Embracing individuality – Pride Month 2023
Each June we mark Pride Month – a month to celebrate LGBTQ+ history and culture. At the School, we strive to create a diverse and accepting atmosphere where all students and staff can be their authentic selves. We’ve been speaking to Donna Balsdon, our Assistant Housemistress of Aud Jebsen Hall, about how the School is celebrating Pride and the work she does to support students throughout the whole year.
Visibility for all students
The Royal Ballet School is always looking for ways to improve our inclusivity, and it is our priority to ensure our students feel comfortable and secure. Their well-being is the centre of all our work, and we are constantly evaluating how we can best nurture all our students. We asked Donna about how the pastoral team have progressed with inclusivity over time:
It’s been baby steps. We realised that we needed to start giving LGBTQ+ students more opportunities to be who they are and help them be more open. Elly Barns from Educate and Celebrate came in to talk to our students, and her slogan is, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ We wanted to do more for the students, so we began with small weekend activities such as baking rainbow cakes and tie-dyeing totes bags in Pride colours. Rainbow lanyards were purchased for the staff team, we set up a Pride-themed book club, and we brought in some LGBTQ+ books for the house. It sends a positive message to the students that we’re here and we’re on their side.
Donna also talked about how we can continue to grow:
We’re always looking for new ways to try and engage our students. There’s been so much progress in the last few years, and I think in future, we’d like the students to embrace who they are and be able to enter their professional lives feeling confident in themselves. We’ve talked about ways we can help and things we can do to improve. This year we started acknowledging all the different visibility days to make sure that everyone feels represented and we’ve all been learning from this.
Learning from Stonewall
Pride month began in 1969 after the Stonewall riots, a series of protests against homophobia and fighting for liberation. Since then, Pride has been celebrated worldwide and reflects on the struggles the LGBTQ+ community faces. The charity Stonewall was formed following the riots and continues to fight for LGBTQ+ rights today. Donna spoke to us about one of the courses she attended with Stonewall:
I did a course last year that Stonewall offers called ‘Improving LGBTQ+ young people’s mental health and wellbeing.’ This was really thought-provoking for me. I thought I knew it all, but I didn’t! This helped us step things up. Following what I learned in this course, the team at Aud Jebsen Hall have started putting together an action plan for how we can better support our LGBTQ+ students.
Staff and students will be representing the School at London Pride 2023, and we are so excited to be a part of this important event. We talked to Donna about all the different ways we’re celebrating this year and what we’ve done in previous years:
Last year we put up flags and decorated the house for Pride month. We had a party and a silent disco. The students loved it – there was a real buzz in the atmosphere. This year our students are invited to participate in the Pride march in London along with our staff, and they’re excited about that. It will be huge for us all to go together – students keep coming to me and saying how they’re looking forward to marching with everyone. We’ve decorated the house again and discussed all the different flags. We’ve also been celebrating a different Pride icon on our noticeboard each day, and the students have had the opportunity to contribute their own heroes to those.
Small changes for a better future
We can all make many little changes to create a more accepting and tolerant society. At the School, we constantly adapt and revise how we do things to build a positive and enlightened culture. Donna told us about some of the ways we have developed recently:
Small changes can make a big difference. At the house, we have registers for the students to sign in and out, which used to be divided into Men and Ladies. That didn’t sit well with us – it makes sense for their ballet classes but not here in their home. So we changed that, and the students understood why, and really appreciated it. We’ve also put resources in the Common Rooms, such as a Pride articles folder and noticeboard, so that students can access further information and support. All our staff completed Educare Equality and Diversity at the start of the year, which is really important. It all makes a huge difference.
An inclusive workplace
We also value our staff’s well-being, and it is essential for us to ensure that the School is an inclusive working environment. Donna spoke about her positive experience working here for the past five years:
I’ve been here since 2018, and it’s brilliant. It’s definitely one of the best places I’ve worked. I feel very lucky. The School is very forward-thinking, and I’m happy that I can do the work I do with the students. I live onsite with my wife, and I’m so glad that we can be open about our relationship both with other staff and with the students. I’m able to be myself here. It’s not always like that at other places and I don’t understand why because it’s how it should be.