“It is about trying to develop something that helps people that need extra support,” Amelia Lee, strategic director for LGBT Youth North West in Manchester, told The Guardian. “Despite the laws that claim to protect gay people from homophobic bullying, the truth is that in schools especially, bullying is still incredibly common and causes young people to feel isolated and alienated, which often leads to truanting and, in the worst-case scenarios, to suicide.”
The proposed school will be located in the heart of Manchester and will offer classroom space for up to 40 full-time students, as well as 20 part-time students who also want to continue attending a mainstream school.
“This is not about making a little, safe enclave away from the real world,” Lee said. “The school will have a gentle, supportive atmosphere. Its curriculum will be closely tailored to each child’s needs and incorporate academic work with youth-work techniques, such as building self-esteem and functional skills by working in the charity’s cafe or community garden.”
Lee noted that the present school system in Manchester is failing 5-10 percent of pupils, many of whom either don’t respond well to the structure or are struggling with their identities. This new school will offer them an alternative and a place to thrive.
“We can either hope every school is going to be inclusive,” Lee said, “or we can recognize we are not there yet and so, for the moment, we need more specialized schools.”
“It will be LGBT-inclusive, but not exclusive,” she said.
But not everyone agrees with Lee. Some LGBT rights activists feel a school of this sort doesn’t help to advance their cause.
“We know that LGBT students still experience bullying and harassment. That needs to change,” Ruth Hunt, chief executive of the LGBT advocacy group Stonewall, tells the Guardian. “While we’re sympathetic to the aims and objectives of LGBT-only schools, we don’t see them as the answer.”
“Our experience working with more than 12,000 schools across the country shows that it is possible to create safe and inclusive environments where all pupils can be themselves,” she continues. “This makes the learning environment better for all students–regardless of their sexual orientation–and is the key to eradicating homophobia in every single school in Britain.”
But there are plenty of young people who feel that a specialized school is absolutely necessary.
Ellie (not her real name) told the Guardian that after she was outed by someone at her school the fallout was “awful” and that “none of the teachers did anything to help me.” In fact, some went out of their way to make things worse.
“The PE teacher made me change clothes with the lads because she said I wasn’t attracted to them,” Ellie said. “It annoyed me so much that I stopped going to PE, which meant I got in trouble for missing the lessons.”
She eventually had to transfer to a new school.
Rob (also not his real name) told the Guardian that constant homophobic bullying made his school experience extremely difficult. He, too, blames his teachers for not doing enough to stick up for him.
“They need to help us feel safe in our own environment of school,” Ron said. “And they should teach the other students how LGBT people just want to be like anyone else. But none of this happens and, as a result, LGBT pupils routinely experience bullying that, if it was racist or sexist, wouldn’t be accepted by the school for a second.”
The new school is being planned as an extension to Manchester’s Joyce Layland LGBT Centre and will likely open in 2018.