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Plans were recently unveiled for a new school in Manchester to be built for the purpose of educating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pupils who have struggled in traditional schools. The plan was given a £63,000 grant from the Department of Communities and Local Government, and Amelia Lee, strategic director for LGBT Youth North West, said the new school would be a “trailblazer”. But the concept is flawed, and unlikely to help those it sets out to protect.
Essentially, the idea of an LGBT school is one of segregation, which is never the answer to a problem such as this. Without integration of different groups of people at a young age, people may never learn to accept one another for being different to themselves. Of course, the school would be voluntary and nobody will be forced to leave their mainstream school, but while it aims to take people out of a situation that could become dangerous due to bullying, it will only prevent it for the individual, and no deal with the source of the problem.
In fact, by removing the victims of bullying, the bullies themselves may feel as though they have triumphed – they’ve removed another pupil that they dislike and have presumable gained a lot of attention while doing so. Furthermore, it won’t prevent the bullies from doing the same again. They’ll just go and find another victim. Instead, the focus should be on educating others to be more open minded and accepting, on trying to eradicate the problem at its source rather than just deal with the aftermath.
Even though the LGBT school would cost slightly less than a new mainstream school (which have on average £14m building costs, with added running costs thereafter) as it would only accept 40 full-time students at a time, it’s still a significant amount. If we took that sum and put it into other relief methods, which could possibly be used nationwide, it would have a much bigger impact.
Take, for instance, Lancaster University, which has a very active LGBT organisation, who work to spread awareness and provide a place for people to go if they have any questions or concerns about their sexuality and dealing with others’ attitudes towards it. By being visible, they are able to become an accepted part of the community. This idea of a dedicated group within an educational institution could be replicated at schools to have a similar effect. Of course, university is a very different environment to a school, but it would still be a positive thing to pursue.
The money could also be spent on more support for the victims of bullying and anyone struggling with their identity within the mainstream schools, such as counselling services and somewhere for people to go to feel safe. Of course, many schools do provide welfare services, but if more money were to be invested in them, they could provide better support for specific groups and a possible increase in quality.
There’s also the question of stigma. Many students that Lee discusses as examples of people who would benefit from the school, are people who struggled to come out. If this is the case, it’s unlikely that they would want to be segregated for being LGBT. It seems as though this label would become more prominent and act even more as an identifier, rather than just being a part of who they are. At least by being in mainstream schools, they are showing that it is a normal part of society and not something that should be tucked away, outside of the rest of society.
Furthermore, Lee defends the proposal by giving the example of Lizzie (Elizabeth Lowe) who “committed suicide in a park because she was struggling with coming out and was worried about telling her parents”. But surely for pupils to attend the school, which would require them to tell their parents where they are going, will be just as difficult when parental pressure is the problem, let alone the stigma that the school may carry.
Although it’s clear that there is a need for measures to help LGBT young people overcome bullying and loneliness, the school is a heavily flawed idea. Money would be better spent on support and education in existing mainstream schools to promote inclusion and acceptance.