Could Britain's First School For LGBT Students Make A Difference?

In Depth

A youth group in England has submitted a proposal to open a school with the specific mission for catering to LGBT youth. The school would be in the city of Manchester, with the expressed purpose of creating a safe space for queer students. However, some have questioned if such a school would not be a form of segregation.

The group LGBT Youth North West would like to open a school with 40 spots promised to children who identify on the LGBT spectrum, according to U.K. newspaper The Telegraph. This seems to imply that while the school would not be LGBT only, queer students would have enough peers to not be isolated or feel as if they were. In a quote obtained by the telegraph, the group’s director Amelia Lee said she believes that such dedicated spots are required to take on bullying, especially bullying which can lead to queer youth committing suicide at far higher rates than the general population.

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, suicide. This is about saving lives.

One conservative member of parliament, the Tory party’s former education minister Tim Loughton, found fault with the proposal. Calling it a step in the wrong direction, he said it was likely to cause more issues because it amounts to segregation.

We need to do a lot more to combat homophobic bullying and to create a more tolerant society. I cannot see how segregating a group of young people identified by their sexuality can aid better engagement and understanding. The way to achieve more integration, understanding and empathy is not by segregating members of one group, and this would seem to me to be a step backwards from achieving tolerance.

Although there has been a marked shift in the Conservative Party under Prime Minister David Cameron in regards to LGBT issues, it still genuinely surprises me to hear that Loughton seems generally concerned about homophobic bullying. Surprised, but hopeful. In the past, I probably would have looked at Lee’s group’s proposal and come to the same conclusion as Loughton, and that’s coming from someone who experienced a considerable level of homophobic and transphobic bullying growing up.

However, given my change of view in support of same-sex education, I have to seriously consider the benefits of an education geared towards recognising the unique struggles of queer youth which administrations often do not understand, and don’t seem to be getting better. While getting straight, cisgender kids to come around on their queer peers is an admirable goal, should it come at the expense of continuing to put queer youth in harm’s way?

Compounding the pressure are issues faced specifically by LGBT students of color, and while the British relation to race is not the same as the American relation to race, there are similarities, especially given the high rates of immigrants of color. It seems like Lee’s insistence that administrations are not equipped to deal with the unique development of LGBT students is hard to debate.

Teachers in mainstream schools have problems in tackling issues like homophobic bullying and coming out. Unfortunately, schools can be one of the last bastions of homophobia. We have also seen tragic cases such as that of Elizabeth Lowe, a 14-year-old who committed suicide in a park in Manchester because she was struggling with coming out and was worried about telling her parents. It’s to combat problems like those that we want to work with schools and pupil referral units to help young people who are struggling in mainstream education.

At this point, I am not willing to so quickly dismiss the proposal, and feel like at the very least, it sounds like an idea to try, especially given the fact that Elisabeth Lowe, mentioned by Lee, seemed to incorrect in her supposition she had nowhere to turn. If not her parents, why did she feel that she had no teachers or counselors to whom she could speak? The says volumes about the state of administrations today. Maybe programmes developed at the new school can be exported to traditional British schools and that would eventually lead to the new school essentially writing itself out of existence over time. What have we got to lose?

Image of via Getty.

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