#APConnect Reflections: Creating LGBT+ Inclusion within an FE College

When I signed up for #APConnect Constellation B I was unsure I could make a difference. As a newly assigned Teaching, Learning and Assessment Coach I was pleased to meet people with other roles around the country, but couldn’t see where I fit in. And when it came to creating a project I was somewhat stumped. Colleges are huge institutions, and for somebody so small to make a difference seemed impossible. Clearly I was forgetting the impact of the mosquito in a closed room.

In my day job I was busy, as well as my TLA Coach duties I am also a lead within the college’s specialist autism residential training facility, overseeing the programme for autistic learners coming to college for the first time. Within this role I’d established a small group for LGBT+ autistic learners, and advocated passionately for the neurodiversity paradigm. So I knew my area of interest was “social purpose”, and I enjoyed talking to other practitioners at the first #APConnect day about creating a more inclusive college, instilling values and morals within education, and working on the “hidden” wider skills curriculum which is so vital to learners’ development.

As time moved on, I still didn’t have a project. I knew I wanted to make the college more inclusive. I felt frustrated that there wasn’t more of an LGBT+ staff and student voice within the college. So when I received an email asking if anybody would like to join a staff equality, diversity and inclusion working group I jumped at the chance. However, LGBT+ was not listed! So I sent an email asking if a working group could be formed, and buoyed by what I had learned from others on the #APConnect programme, asked if I could lead it.

The response from the college was that I did not have the seniority to lead the working group, but on the back of my email I was linked in with my TLA Manager colleague, and together we began to outline what we wanted for LGBT+ equality and inclusion within the college. It finally felt as though LGBT+ was on the agenda.

Shortly after starting the working group we went back into lockdown, but it was what we had learned from remote working which has strengthened the networks we have created. We began with a student group on Teams, which quickly gained members and has become a space for LGBT+ learners to support each other, chat and learn about their history. It was pleasing to see many members of the group standing for (and gaining) positions on the Student Union within the college. We plan to shortly set up a student committee to ensure the group is learner-led and meeting the needs of the members. We also plan to run a poster campaign now that learners are physically attending college again. And we have badges!

It was clear that whilst this group catered well to 16–19 year old learners, it would not be suitable for learners at out university centre. A meeting was held with the HE Team and it was decided a student-lead society would be launched through Teams. HE learners have different needs to 16–19 year old learners, and may wish to express their identity through more traditional “university experience” means, so we are looking forward to seeing what they come up with!

Finally, it felt important for inclusion within the college that staff were not only on board with LGBT+ inclusion, but also knowledgeable. So often openly LGBT+ members of staff carry an invisible load of managing all LGBT+ issues with students. Many of us are happy to do this (in fact it is probably the most rewarding part of my role), but the dream would be for every member of staff within a college to be confident in being approached by LGBT+ young people, and for LGBT+ learners to be able to approach any member of staff. To this end we began a third Team called “Proud Allies”, a staff network for LGBT+ staff and allies alike. This Team quickly grew and has already elicited multiple conversations regarding allyship, support and being an inclusive teacher.

Going forward, the LGBT+ working group plans to link with other EDI working groups to run a campaign within the college around allyship and inclusion, through posters, the college’s tutorial programme and CPD. The college will also create “inclusive toilets” to allow all learners the freedom to use a toilet without having to first choose the gender they are comfortable in showing themselves to be.

In less than year I have realised that if you are passionate is possible to make a college-wide difference, and this is in no small part thanks to the support and belief of the #APConnect programme. I look forward to continuing to aid the facilitation of a college which is inclusive, welcoming and celebratory of our LGBT+ learners and staff.

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Neurodivergent Practitioner (she/her)

Neurodivergent Lead Practitioner in Autism at an FE college. Passionate about neurodiversity, self-advocacy and autistics learning about autism. Views own.