been used as a platform to help LGBT+ educators collaborative and elevate the voices of the unheard. Communicating these messages on Twitter:  conferences, support networks, pride events, book clubs and many more have all played their part to connect and provide a safe space for LGBT+ educators to be their authentic selves. To help raise awareness and fight discrimination cannot be achieved solely by LGBT+ educators. We need heterosexual teachers and allies to further elevate our community. I deeply believe all of us should ‘be the reason someone feels welcomed, seen, heard, valued, loved and supported’.  This way, we can all work together to amplify the voices of all minority groups and fight for and achieve equity for all.

Jared Cawley is a primary school teacher working in the international sector. He is passionate about making an inclusive and diverse school culture for everyone and bridging the gap between research and practice in the classroom. You can follow him on Twitter @JaredCawley 



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