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UK's First 'LGBT School' In MCR... Is It Needed?

L'Oréal Blackett on the controversial plans for a specialist education facility

Written by . Published on January 22nd 2015.

UK's First 'LGBT School' In MCR... Is It Needed?

SO FAR, Chancellor George Osborne, former Education Minister Tim Laughton, The Bishop of Manchester, Manchester Teacher’s Association and the Manchester City Council have all weighed in on recent news that Manchester could soon offer a tax-funded educational facility for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) teenagers. 

In the main, there's been a resounding lack of support for what has been dubbed 'Britain's first gay school'.

A petition has been drafted against the proposed plans as I type. 

It's a sad reality to think a gay school would be needed in today's society - especially here in Manchester, a city with anchored roots in LGBT rights.

"We [need to] get rid of the bullying rather than feeling we have to take kids out of our schools and teach them somewhere else. That would be the best approach," said Osborne.

Others have branded the idea as 'ghettoised schooling' and fear it would cause 'alienation', 'segregation' and 'foster division'. The term 'heterophobic' has, somewhat recklessly, been thrown around. 

For LGBT Youth North West, the organisation at the centre of the discussion, it appears the majority of public opinion would like to see the idea scrapped before it grows wings.

The group received £63,000 grant to conduct a 'feasibility study' for development of The Joyce Layland LGBT Centre in Manchester - a dedicated space for LGBT community groups for 26 years.

A full-time LGBT school for 40 vulnerable teenagers was just one of a number ideas put forward to make use of the redeveloped space.

"It wouldn’t be a gay school," said Amelia Lee, LGBT NW's Strategic Director. "We would be an alternative educational provision to support children with emotional needs."

Joyce Layland CentreJoyce Layland Centre

“With many community programmes suffering from budget cuts we wanted to ensure that the Joyce Layland Centre continued to be financially viable," she explained.

It was the success of 2003 established Harvey Milk School in New York where the LGBT NW first found inspiration. 100 LGBT students are currently receiving schooling within a state-funded facility and it has been praised for its innovation.

"It’s young people telling us that this is what they want"

Still, the Harvey Milk School has seen its fair share of protesters including gross verbal bullying and religious opposition lined-up outside the school gates.

According to NYMag, it nearly faced losing its $3.2m of tax-funded money on the grounds that it 'is a waste of city money and illegal under New York’s sexual-bias laws'. Children once alienated in school were experiencing a much greater level of fear and bullying than they had previously.

Harvey MilkHarvey Milk Foundation

We'd hope LGBT NW would not see a similar amount of moral opposition here in Britain, yet recent reports show communities aren't willing for doors to open at a gay school. The petition launched by transgendered woman Tara Hewitt on 21 January is now nearing 100 signitures. 

Tara Hewitt - who launched the anti-petition - believes the answer to these challenges 'is not to create a segregated space for LGBT people to be hidden away at the expense of the tax payer and funding taken away from other mainstream schools, but for more effort to be put into making our entire education system inclusive'.

As history has showed us, segregation never really solved anything.

It's a sad reality to think that a gay school would be needed in today's society - especially here in Manchester, a city with anchored roots in LGBT rights. No matter how this alternative school is dressed, removing teens from their peers will feel like they're being bundled back into a closet of secrecy and shame.

Surely, it's the bullies that need to be turfed out instead?

"It’s young people telling us that this is what they want," said Lee.

"The teens we talk to have already left school, or had trouble with truanting. These young people are faced with a number of problems – from difficult home lives, to being rejected from families because of faith and so on."

Lee wants 'saving lives' of the young LGBT teens in Britain to be at the forefront of this national discussion. 

It was 14-year-old Lizzie Lowe's tragic suicide, after struggling with fears about her sexuality, that further prompted discussion for this alternative school. As charity the Trevor Project detail, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people, with LGBT youths four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

Joyce-Layland-Lgbt-Group-Meeting-640X478Joyce Layland LGBT Group Meeting

For LGBT NW it's not about segregating students and more about identifying the 'at risk' teenagers and providing them with additional support. 

Homophobic bullying is not simply a case of 'kids will be kids', it is driving some teens away from school - it is hoped the LGBT school could be a safe-haven. 

Lee said: "In mainstream schools they can feel quite anonymous. There’s a mixed picture when it comes to mainstream schooling; some are fit-for-purpose and brilliant with dealing with homophobia, where others need more work.

"The facility would complement what is already happening in local schools and local schemes and it would be inclusive, much like hospital schools and specialist centres supporting pregnant teenagers throughout their education – we'd provide extra support."

