School Pride gala to boost confidence of LGBTQ+ pupils in Mansfield and Ashfield
An event aimed at boosting the confidence of LGBTQ+ pupils in Mansfield and Ashfield schools is set to go ahead this summer.
School Pride is earmarked for Friday, July 9 (10 am to 2 pm) at Larwood Park in Sutton, the home of Ashfield Rugby Club, and is expected to attract more than 100 students, aged 11 to 18, and staff from several schools in the area.
The gala is the brainchild of Rae Toon, who teaches media at Quarrydale Academy in Sutton and runs a support group there for LGBTQ+ youngsters.
"It will be all about celebrating diversity,” explained Rae. “We want to raise awareness that there are these students in schools. This is a minority group that does exist.
"School Pride will make them feel more confident and more accepted, so that they can be themselves.
"Schools have been holding their own individual Pride events for the last three years, making flags, singing gay anthems and celebrating their LGBTQ+ communities.
"But my idea is to bring them all together at the same venue. Last year, it was meant to happen at Mansfield Town’s ground but had to be cancelled because of lockdown. I was gutted.
"This time, the event will go ahead, subject to Covid restrictions, and I am really looking forward to it.”
As well as Quarrydale, the Mansfield secondary schools of Meden, Brunts Academy and Samworth, plus Selston High School, have committed to take part.
Every school is making its own Pride flag for the gala, which will also feature a flashmob, comprising a dance routine that everyone has learned in advance, craft stalls, art workshops, a drag catwalk show, music, a picnic and a bake stall.
"We are hoping to sign up two local drag queens to inspire some of the students by doing a make-up tutorial and leading the catwalk,” added Rae.
"Morrisons have also agreed to sponsor the event as part of their community work, and are donating lunches for everyone.”
Since last September, all secondary schools have been required by law to teach about sexual orientation, gender identity and same-sex relationships as part of their curriculum.
Trailblazing Quarrydale has been ahead of the curve, with Rae’s lunchtime support group, Ambassadors, proving a huge success before Covid struck.
"It has been attended by about 40 kids, all grateful that they can sit in a safe space,” Rae said.
"Parents have told me they really appreciate the fact that their youngsters can go somewhere they feel safe.
"Students who are not part of the LGBTQ+ community have come along too because they want to support the group and be allied to it.
"We have also helped other vulnerable students and done a lot of work around mental health and bullying. Many LGBTQ+ students are bullied.
"All schools still have a lot of work to do. There is some resistance to what we are trying to achieve. But on the whole, it seems to be accepted and encouraged.”
School Pride in July is seen as a key milestone in the challenge to gain acceptance for LGBTQ+ students in local schools.
Said Rae: “They can’t wait. They love being involved in a project they can work on.
"And they love the fact that it is them and their identities which is being celebrated.”