A Short Term Solution For A Long Term Problem? - Are LGBT schools a realistic solution to a much bigger issue?

In three years time, a new form of alternative school could be making waves in the city of Manchester, UK. While some alternative schools focus on trades, creative arts, or more intimate class spaces, the school being proposed by the youth charity organization LGBT Youth North West, is a school structured for students who identify as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered youth. 

The school’s mission would be to provide a safer learning space for LGBT students who are currently learning within the “mainstream” school system, and may be facing issues such as bullying and harassment from peers. While this may seem like the makings of yet another separate school system, it is important to note that such a school would not only allow admittance to LGBT youth but would also be open to other members of the community, such as parents and supportive peers. In fact, the point of such a school is to increase inclusiveness, and provide a safe space for those students who may not feel safe, accepted, or comfortable amongst some of their peers. The hope being to reduce emotional and physical anxieties, dropout rates, and suicide attempts affecting LGBT students.

The charity’s strategic director, Amelia Lee, was quoted as stating that the need for an exclusive school for LGBT youth lies within the fact that "we can either hope every school is going to be inclusive or we can recognize we are not there yet and we need more specialized schools.”

Even though it stings to admit to it, and while we may witness some improvement, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and bullying of those who identify outside of “traditional” sexual and gender roles is still a major issue within our public school systems. We have to consider the repercussions if we do not provide alternative learning spaces for those being victimized and oppressed. The resulting reality of doing nothing is much darker and a lot harder for some of us to fully comprehend. 

Despite the positive aspects of creating this form of alternative school, I can’t help but wonder whether or not this initiative in Manchester is a real solution to the problem? Should our solution really just be to take these youth out of the “mainstream” and place them somewhere else, and what are we going to do to reduce such harassment and bullying for future youth?

The idea of providing a safe-haven is fantastic, and something we should have in place for anyone facing harassment, bullying, or feeling displaced in their environment. But isn’t the real issue the bullies? Have we not been taught since grade school that the real problem in a situation of bullying are the bullies and the bystanders, not the victims? Why should a student have to feel they need to remove themselves from their peers in order to feel accepted within the public education system? Maybe it is the bully who needs to be separated, not the victim.

While homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and hate acts are a much larger social issue than your “average” playground bullying, we can’t ignore the power of education. Many schools are taking strides in this imitative, incorporating in-class education on sexuality that stretches beyond “safe HETERO sex.” Opening the conversation up to the reality of a very diverse world of sexuality, which you should be free to enjoy without judgment and in a safe manner. Unfortunately, my own sexual education within the catholic school system didn’t expand far beyond abstinence and the “no glove no love” talk. Despite some lacking education in the true reality of sex, we were taught about acceptance despite difference, and that just seems like a general lesson that should be hammered into every young person. 

Groups like the Gay Straight Alliance, and Egale, a Toronto-based organization whose mission statement is to work towards establishing a "Canada, and ultimately a world, without homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and all other forms of oppression”, are working to educate youth, parents and teachers on life within the LGBT community. The Harvey Milk High School in New York City, is an example of one LGBT community-based transfer school already working. The high school, named after the openly gay San Francisco politician, is designed to be a safe learning place for LGBT youth, but is open to all students, no matter what their gender identification may be. The school was established in the mid-1980s, is still open today, and may be reflective of the school being proposed in Manchester.

So is an LGBT school the solution to this problem of oppression? Of course not. We need to educate those youth who are acting as the oppressors. We need to let those students facing victimization know that not only is it okay to openly be who they are, but that they are safe to do so wherever they please. While such a school may be necessary for current societal issues, it is not a solution to the problem at hand. The problem being, that once again, we are oppressing an entire community for being who they are, and making a group of youth feel as though they cannot learn safely within our public education systems. The social oppression of the LGBT community is much bigger, and a change in the education system won’t fix, but at least it is a suggested starting point.


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