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When learning support assistant Dan Phillips told his Pembrokeshire school he wanted to come out as trans, UNISON’s Wales Union Learning Fund (WULF) team helped organise trans awareness training for all 220 staff.

It was enormously helpful when UNISON were able to offer the awareness training.

Dan Phillips
Dan Phillips

As well as educating all Dan’s co-workers, the training programme has now embedded trans awareness into the curriculum for all 1,200-plus pupils, with new resources available for everyone at the school.

Dan approached Haverfordwest High Business Manager Julie Foss (also a UNISON member) about his transition last year.  Finding that there were no policies in place to support him, Julie approached the Pembrokeshire County Branch for help.

As Chairperson Manuela Hughes knew the WULF project was already organising very popular trans awareness training through LGBTQ+ charity Mermaids, she contacted Project Manager Jenny Griffin to bring the team onboard.

The school, the branch and the WULF project were able to work with Mermaids, whose staff delivered a bespoke trans awareness training programme to the entire school staff through a series of online workshops that finished in September.

Union backing for trans awareness training 

“It was enormously helpful when UNISON were able to offer the awareness training,” Dan says. “You don’t know how people are going to take this, so even though it turns out everybody has been really nice about it, it was really reassuring to know the union were behind me.”

With the union and the school taking responsibility for training staff on the reality of trans lives, Dan didn’t have to shoulder the burden of addressing issues that his transition might prompt among his colleagues by himself.

“I still have people asking me questions, but they tend to be more about my own personal journey rather than issues in general,” Dan says.

And as a result of her positive experience of working with the branch on learning, Julie Foss has stepped up to become a union learning rep at the school, as well.

Lack of representation of trans people  

When Dan was growing up in rural Pembrokeshire, the lack of representation of trans people in general – and trans men in particular – meant it took him a long time to fully understand who he was.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t even realise trans was a thing you could be, especially because pretty much all the representation of trans people in the media – if it existed at all – tended to be the other way: you never saw trans men,” he recalls.

“I’d always felt there was something a bit different about me, but it took me a while to work out what that was – as I got older, basically the internet was my saviour!”

LGBTQ+ club for the next generation of trans and non-binary children 

One of the spin-offs of the awareness programme at the school is that the next generation of trans and non-binary children may not feel so isolated, especially since Dan has helped launch an LGBTQ+ club at the school, called the Rainbow Room, with the help of one of the school counsellors.

“It’s early days but I think it makes a difference for LGBTQ+ young people to know that they are supported and recognised within the school and to find their own community within the school, which I think is invaluable,” Dan says.

Jenny Griffin says the awareness programme has been able to engage not only school staff but also pupils and the wider local community – and all because everyone involved collaborated so effectively on the initiative.

“In another paradigm, someone like Dan could have said, ‘This is happening’ and the school could have said, ‘Thank you for letting us know’ and it could have all stopped there,” Jenny points out.

“But at Haverfordwest, everyone worked in partnership to get the most out of it, so as well as supporting Dan, we’ve raised awareness among staff and pupils, which has had a wider impact on the local community and that shows what you can achieve when you all work together.”