Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week or so, you’d have noticed a ripple within the LGBT community. Last week, a Manchester charity unveiled plans to open a state school dedicated to the support of lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LGBT) pupils. Upon reading this news, I felt fiercely protective over the community to which I belong – the very community that is being offered ‘support’ under the guise of separation.
Bullying is no secret in schools, whether the children are 6 or 16 there is always going to be something that they are going to be ostracised for; their height, weight, the colour of their skin. Kids can be mean. So rather than eliminating the victims of discrimination, why isn’t the source being tackled head on?
I’m not ashamed to admit that I was bullied at school, but that’s not to say that my life wouldn’t have been a whole lot easier without it. Attending an all girls’ school brought a whole plethora of problems with it, especially when I realised that I was gay. The expected onslaught of bullying occurred, and luckily I came out the other side relatively unscathed, I was lucky… but that’s not always the case. In 2011 the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) conducted the National School Climate Survey and the results were harrowing:
82% of LGBT youth had problems during the previous year with bullying about sexual orientation.
64% felt unsafe at school due to sexual orientation.
44% felt unsafe at school due to gender identification.
32% did not go to school for at least one day because of feeling unsafe.
Statistics can easily be ignored, right? But these numbers are real people, real kids who are suffering at the hands of bullies. GLSEN also concluded that of the bullied LGBT youth, 44% suffered physical harassment and 22% suffered stronger violence. Of this 66%, 61% did not report the attack, and for those brave enough to report the violation they suffered, 31% said that the school made no effort to respond. Disgusting, if you ask me. It seems that the idea of this radicalised LGBT school is to remove the marginalised group, to segregate them rather than integrate them and attacking the problem at the source.
The school’s primary focus is said to be on LGBT pupils, but it will also aim to offer help to those with mental health problems and young carers. Amelia Lee, strategic director for LGBT Youth North West, the charity behind the plans, states that “[the school] will be LGBT-inclusive, but not exclusive”. Therein lies the problem. Surely every school should be LGBT-inclusive? Surely every school should offer help to those suffering with mental illness? Most schools (with the odd exception) aim to be inclusive of and are supposedly supportive of diversity. This diversity includes, but is not limited to – race, disability, sexuality and sexual identity. It can be idealised that bullying occurs when something or someone is outside of ‘the norm’ and those who are victimised are often within these diverse categories. If Lee is devising a school especially for one ostracised group, one ‘minority’, then surely other schools should be in place to support minority groups of children who may be struggling with a similar issue in mainstream schools. If we were to go by Lee’s standards, then a school for different ethnicities could be put in place – but then that would be racism. A school for those with physical or mental impairments could be sought out – but that would be ableism. It baffles me how a school can be penned for those who are lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender and it be viewed as a positive thing – when it could easily be seen as homophobia.
Our society is widely evolving, and problems such as this need to be addressed directly, rather than shunned – as Lee is seemingly trying to do. By shutting us queers away and labelling it as ‘support’ she is suggesting that we discard the problem, she is inadvertently silencing our voice. If LGBT children are closed away in this manner, along with their often already internalised feelings, what are they to think? Does it not endorse the bullies? Encourage the homophobia that is so ripe in our society? Putting LGBT children in a separate school will undoubtedly affect their integration into wider society later in life. It needs to be realised that this plan of action will not stop people being gay; much like removing LGBT pupils is not going to stop the bullies from bullying. In my experience, one way to stop a bully is to educate them – hateful words and actions are often born out of fear. Children sometimes bully because they don’t understand something – if you explain to a child that being friends with someone who is gay, doesn’t make you gay or that hugging someone who is born in the wrong body won’t give you cooties, they are more likely to understand and accept, you’ll likely find that children are a lot more accepting and unquestioning than most adults.
For me, being bullied at school (however unpleasant) taught me some valuable lessons. It made me aware that homophobia is alive and kicking, that there are people out there who will discriminate and attempt to make your life a living hell over something that you cannot control. Through no fault of my own I was shunned and tormented but overall it opened my eyes to the abhorrence that exists in the society in which we live. Bullies will bully unless we do something about it and to segregate LGBT children would be detrimental – they won’t learn valuable life skills, they won’t know how to deal with homophobia or transphobia in a wider public setting and they will further internalise their fears and not confront them head on. The solution shouldn’t be, as Amelia Lee suggests, forcing the victims of bullying to undertake avoidance tactics in order to lead a legitimate life, but to put the spotlight on those who discriminate, bully and ruin lives. Mainstream, state schools need to offer the proper support to LGBT students and a proper education on these matters to all pupils – especially those who bully. Separating those who are different won’t breed acceptance, only conceal the issue with no proper resolution.