Henry Hepburn

This ‘seismic shift’ in attitudes to LGBTI is off the Richter scale

While there is no room for complacency, ministers’ commitment to LGBTI-inclusive education shows just how far Scotland has come

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I went to secondary school from 1987 to 1993. This was an era in which tabloids revelled in “outing” public figures, when one’s peers would deride unfashionable trainers as “gay” and when football crowds bayed abuse at supposed “poofters” – what a ridiculously archaic word that seems now – who showed the tiniest hint of sensitivity.

Unsurprisingly, I cannot recall a single pupil at my school who was openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI). Not that anyone remarked upon this at the time.

Last week, in a landmark move hailed by all parties, education secretary John Swinney announced Scotland was planning to become the first country in the world with “LGBTI-inclusive education”.

The hackneyed term “seismic shift” often refers to nothing of the sort, but in terms of attitudes towards the LGBTI community, that is exactly what has taken place in Scotland over a short period of time. The Scottish Social Attitudes 2015 survey found that 18 per cent of people believed “sexual relations between two adults of the same sex” were wrong – a sizeable minority, granted. But bear in mind that, in the 2000 survey, the figure was 48 per cent.

Back in 2016, Tes Scotland published a piece by Jordan Daly, one of the driving forces in the Time for Inclusive Education campaign, which last week received overwhelming backing in Parliament for its call that all schools should teach and recognise LGBTI history and role models, and issues affecting LGBTI young people.

In the article, Daly wrote of the “inner torment” that a decade previously had brought him to the brink of suicide, aged just 12. These feelings, he says, were “exacerbated” by the climate at his school, where homophobic slurs were commonplace, homophobic bullying was endemic and it would have been “inconceivable for anyone to be openly LGBT and not put themselves at risk”.

When Daly visited schools for the Time for Inclusive Education campaign, he was “alarmed by how little progress seemed to have been made”, with sporadic good practice and the efforts of passionate teachers undermined by inconsistent approaches to LGBTI issues that he found in schools around Scotland.

Last week, however, Daly hailed “a monumental victory for our campaign and a historic moment for our country”. The requirement to teach pupils about LGBTI issues would send “a strong and clear message to LGBTI young people that they are valued here in Scotland”, he added.

The parliamentary announcement did have a fair amount of online detractors, some with extreme views. We reporters even received a press release from a group that described 8 November as “a date which will live in infamy” for allowing a “historic betrayal of parental rights by the government” and “state-sanctioned indoctrination and propaganda” in classrooms.

Those views are likely to find themselves on the wrong side of history.

There is no room for complacency, however. In February, LGBT Youth Scotland revealed that 46 per cent of LGBT young people surveyed rated their overall experience of school as “bad” – students were far less likely to have a bad experience at college or university – with many reporting that bullying was routine, few feeling able to turn to teachers and some saying they had left school with their education and mental health in ruins.

It’s far too early to determine the impact that last week’s announcement will have on young lives and the practice of those who teach them. There is no doubting, however, that Scotland has firmly nailed the rainbow colours to its mast.


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