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Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) Campaign

Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson talk about the TIE Campaign and how they are aiming to improve LGBTI education in all Scottish schools.

Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson, TIE Campaign

The TIE campaign was the result of a friendship - one forged late last year. We spent many hours deep in conversation; touching on very emotive, very personal subjects. This process was cathartic and unburdening for one of us, but shocking and distressing for the other. It was then that we both realised that there were many issues within the education system that needed addressing, and so Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) was launched.

When Jordan told me about his experiences growing up as a young LGBTI+ kid, it frightened me - because, immediately, my thoughts switched to my then three year old daughter, who’s sexuality will be unbeknown to me for ten or so years. The thought that she herself could suffer from the same experiences that my friend did - feelings of low self esteem, self loathing, and suicidal thoughts - was too much to bear. I’m sure that any other parent reading this article will know exactly what I’m talking about. For me, my daughter’s sexuality is inconsequential - so I am determined to ensure that she will be happy and confident with who she is, regardless of who she is attracted to. Already, I have taken steps to normalise LGBTI+ issues with her. I’m fortunate that she has a close relationship with Jordan, and one of her closest friends has two mums. So, she is aware of what it means to be LGBTI+ and she understands that it is okay to fancy (her words) whoever she likes. This has shown me the importance of educating our children about the LGBTI+ community. Unfortunately, I will be in the minority of parents who are having these conversations with their kids. Add this to the fact that far too many schools are also currently refusing to acknowledge both the LGBTI+ community and the issues that they face - and we therefore have a perpetuation of the problems.

Jordan’s Story

When I was in my early teens, I went through a phase whereby I struggled quite heavily with self acceptance. I realised that I was gay, and I really didn’t want to be. So I tried to change it. I tried to suppress my attractions, and I dipped into self loathing. I considered suicide, and I thought about how I’d do it. I was too young to be feeling the way that I was feeling, and unfortunately I opened many wounds during that period that have left some scars that still flare up now and then: insecurity, self consciousness, and feelings of isolation. What made matters a lot worse, was that I attended a school that pretty much disregarded the LGBTI+ community. There was no discussion on what it meant to be gay, no teacher that I felt I could have confided in, and no attempt to tackle the homophobia that plagued the hallways. So of course I hid who I was. I had no idea that there was an entire community out there; full of vibrancy, colour, activism and triumph - as far as I was concerned, being gay meant being alone. There was no support available to me during my time at school, and I often wonder: if I had learned about Harvey Milk or ACT UP during a History lesson - would I have felt more comfortable in myself? If I had been told that being gay was not an abomination and if I’d received a PSHE lesson on LGBTI+ - would I still have hated myself? If teachers had challenged the homophobic slurs that were consistently used - would I have felt that I could have been open about my sexuality without fear of being victimised? I firmly believe that if I had received an LGBTI+ inclusive education at my school, then I would have felt a lot more confident in myself a lot sooner. This is exactly why Liam and I have launched TIE.

Educating the educators

Education is an absolutely vital tool to tackle LGBTI-phobia and discrimination, and it must be utilised. It is one thing for a young kid to be struggling to accept themselves, but it is another for them to feel trapped and excluded in an environment where they are supposed to feel safe, nurtured and encouraged to flourish. If we truly are a forward thinking society, then we need a progressive and fully inclusive education system to reflect this. We have heard so many horror stories throughout this campaign; we have received many emails from people reflecting on their experiences in Scottish schools - and it does not paint a pretty picture. Stonewall Scotland’s School Report (2012) found that 44% of LGBTI+ pupils in Scotland believe that their school is not an “accepting, tolerant place” where they feel welcome; 71% regularly skip school, 49% do not feel that they are achieving their best, 54% are regularly self harming and 26% (1 in 4) have attempted to take their own lives as a result of homophobic bullying. This is, by all accounts, a social epidemic.

However, as we’ve been campaigning we have been made aware that there is good work going on in some schools that are acknowledging the LGBTI+ community. We visited the Vale of Leven Academy (VOLA) to meet with the pupils behind the school’s LGBTI+ committee. The first thing that you see as you walk in to the school is a rainbow flag hanging from the wall directly in front of you. One of the most encouraging aspects of our visit was when we had a conversation with a teacher who works with the committee - she spoke to us about the school’s reaction when a pupil came out as transgender. She had been asked by several teachers how to deal with this pupil upon his return, and her response was: “We do whatever he wants us to do.” When we’ve been hearing stories about transgender pupils being bullied by both their peers and teachers, this was very refreshing for us - her response was perfect, and is exactly the position that all teachers should take when faced with such circumstances in their school.

A number of schools across the country, such as those involved in the LGBT Inclusion Alliance in Edinburgh, have allowed their pupils to establish Gay/Straight Alliance groups - and St Joseph’s College, the only faith school in Dumfries and Galloway, is working to achieve their bronze LGBT Youth Charter award. Schools like this are a beacon of hope - but, unfortunately, they are still in the minority. We should be using these institutions as the benchmark for what should be happening en masse: the fact that some schools are giving visibility to the LGBTI+ community shows that it can be done in all of them. Section 28 was repealed fifteen years ago, yet the majority of schools still remain silent when it comes to LGBTI+ issues. What we are currently faced with, then, is a hierarchy of education - a situation whereby an LGBTI+ kid can achieve a fantastically inclusive education in one of the above schools, yet if they attend a school that does not adopt such an approach - they could become another statistic.

In a week’s time, we will be visiting VOLA to speak to the pupils at their assemblies. We’ll be talking about both our personal stories, and also the work that we have been doing throughout the campaign. This is something that we’re both very much looking forward to, as we’re confident that we can show the kids how important these issues are - and we’d be happy to visit other schools to speak with teachers and pupils about this topic.

We are aware of the vitally important role that teachers can play in tackling these issues, and this is why the TIE campaign is focussed on giving teachers the confidence to address LGBTI+ topics and issues directly, by guaranteeing that all teachers have access to the inclusive training programmes that are currently available. Furthermore, we are also campaigning for all trainee teachers to receive LGBTI+ training as part of their required qualification. With subtle changes such as these - you, the teachers, can be the solution to a longstanding problem: but we need you to support our campaign, and to commit to tackling these issues until it is no longer necessary to.

Jordan Daly and Liam Stevenson, Co-Founders of TIE
www.facebook.com/tiecampaign
@tiecampaign

Podcast

Jordan and Liam recently visited GTC Scotland to speak to Claire Gilfillan, Digital Development Co-ordinator, about the TIE Campaign and the issues that LGBTI young people face.