By Fergus McMillan, Chief Executive of LGBT Youth Scotland and cofounder of respectme, Scotland’s anti-bullying service.
The link between wellbeing and educational achievement has always seemed a relatively straightforward one to me; the idea that if children and young people are safe, nurtured and happy, they will be more successful learners and able to make the most of their educational journey. Put in the context of equality and children’s rights, the mere provision of education is not enough to secure a child’s right to education; we need to make sure that there is equity in education, so that children and young people make the most of their educational opportunities. Our role as professionals and policy-makers is to ensure that we do everything we can to remove the obstacles in young people’s way to making that a reality, which includes eliminating prejudice and discrimination.
Some of the young people who attend youth groups with LGBT Youth Scotland tell us:
“LGBT is such an undiscussed minority, it’s almost complete taboo. Having a place young people know that are validated and valued is endlessly helpful, to confidence, self-esteem, and mental health, amongst many others.”
“If the group wasn’t here I wouldn’t know half of the people I do. I wouldn’t understand anything about my own gender and sexuality and would have stayed isolated. I… wouldn’t have had the amazing opportunities I have. The group has changed my life and saved it too. It is the most amazing escape, and makes the world a better place”
Here the young people make clear the importance of understanding their own emerging identity, and that being valued by others, which is achieved where we are open and inclusive in our educational settings, whether at school, in a youth club or online. That allows a young person to have the confidence and motivation to thrive and learn, for me, evidence of a child’s right to education in practice; the unlocking of a young person’s potential, which is otherwise hindered by social isolation, stress and mental health problems, often experienced as a result of prejudice and discrimination.
An education where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people report feeling included in their school community, have their lives reflected in the curriculum and have equal access to a safe, high-quality education, free from homo-, bi- and trans-phobic bullying, is exactly the education we want to see for all young people at LGBT Youth Scotland.
We take a three-pronged approach to our work to improve education for LGBT young people:
- Nurturing strong and effective leadership at all levels, including youth leadership
- Providing high-quality guidance and good practice for inclusive learning and teaching
- Role of regulation and inspection.
Strand one involves working directly with teachers, young people and school management to nurture strong and effective leadership and helps develop teacher expertise.
Strand two includes working with partners to develop and promote guidance at the national level, including LGBT Youth Scotland’s LGBT Schools Charter programme. LGBT Youth Scotland regularly provides support to LGBT young people at school, their families, carers and teachers.
Strand three involves pressing for more effective use of levers in the Equality Act (2010) and Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), the role of inspection and regulation in monitoring and evaluating policy and the implementation of guidance and good practice. LGBT Youth Scotland believes that education authorities should have mechanisms in place to monitor all forms of prejudice-based bullying (most importantly by asking young people about their experiences) and pro-active policy and programmes in place to address particular issues. LGBT Youth Scotland has also called for the consideration of a statutory underpinning for consistent and inclusive relationships, sexual health and parenthood education, since that is in that area that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has called for greater support for LGBT and intersex young people.
The important ‘take-away’ from this is that it is not a young person’s coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or gender-queer that affects their educational achievement, it is the experience of prejudice and discrimination (in all of its forms) and the failure to eradicate it, through LGBT inclusive education, which the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recently referred to in its recommendations. We have an opportunity for Scotland to lead the way in ensuring that we close the gap in education, not only for those young people from the poorest backgrounds, but also for those young people who experience prejudice and discrimination, as a result of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Let’s make Scotland the best place to grow up for LGBT young people!
LGBT Youth Scotland is the largest youth and community-based organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Scotland.