Using Drama to celebrate LGBT equality in schools

As an openly gay teacher, I often find myself responding to students’ (and sometimes colleagues’) questions about my sexuality. While I am more than happy to chat, there often just isn’t the time to have a proper conversation. When my A-level Drama students developed a play about coming out as part of their coursework, I was excited at how we might share it in school to open up a proper conversation about equality and diversity.

The Year 12s were given the opportunity to present their performance to every student in Year 8 and Year 9 as part of a drop-down PSHE day. Their piece told the story of a teenage boy who overcame his fear of coming out to his friends and family. It was incredibly well received; with many of the students in the audience particularly inspired, having seen their older peers communicating a positive message about being openly gay.

Keen to maintain the momentum of the project, my colleague Samantha Edwards and I decided to create a series of drama workshops that explored some of the themes raised in the play, including coming out, healthy relationships, bullying, and mental health.

We found that using drama as an approach to explore sexuality was incredibly powerful as it created a safe environment for the students to express their thoughts and feelings in a way that can sometimes be challenging in a more conventional classroom setting. Furthermore, their practical exploration meant that they were more engaged in the subject matter whilst able to develop empathy for different people through the experience of adopting a character.

After the project a number of students who identify as gay and bisexual spoke out, stating how they felt more confident about being out in school as they had seen their peers react so positively to the performance and subsequent workshops.

It is my hope that more teachers recognise the immense potential of using drama as an approach to celebrate equality within our schools. I believe that with appropriate planning, more teachers could set up their own schemes.

Tips for a successful project:

1. Create the right classroom environment: for any meaningful drama work to take place it is vital that students feel safe to explore ideas and ask questions. We begin each session by discussing ground rules and expectations regarding how we will explore the subject matter.

2. Challenge stereotypes: in drama we often rely on stereotypes as a shorthand to create characters. This can provide us with a great opportunity to challenge misconceptions surrounding sexual identity, giving us a platform to celebrate the true diversity of the gay community.

3. Encourage positive stories: when students create drama, there is sometimes a tendency that they want to create a highly dramatic performance. This can often inflate reality, perpetuating a myth that coming out might have disastrous consequences. Teachers can explain to students that coming out should be a positive experience even though it can sometimes feel daunting.

4. Use drama strategies: it’s a mistake to think that using drama as a teaching approach lacks focus and structure. Effective drama is highly organised and should be well planned by the teacher. Using strategies such as hot seating (where students can respond to questions in role) will help to focus the task.

There are so many ways we can use our subjects to celebrate LGBT equality, often in simple and subtle ways that don’t require additional planning but we found a dedicated project like ours has been incredibly positive for all involved!

Vice Principal | Co-organiser, researchED Nottingham | Drama Expert, Ofqual | Consultant and writer, BBC Bitesize | Visiting Fellow Ambition Institute | NPQH

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George Coles

George Coles

Vice Principal | Co-organiser, researchED Nottingham | Drama Expert, Ofqual | Consultant and writer, BBC Bitesize | Visiting Fellow Ambition Institute | NPQH

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