Let's not take a step back

10th April 2015 at 01:00

Walking through a traditionally working-class area of Glasgow recently, I was struck by the sight of two boys, aged about 11 or 12, unselfconsciously walking down the street with their arms around each other's shoulders.

The image was like a throwback to a Bert Hardy photograph from the pre-war years, when boys could openly show affection to each other without being labelled "gay". At the same time, I have never known so many pupils I teach to openly say they are homosexual or bisexual. One former student who was transgender even felt confident enough to come to school in a girl's uniform.

The days of Section 28 seem a long time ago. Many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teenagers are now able to be open about their gender and sexuality without fear of abuse. And the terror among (mainly) heterosexual boys of being thought of as gay appears to have receded. At my school in the 1970s, one reason why football culture dominated every aspect of a boy's life was the fear that if you didn't like the game people would think you were sexually suspect.

I would suggest that this shift is not only down to cultural changes in society but also a more open attitude towards difference in our schools, where sexual health and relationships education gives equal weight to same-sex relationships, and LGBT groups are invited in to offer advice to pupils unsure of their sexuality.

And yet, despite this, plans are under way to open a school for LGBT pupils in Manchester who are struggling in mainstream education.

If the proposal comes to fruition, it would be a counterproductive move in our journey towards a more inclusive society. Although the school would be for pupils who have been subject to truly terrible levels of homophobic bullying, this could be interpreted as an extreme case of victim-blaming.

At the same time, it risks giving the bigots a sense of victory and the confidence to decide which minority group to cleanse their school of next, rather than having their prejudices challenged daily and thus diminished.

Another fear is that it would create a ghetto for LGBT young people, which surely can't be healthy for those pupils or for wider society.

Of course, homophobic bullying still occurs in schools, not only from other students but more shamefully from some teachers, too. In recent years I have heard of LGBT pupils being told to get changed in a toilet away from classmates of the same sex and of a boy being deliberately outed by a teacher, causing him to leave school.

LGBT young people need their teachers to support them, to tackle homophobic classroom language and to let them know that someone will listen when they are struggling at school.

Gordon Cairns is an English and forest school teacher in Glasgow

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