On 10 June 2023, Sing Out Brussels! presented its new show, a mix of songs and testimonials about our LGBTQI+ experiences in schools. A call for more inclusive schools that touched the audience.
A sold-out Uccle Cultural Centre, an attentive, moved and enthusiastic audience, great moments shared between choristers on stage and backstage… With our show “School’s out”, our choir has achieved its objective: to put on a high-quality musical show with a strong message.
Indeed, Belgium has little to be ashamed of when it comes to LGBTQI+ rights, but there are still battles to be fought. LGBTQI+-phobia still plagues our society, and schools are no exception. In the playground, in the classroom, in the changing rooms, on the bus and on social media, students are too often the target of aggression because of their (perceived) identity or that of their parents. From nasty jokes to physical aggression, insults and bullying can have dramatic consequences. But school can also be a great place where we meet new people and learn about the world; a place of openness to others. This is the message we shared as we sing, whether our songs were serious or more lighthearted, because we all have strong memories of our schooldays, some more positive than others.
Ever since our choir’s creation, we have used the power of song to share our ambition for a more inclusive society. School and life as a teenager are two themes that came to the fore quite naturally, because it is there and at that age that we craft and assert our identity, but it’s also where we first feel the pressure of societal norms. Paradoxically, resistance to this theme from within the choir (not everyone wants to dwell on that part of their life) only highlighted the relevance of this topic and why we needed to tackle it, but to do so sensitively, drawing from our own experiences.
The group brings together members from three generations, so school was more recent for some than for others, but none of us know first-hand how today’s teenagers experience education. During the 2020 lockdown, we organised online discussions to share our formative memories, recollections of joy, but also of trauma. This was much more than a great opportunity to get to know each other better. The workshops, and later a written survey in 2022, also revealed we had shared experiences despite the broad diversity of the group, and regardless of nationality, age, sexual orientation or gender identity. First times, rebellion, friendship, hopes and dreams, self-discovery, coming out, social pressure… Universal experiences that might resonate with you, too.
Pictures Todor Krastev / @todork
School is one of the key places where we learn about life as part of a society. We hope that our own testimonies as adults, as well as those of today’s queer teenagers included in the show, helped to open a debate and attracted the attention of parents, teaching and support staff, school leadership, and staff at health and welfare (PMS) centres for young people, who all have important roles to play in the provision of information and support. That delicate work of informing and preventing doesn’t just matter for the LGBTQI+ community, because any child can find they’re facing mean or violent behaviour.