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Carol Hills: School can be a tough place when you’re different. You can get teased for having the wrong brand of jeans or not having the latest iPhone. But being harassed for your sexuality can lead to a level of bullying that can be hard for some kids to endure. It can even be life threatening. Well, in Manchester, England, there are plans to open Britain’s first school for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender young people. It’s similar to the Harvey Milk High School in New York, named after the gay activist and politician. The Manchester project is still in the early stages. Amelia Lee with the charity LGBT Youth Northwest is helping to spearhead the effort.
Amelia Lee: For some young people, they have a very tough time in mainstream education, and that can be because of external factors like homophobia, and biphobia, and transphobia. But it’s also for internal factors as well. People sometimes need a bit of time and a bit of space to work out their own identities.
Hills: Will your curriculum parallel the existing curriculum at the other state schools or be different at all?
Lee: It would be parallel. We have a national curriculum. We would ensure that that was really inclusive. There are loads of great examples out there. School’s Out UK has created a number of lesson plans for every key stage level and every curriculum area that includes LGBT identities and information and lives, but covers everything that needs to be covered on the national curriculum. So, we’re not going to have the gay math lesson or the gay geography lesson, but when we’re talking about populations in geography, we might look at something like the Jewish diaspora. So, where Jews have moved from the central locations to across the whole world, and how with gay populations, sometimes that happens the opposite way round, so people come from everywhere and they gravitate more towards bigger towns and cities. That’s the type of way you can include and salt and pepper throughout your curriculum little bits of information that validate and make visible lesbian/gaybisexual/trans lives.
Hills: Would the students who would go to this school be only LGBT students?
Lee: Not at all, no. In the state system in the UK, every school has to be open to everybody. So, we would welcome people would want to opt in. If you look at somewhere like the Harvey Milk school in New York, over a third of their people identify as heterosexual; a lot of their people don’t identify as trans. So, it’s very much about inclusion, not exclusion.
Hills: Who would pay for this school?
Lee: We’re hoping the state will pay for it because the cost currently to the public purse is quite high, from young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans or those who aren’t but have experienced homophobia, because if they’re having a really hard time than everything suffers, so they don’t get the grades that they could get and therefore they’re not going to earn as much as they could, and they’re not going to pay the taxes on that potential earning. They’re also more likely to have to access mental health services, they’re more likely to be in unstable housing situations. So, really by investing in appropriate support early on in somebody’s life, then obviously you can save a lot of money for the state in the long run.
Hills: What kind of problems are you seeing? What are some examples of students that are really struggling?
Lee: We had one young person who was in the changing rooms before going into a sports lesson, and somebody pulled their pants down, like their trousers and their knickers underneath. We’ve had people having things stolen from them, being beaten up, being chased home, having eggs pelted at them. So, it can range really from stuff that is quite low level to things that are really life-endangering.
Hills: Amelia Lee is the strategic director of LGBT Youth Northwest. That’s in Manchester, England. Amelia, thanks for your time.
Lee: Thank you.