Youth group unveils controversial plan to help bullied LGBT pupils in Manchester
- Centre for 60 teenagers is by taxpayer-funded LGBT Youth North West
- Group says it could prevent suicides like that of Elizabeth Lowe, 14
- But MPs said idea would not reduce prejudice in mainstream schools
- Tory Tim Loughton: ‘It seems a step backwards from achieving tolerance’
A taxpayer-funded youth group has drawn up controversial plans for Britain’s first school for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender pupils.
LGBT Youth North West wants the school to cater for children aged 13 and older who have been bullied and hopes the idea will be copied across the country.
Organisers yesterday denied that the school would become a ‘ghetto’ for gay children and said mainstream schools can be ‘one of the last bastions of homophobia’.
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Controversial: A youth group has unveiled plans for Britain’s first all-LGBT school (posed by model)
But critics said the move would amount to segregation and would harm efforts to improve tolerance of gay people.
Amelia Lee, the group’s strategic director, said the idea was based on the Harvey Milk School in New York, named after the American politician later played by Sean Penn in a Hollywood movie.
She visited the Harvey Milk school last year, and said she had secured a meeting with officials at the Department for Education.
But Tory MP and former education minister Tim Loughton said: ‘We need to do a lot more to combat homophobic bullying and to create a more tolerant society.
Elizabeth Lowe, 14, killed herself in misplaced fear that her Christian parents would reject her
‘But I cannot see how segregating a group of young people identified by their sexuality can aid better engagement and understanding.
‘The way to achieve more integration, understanding and empathy is not by segregating members of one group, and this would seem to me to be a step backwards from achieving tolerance.’
Miss Lee said her organisation has carried out a survey of gay, lesbian and transgender young people which found many felt teachers had been unsupportive and in some cases simply urged them to ‘ignore’ bullying.
‘Teachers in mainstream schools have problems in tackling issues like homophobic bullying and coming out,’ she said. ‘Unfortunately, schools can be one of the last bastions of homophobia.
‘We have also seen tragic cases such as that of Elizabeth Lowe, a 14-year-old who committed suicide in a park in Manchester because she was struggling with coming out and was worried about telling her parents.
‘It’s to combat problems like those that we want to work with schools and pupil referral units to help young people who are struggling in mainstream education.’
The group received a grant for £63,000 from the Department for Communities and Local Government to enable it to purchase the building where it is based, the Joyce Layland LGBT Centre in central Manchester.
And it used part of the funding to conduct a feasibility study into setting up a school. Miss Lee paid for the visit to the U.S. out of her own pocket.
Miss Lee said that by coincidence Education Secretary Nicky Morgan was also visiting the Harvey Milk School last year at the same time she was there.
She also praised the ‘climate of change’ within the department towards homophobic bullying in schools.
City: City council officials in Manchester (pictured) say they are open to the idea, which is in early stages
A source close to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan told the Mail: ‘There is simply no way that we will approve a free school specifically for LGBT young people.
‘Pupils regardless of their sexuality should be educated in mainstream schools which should be equipped to tackle any bullying that should occur.’
Miss Lee said the proposed school would also be open to pupils who were not gay or transgender but felt more comfortable in such an environment and those who are questioning their sexuality.
Critic: MP Tim Loughton said the idea would segregate students from one another even more
The group said it had already had backing from Manchester City Council as well as the Schools Out anti-homophobic bullying campaign.
LGBT Youth North West is a regional organisation that seeks to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans young people in the North West of England.
It receives funding from a raft of state funded bodies, including the region’s councils and parts of the NHS. It also says its work is ‘supported by’ the National Lottery, Comic Relief and Children in Need.
Miss Lee said she intends to wait until after the General Election to decide whether to go ahead with an application to set up a free school, with the first pupils starting in around three years’ time.
She said around two-thirds of the anticipated 60 pupils would be full-time, with the rest attending for around a day a week from their usual schools.
‘The last thing we want is for young people to fall out of mainstream education permanently, or for this to become a ghetto for lesbian, gay and bisexual students,’ she said.
‘This would be somewhere that students who are struggling with the negative effects of issues like bullying could attend classes for a period of time while ensuring they get the grades they are capable of.’
She said children would not be enrolled in the school as their first-choice secondary, but referred there if they were having problems in mainstream education, potentially staying for a year or more.
A spokesman from the Department for Communities and Local Government said the grant was to help the group purchase the community centre from Manchester City Council and was not to set up a school.
A spokesman said: ‘The Department for Communities and Local Government has not funded this school.’
‘Rather, through the organisation Social Investment Business, grants have been given to local areas wishing to run buildings for community uses.’
A spokesman for Manchester City Council said: ‘We supported LGBT Youth NW in their bid for funding to look at the feasibility of expanding their premises and developing the work they do.
‘One of their development ambitions is around how they might make additional educational support available to LGBT young people. We’ve had an initial discussion with them about that, but there are no current plans that we’re aware of to open a LGBT school in the city.’
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