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Is an LGBT School a Good Idea?

Either way, it emphasises how bleak a prospect life can be for young LGBT people in Britain.

Photo via Geograph.

A school for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans pupils could be open in Manchester within three years. "This is about saving lives," Amelia Lee, strategic director for LGBT Youth North West, the youth work charity behind the plans told the Guardian. "Despite the laws that claim to protect gay people from homophobic bullying, the truth is that in schools especially, bullying is still incredibly common and causes young people to feel isolated and alienated, which often leads to truanting and, in the worst-case scenarios, to suicide."

Annons

But is this a solution to the issues that young people who don't fit into traditional heterosexual identity face? Or is it one that pushes the issue into a safe zone, behind protective walls that might, actually, do little to address the real issues of homophobia?

Personally, I'm ambivalent about the plans. On the one hand, yes, it's better that a teenager who only sees suicide as the possible recourse to incessant homophobic bullying can find comfort in an environment that encourages and celebrates individuality. On the other, what message does the existence of a dedicated LGBT school send out, firstly, to the bully who needs educating, and may not change their ways simply because you remove an LGBT pupil from a difficult situation? What would an LGBT school say to other closeted young people who may now second guess coming out for fear that they may also be placed outside of the company of their peers and into "special care"?

Stonewall's bold advertising campaign told us that it gets better, but it doesn't always get better. The world doesn't become less homophobic overnight just because you have come to terms with your sexuality

When I was 13 and at secondary school in Lambeth,a guy I knew from primary school was removed and taken to a "special needs" school that could care for his mental health issues. I knew he was gay, but that wasn't the reason he was removed. However, his obvious sexuality did set him apart from the lads in his year and magnified the problems in his mind. I put distance between him and myself because, while he had his own troubles, I didn't relate to the way he identified as gay and was on my own difficult path to discovering myself. If he had been removed and placed in an LGBT school, I think I would have hidden myself even deeper in the closet. Today, I'm ashamed how I felt towards him. But, as a boy, I hadn't developed the confidence to be as outwardly supportive of difference as I would be now.

Annons

Growing up is rarely an easy process. Life is filled with all the inherent worries of fitting in, exacerbated by the pressures piled on you by friends and other classmates. We need to solve these problems from the perspective of both young LGBT people and the bullies – not self-assertive adults.

We live in a world that recognises legal equality for LGBT people, but the government appears to have little interest in protecting the rights of future generations, still refusing to understand the importance of teaching tolerance and understanding of all lifestyles with decent Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education that includes age appropriate sex & relationship education (SRE), which should also be LGBT inclusive.

It's a terrible state of affairs when we seriously need to start debating the pros and cons of creating safe zones for young people within the education environment.

Stonewall's bold advertising campaign told us that it gets better, but it doesn't always get better. The world doesn't become less homophobic overnight just because you have come to terms with your sexuality. But you start to live with more confidence and find the strength to self-acceptance and the right to design life in your own way, despite it following a different path to your other straight mates. It's a tough and testing road that, until the government changes its attitudes towards the education system, is not going to transform into a world that is immediately encouraging and tolerant of diversity any time soon.

Annons

Instead of removing young, struggling LGBT people from schools, why aren't the bullies being given special treatment to educate them on their intolerances? To help them understand why their behaviour is damaging? Because they may not understand why. They may not have a home life that encourages or celebrated tolerance. This is where the intervention needs to happen. Not to sharply counteract whatever their parents are teaching them, but to provide a strong, non-judgemental education that offers an alternative, that says, "You don't have to think that way. Gay people are not 'other', they're just people."

According to the Guardian report, the LGBT school "will be specifically designed for LGBT young people who are struggling in mainstream schools, but will be open to other children, including young carers, young parents and those with mental health problems." Lee added that "It will be LGBT-inclusive, but not exclusive."

It's an honourable and worthy idea because not everyone can find their way on their own – some people do need support and a different care system to the existing, rigid framework that has barely changed in fifty years. So, yes, let this school open and operate and welcome those people that need its help. Let those people find a nurturing environment that the current system doesn't allow for. But for the sake of every other LGBT young person who is on the journey to self-discovery and inner peace, let's not call it an LGBT school.

@CliffJoannou

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