LGBT youths are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

If the LGBT school were to go ahead it would need much more funding for it to be the state-funded all-inclusive facility LGBT NW hopes. 

Manchester City Council's Councillor Sheila Newman, Executive Member for Children’s Services, revealed that while the council "fully support initiatives to support LGBT young people and to tackle homophobia in schools and wider society", the Council "don’t support - and haven’t supported – the setting up of a separate school for LGBT young people."

“Schools should be inclusive supportive places for all pupils regardless of their sexuality,” says Newman.

A council officer added:

"We supported LGBT Youth NW in their bid for funding - this wasn't Council funding - to expand their premises and develop the good work they already do across the city and have been doing for some time now to support LGBT young people, but that's all. 

"We've not had any discussions with them about setting up a school. They have had a very recent conversation with us about how they might be able to extend the education work they already do with schools and for young people, but we have not discussed plans with them to open a dedicated school for LGBT young people."

Pride parade on DeansgatePride parade on Deansgate

Of course, specialist schools aren't a new idea in Britain - from learning aids to rehabillitating truanting students (much like the Hideaway Youth Project in Hulme) - they're fairly common, but nearly all of these projects are designed to integrate children back into mainstream schooling, not remove them.

There's no argument that LGBT NW's intentions, and its current work with LGBT groups and in mainstream schools, is admirable. Right now the group are stirring a conversation that will encourage schools to put disenfranchised LGBT students needs at the forefront of its school policys and care. That could prove to be the debate's greatest win.

Still, shielding our LGBT young people from taunts in a city-centre enclave feels counter-productive. Solving school-yard homophobia shouldn't lie with the victims, but with identifying and tackling the mindset of those with problematic views. 

Now more than ever, LGBT students should be more visible, more vocal and more integrated in their schools.

Find out more about LGBT North West and The Joyce Layland Centre on the websites.

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42 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousJanuary 22nd 2015.

'Do Teens Need This Facility?' To prevent bullying perhaps, but it would make them feel like outcasts. Also they shouldn't be taught anything pro-homosexual ie. just be taught normal lessons.

SquirrelitoJanuary 22nd 2015.

"they shouldn't be taught anything pro-homosexual", what does that even mean?

6 Responses: Reply To This...
rinkydinkJanuary 22nd 2015.

It means that the writer is probably bigoted

AnonymousJanuary 22nd 2015.

It means that the writer expects the children to be taught normal lessons.

rinkydinkJanuary 22nd 2015.

Why wouldn't they be? They're hardly gonna teach the children how to be gay are they?

AnonymousJanuary 22nd 2015.

@above Only if they're not fully gay.

rinkydinkJanuary 22nd 2015.

So you think that being gay (a) isn't normal and (b) can be taught to someone. Interesting viewpoints. Are you 200 years old?

AnonymousJanuary 23rd 2015.

As a gay man, I didn't fully appreciate sex with gay men until I was in my twenties.

AnonymousJanuary 22nd 2015.

Anyone who is LGBT and had to endure the horrors of a proddie comp in North Manchester like I did would welcome this. The violence towards me was criminal. Gay people are abused and treated with utter contempt in the school system and I contemplated suicide regularly through my mid teens.It is worth a try and may lead to every one of our large cities having one. I still remember Queer poof homo etc being the daily address from both boys and girls.

DarrenJanuary 22nd 2015.

As a gay man I personally also hope we didn't need LGBT schools, but the reality is we do. Bullying is rife in schools still, especially if they find out your gay, the only place in your life (maybe except prison) where you don't have a choice about not attending. I too hope one day we don't need these, but for now we do.

AnonymousJanuary 22nd 2015.

Will the teaching staff be required to be homosexuals though?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
ChrisJanuary 22nd 2015.

No I don't think so.

AnonymousJanuary 22nd 2015.

It would probably be illegal to require them to be.

AnonymousJanuary 22nd 2015.

As a gay man I think it would be good to encourage the children to make friends with each other as soon as possible and perhaps they could start going out with each other at that age too.

AnonymousJanuary 22nd 2015.

If we have all girl/boy schools, Muslim, Catholic, Jewish and C of E schools already, why can't we have LGTB schools? If my child was gay and was being bullied on a daily basis, to the point they considered suicide, I'd happily let the join a school where that wouldn't be the norm.

5 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 23rd 2015.

Does the bullying of homosexual children happen in faith schools?

AnonymousJanuary 23rd 2015.

I attended a Catholic school and can confirm that bullying happened in that particular faith school. I can't comment on other faith schools, but it wouldn't surprise me.

AnonymousJanuary 23rd 2015.

