As you are probably aware, there have recently been propositions to set up a LGBT school in Manchester. If these plans go ahead, this will be the first school in the UK specifically for LGBT youth.
It is not exclusively for those who identify as LGBT but this is the primary function of the school. This proposition has provoked much debate and controversy, as well as some confusion concerning how we should respond to the idea, particularly because it concerns the safety and welfare of children. However, there’s no use in shying away from a discussion – as long as we strive to remain respectful and open throughout. Therefore I will go ahead and argue that an LGBT school is merely a temporary fix to a long standing problem that most likely won’t fix anything at all.
Firstly, the idea of a LGBT school sends the disturbing message that there is no space for LGTB youth in mainstream schools. Instead it should be made clear that there is no space in schools for bullying based on sexuality or gender. The protection of children is hugely important, but protecting them by separating them from mainstream education only serves to constrict their freedom to access mainstream education. This method of ‘protection’ could even be compared to the mentality that women shouldn’t get too drunk or walk home in the dark for their own safety. It is the same pattern of simply removing potential victims from situations deemed risky and in doing so limiting their freedom, rather than actively tackling the attitude of the perpetuators. Therefore the argument that the LGBT school is necessary for saving lives (for example, suicides as a result of bullying in mainstream schools), reduces all LGBT youth as mere victims, and shifts the focus away from protecting LGBT youth within mainstream schools and actively working to change the culture of bullying.
Additionally, an LGBT school will not prevent homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, because bullying definitely does not only occur in schools. In fact, it is extremely common for bullying to take place on the way to schools, instead of on actual school grounds and, of course cyberbullying is also rife. Therefore separating LGBT youth in to a separate school may just worsen the bullying in these scenarios as it segregates them, perpetuating the idea that people within the LGBT community are strange or wrong – it has been reported that many LGBT students in mainstream schools are already made to feel like ‘freaks’. Surely attending a school which separates you from most children, would only reinforce this attitude?
This debate about whether special schools for LGBT students are a good idea may be compared to how students with physical or mental disabilities are catered for in mainstream schools. The secondary school I used to attend specialises in catering for pupils with disabilities and places a great deal of emphasis on inclusiveness in general. I definitely believe this focus on including students with disabilities is an important, positive ethos, as it allows children with disabilities to feel ‘normal’, visible and gain confidence from the fact that they have a place in mainstream education. Equally, this focus on inclusiveness also allows students to become more educated about disability and the experiences of disabled people, therefore increasing understanding and decreasing the likelihood of prejudice and bullying.
The simple fact is all schools should constantly be prioritising being as inclusive as possible and providing a safe space for all children. It’s not a case that LGBT youth should be made to endure bullying; much more needs to be done to ensure that bullying based on gender or sexuality is not tolerated in schools. All schools should adopt a zero tolerance policy for such bullying, and actually enact it. If some schools, such as the one I attended, can cater for the various physical, mental and emotional needs of young people with disabilities, then all schools can provide a simillar level of support for LGBT students. Rather than resorting to creating alternative schools to compensate for the failings of mainstream ones which ‘are not there yet’, schools must work harder to ‘get there’: prioritise inclusiveness, stamp out bullying and ultimately strive for equality.