School makes its mark in the fight against homophobia

20th February 2015 at 00:00
`Life-saving' approach will be first to receive LGBT award

Broxburn Academy in West Lothian will next week become the first school in Scotland to receive a prestigious award for its work on tackling homophobia and supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students.

The academy will be given the LGBT Schools Charter Mark by charity LGBT Youth Scotland. The award is the culmination of a two-year initiative, which has included training staff, running events and displaying posters in every classroom.

Headteacher Peter Reid told TESS: "We have listened to the kids. It's about being a school that is aware some people are different from others and may need support. Kids also have to know they don't have to be scared about their sexuality."

Acting depute headteacher Evelyn Russell led the school's drive to gain the charter mark. She was principal teacher for guidance when students raised concerns about a lack of support for young people dealing with LGBT issues, and an action plan was developed to address this.

Ms Russell said that in the past young people had felt unable to come out "because of the fear factor". She added: "As a teacher and a parent, I thought that was just wrong. We have had a couple of young people say they felt the work on the school was life-saving."

Although it would never be possible to eradicate bullying or hurtful comments completely, she said, the initiative had changed the culture of the school. "The young people feel there is an ethos of acceptance and normality. They also feel there is clear signposting about where they can go for support. This is really valuable - it is not a tick-box exercise."

The work that went into meeting the requirements of the charter was extensive, Ms Russell said, and focused on pupils while also involving teachers and management. "The whole staff has been trained by LGBT Youth Scotland in dealing with scenarios that might come up. That was huge," she added.

Broxburn has run a Gay Pride event and pupils have released two CDs to raise awareness of LGBT and equality issues. The school has also held drop-in sessions for anyone with questions or concerns. The sessions were overseen by young people who were peer-trained by LGBT Youth Scotland.

The LGBT Charter Mark for organisations has existed for a number of years, but Broxburn is the first institution to receive the Schools Charter Mark. LGBT Youth Scotland said the standards for the charter mark had been "directly informed by the needs and views of LGBT young people in Scotland". To receive the award, schools need to carry out activities in areas including training, policies, practice, materials and resources, as well as monitoring and evaluation.

A 2012 survey by LGBT Youth Scotland showed that more than two-thirds of LGBT young people had experienced homophobic or biphobic bullying in school. More than four out of five respondents were aware of this kind of bullying taking place. And almost 77 per cent of transgender young people had experienced homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying.

Earlier this month, first minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged her support for the appointment of an international envoy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights.

Graeme Ross, education officer at LGBT Youth Scotland, said: "Lots of schools tend to do individual bits of work on LGBT issues, but the charter mark asks schools to embed it. Broxburn has really engaged young people in that process."

Help is out there

LGBT Youth Scotland offers training for staff and young people, and has developed a range of teaching materials to support schools. Visit www.lgbtyouth.org.uk pro-resources-education

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