Isn’t it amazing how the media can create a drama out of a simple comment. Yesterday I saw a number of press and blog articles announcing “UK’s first LGBT school planned for Manchester”. The story seems to have gone viral and has attracted a huge amount of negative comment from everywhere. Even the comments from members of the LGBT community expressed concerns about the idea and of course the usual homophobes including the Daily Mail have had a field day.
Reading the articles and comments I decided that this was a bad idea and clearly someone had been pretty stupid. The press articles included lots of quotes from a representative of LGBT Youth North West which made it look as if they really had announced this and not considered the consequences. I was struggling to understand how they were even going to do it and not fall foul of the Equalities Act and that was confirmed by quotes from funders and government sources denying that they had either funded such a school or approved the idea.
So I visited the LGBT Youth North West web site and the truth was immediately revealed. The actual story is a long way from the twisted stories the media have presented. LGBT Youth North West are planning to develop their building, the Joyce Layland LGBT Centre which opened in 1988, and expand the support they provide o the LGBT community. They have received £63,000 from the Social Investment Fund to conduct a full feasibility study, including researching the LGBT community to find out what people want.
In their press release they explain this and happened to drop in this comment:
That was the only reference to the LGBT school and that seems to have come about because Amelia Lee, Strategic Director at LGBT Youth North West visited the Harvey Milk School in New York City last year at her own expense, which happened to coincide with a visit by Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan.
So the real truth about this LGBT School is that its an idea born out of a visit to a project in the US founded in 1985 when LGBT people received little or no support anywhere. We have come a long way since then, but sadly many, if not most, schools are still not tackling gender based bullying effectively. From my experience in running a support service I know that huge numbers of LGBT children are bullied out of school and eventually, in constant fear for their safety, drop out of school.
When that happens they are either home schooled or are redirected into special needs schools where they have the resources to help kids catch up and can deal with behavioral problems effectively. One of my own children attended such a school and I can say from experience that they are not the most LGBT friendly schools around. So I can see why special needs schools that are LGBT friendly would be a good idea – ie that they have a absolute ZERO tolerance of any form of harassment or bullying and are 100% supportive of children who wish to express themselves in a way that is atypical for their sex. Gender variant children need to be able to dress in a way that reflects their gender identity.
So I can see exactly where LGBT Youth North West is coming from and its a great idea. But that is all it is at this stage which is very clear from the statement on their web site, which also emphasises their commitment to helping to make all mainstream schools LGBT friendly.
I have been a freelance journalist for a long time and although I have not spoken to anyone regarding this story, I can see from what I have read why this has ended up as a huge negative story. One of the press, probably Pink News, picked up the press release, saw the LGBT School comment and decided that was a great idea so called Amelia to get more information. She is super excited about the school idea and was happy to talk to a gay friendly journalist about why this is needed. Once the Pink News story broke, the homophobic press led by the Daily Mail were on it like vultures and turned it into a massive anti gay story and as usual many of the following stories largely regurgitate the earlier stories with no new research.
It just shows how careful we all have to be. In the present climate anything that looks as if a minority group is receiving special treatment is likely to be turned into a negative story by the protagonists of the minority group. The sad thing is that this may mean that a great idea has been nipped in the bud and will never see the light of day – because no politician is going to want to be seen to support an idea that has attracted so much negative comment. Lets hope that LGBT Youth North West has more success with their campaign to make mainstream schools more LGBT friendly so this LGBT school becomes unnecessary.