Peer Education

July 23rd, 2012 by

I’m a peer educator and have been for about two years, as part of a group we go into local schools, colleges, and youth groups and run workshops about LGBT identity and homo/bi/transphobia. I can still remember my first workshop, being at university I hadn’t stepped into a school let alone a secondary school for a good couple of years. There were two other peer educators with me and the coordinator so the deep end wasn’t an ocean trench! I came out in secondary school when I was 15, which now is 6 years ago, even then I thought I was out and proud but the truth was I was still firmly in the “I’ll answer if you ask phase”. It took me till about sixth form to become fully comfortable and almost blasé about my sexuality.

From that I’d stepped away from my rural home town (think a post office and three pubs!) and started university in Brighton, a famously diverse and accepting city.

Stephen in his role as Peer Educator

Truth was, I was terrified about talking openly about my experiences of coming out, school and family life in front of years 9’s.I’ve now been doing it for almost two years and I can safely say it’s the most affirming thing I’ve ever done with my life. Even in 2004/5 when I was finishing my GSCE’s there wasn’t any serious discussions about sexuality beyond the usual sexual health DVD which was painful to watch. And now I had the opportunity to stand in front of younger people and give them some advice that was deeply more personal than a DVD. I’ll be the first to admit, it was a very tough ride being an out gay guy at school, but I wouldn’t have been the same person I am today. In a way doing these workshops reminded me how raw some of my emotions still were, and in a lot of others ways it helped my look back on them and see how much I’d matured since coming out.

Although we now have better laws and more provision starting to show in schools, there is always more work to be done, and for quite some time too. Yet, whether we visit 5 schools or 50, the message I would say is just be who you are. We do have more structure to a workshop than that, but I would always tell someone never to doubt who they are. In this way we try to be more like role models than educators, and sometimes it’s more affirming for both me and other young people just to have a discussion about LGBT issues, if just to get the ball rolling. Like above, none of us pretend it’s an easy ride, but that’s the reason I believe so passionately in volunteering, because someone standing up in front and saying it’s ok to be LGBT or otherwise can give a young person that glimmer of hope they didn’t think was out there.

Stonewall named Brighton and Hove City Council top local authority in the country for tackling homophobic bullying in schools. Here is a photo of our very own Marianne Lemond (Project Manager) and Stephen collecting the award with Sam Beale from the Healthy Schools Team at The British Library.

I would have to say that we defiantly don’t offer the doom and gloom scenario. Because of the work that so many people around the world are trying to do, more coming out stories are happier, easier and more affirming for young people. I’ve had quite a few instances were after a workshop a young person has either written or spoken to us about it affirming their sexuality or gender identity. That for me is reward enough, to know you’ve had a positive impact on someone’s life.

For me personally as well, I’ve learnt a lot for helping with workshops too. Even though I came to Brighton ready to explore its diverse culture, I knew nothing about other gay people’s experiences, lesbian, bi experiences and especially trans. Whilst LGBT is always clumped together, the knowledge doesn’t always come as a package deal. In these two years I’ve learnt so much more about different challenges and different experiences people have to face. Especially coming from a rural town I only knew of the existence of two other gay people let alone the rest of the rainbow.

People talk about ‘institutional’ homo/bi/transphobia but these themselves can mean completely different things. I’ll get asked different questions at the doctors, I’ll have different experiences with adoption or surrogacy when I want to start a family. Yet now with these experiences I can fully appreciate how different the paths are that people have to face in their life. But with Allsorts continuing to educate and help young people I’m confident that less people will have to face it without the support they need.

By Stephen Murtagh