Faith schools? Ha, homosexuality is an abomination across the board with tha lot. Faith schools are a joke.

AnonymousJanuary 23rd 2015.

I assume (2nd Anon) that you are being sarcastic asking about bullying of homosexual children in faith schools.

AnonymousJanuary 23rd 2015.

No. I never went to a faith school. It was an honest question.

Poster BoyJanuary 23rd 2015.

The ghettoisation of modern society continues.

1 Response: Reply To This...
ChrisJanuary 23rd 2015.

Cheer up it's not that bad.

AnonymousJanuary 23rd 2015.

LGBT has four letters. Is it the intention that it will be open to any young person in any of the catagories or is it to be gendered.

SmittyJanuary 23rd 2015.

It's a terrible, terrible idea. Most gay people I've spoken to about this are horrified.

7 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 23rd 2015.

I agree and I bet the people waiting outside after school won't just be their parents, but bullies, religious extremists protesting [eg. Muslims surround the place] and gay adult perverts.

ChrisJanuary 23rd 2015.

Yeah maybe some gay Muslim pervert extremists with rainbow coloured explosives?

AnonymousJanuary 23rd 2015.

That was a strange thing to type, Ed.

AnonymousJanuary 23rd 2015.

Gay adult perverts?!!

AnonymousJanuary 24th 2015.

Anon above, are you suggesting being homosexual prevents a man from ever from being a pervert?

SmittyJanuary 24th 2015.

Of all of the of the concerns that I and many other people have about this awful concept, I can assure you that "gay adult perverts" at the school gate does not feature on the list, anonymous.

AnonymousJanuary 24th 2015.

How about the media at the school gates, Smitty?

ChrisJanuary 23rd 2015.

If this is what people want I say go for it. I don't know if it will work but the point is people should be free to experiment and try new things. We may learn from this.

7 Responses: Reply To This...
SmittyJanuary 23rd 2015.

I'd respectfully disagree Ed - I don't think people, generally, do want this, and I don't think gay kids are lab rats to be experimented on. The solution to gay kids being bullied in school isn't by segregating them off into some gay bloody school. The kids who are being bullied AREN'T the problem. Turning them into victims, with a sense that the world is out to get them, has the potential to actually do them more harm than the actual bullying. They should be supported and empowered, not marginalised and ghettoised. Rosa Parks didn't want a black bus, she wanted to be able to sit wherever the hell she liked on the same bus as everyone else. To me, it's the same principle. This is a dangerous idea that is harmful for the cause of equality and - worse - potentially very harmful for young LGBT people themselves.

ChrisJanuary 23rd 2015.

I would say this is more about freedom of choice. Should young lgbt kids who want to got to a lgbt school be denied?

ChrisJanuary 23rd 2015.

P.S. no one has mentioned experimenting on the children like rats (?!) - this is about changing the learning environment. I think it's important to have some variety in our education system and freedom for our young people to make their own decisions.

SmittyJanuary 24th 2015.

Giving young people a voice and a say in how they're educated is really important, but it's within a context of ensuring they get a good education that both educates them (obviously) and also sets them up for life. There are lots of things which we don't let kids choose about their education. For example, most youngsters at one time in their life have woken up and said "I don't want to go to school today". Butthey can't exercise a freedom of choice to skip school because it is detrimental to their education and their welfare. Ghettoising gay children is an even more damaging thing to do to them, so it's something we shouldn't have in our education system.

AnonymousJanuary 25th 2015.

Machester's Muslims seem happy to live in a self ghettoised environment. What's wring with that?

AnonymousJanuary 25th 2015.

There aren't really any ghetto's in Manchester there are no areas that have two thirds or more of one minority ethnic group.

AnonymousJanuary 25th 2015.


AnonymousJanuary 24th 2015.

I worked in an all boys secondary (Church school to boot..), in a pretty rough town,in The North East some years ago, and some more flamboyant "gay" students were rarely bullied, but more admired and liked..One I can think of, always had them laughing with him ,rather than at him....One other student went on the have a very early sex change and was all but living as a girl in Sixth Form. Must have been tough, but given to believe there was no bullying involved. Would hope such schools are not needed, if we are fully accepting of all types...

AnonymousJanuary 24th 2015.

GAY SCHOOL! Ha, love it.

AnonymousJanuary 26th 2015.

Please no. We don't need gay schools, faith schools, private schools (with their annoying tax breaks), grammar schools, single sex schools...we just want good schools with good resources that raise young people to be good citizens tolerant of everyone and everything except all the bad things that matter. I am gay by the way but I probably didn't realise until I was 15ish and enjoyed having a girlfriend at 17....

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