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The Joyce Layland LGBT Centre, located in Manchester, England, may become Britain’s first school for LGBT students. LGBT Youth North West, the youth work organization behind the plans for the school, recently received a £63,000 grant to conduct a feasibility study and train their staff. Reactions from the press have been mixed, and occasionally factually inaccurate, so I reached out to Amelia Lee, the strategic director of LGBT Youth North West, to find out what exactly the plans are.
According to the press release and an update on the LGBT Youth North West website, they have no immediate plans to open a school. The Joyce Layland LGBT Centre is currently owned by the Manchester City Council, and some of the grant money would go to leasing the building. Along with that, they will use the money “to help train over 80 of our volunteers and our staff so we can take the building, e.g. Training on Health and safety, food hygiene, using social media, carpentry, plumbing, management of a community building. It also will help us with our branding and creating a new website so we can help communicate to the outside world.” They will also bring in consultation on plans to add two more floors to the center so that they can provide support to more people.
Lee also told me that the school is in very early stages of planning; they’ve only started having conversations with teachers about it. And while they certainly want to set up an alternative education provision for LGBT students, one with “high quality staff who can have conversations with young people about identity, and who can work to a curriculum that salt and peppers LGBT visibility throughout it,” they’re also working with mainstream schools in the meantime. “We train 1000 teachers per year who work in mainstream schools, and our priority is to train more teachers in mainstream schools so all schools are inclusive.”
Once the school does open, what will it look like? For starters, the Centre itself is already rich with resources and activities for local LGBT youths and other groups. They have non-gendered bathrooms, a library full of LGBT, feminist, and activist works, a separate zine library, community garden, and a community cafe that uses produce from the garden. The curriculum would incorporate LGBT history as well as LGBT themes while meeting national curriculum standards. In fact, there are already resources like The Classroom for teachers who want to incorporate LGBT-focused lessons into their own classrooms.
The model is comparable to the Harvey Milk High School in New York, an accredited public high school that grew out of the LGBT youth programs run by the Hetrick-Marin Institute: enrollment would not be limited to students who identify as LGBT, the school would accommodate both full-time and part-time students, and curriculum would meet national standards while also providing a safe space for LGBT students. Of course, being bullied doesn’t stop a kid (or anyone) from bullying someone else, and Lee assured me that LGBT Youth North West “already has strong policies and culture/practice in place to be proactive about inclusion, support and addressing the shoots and roots of bullying.”
Lee has also emphasized the need for an alternative provision school for LGBT students. Alternative provision refers to a specific type of school for “pupils who, because of exclusion, illness, or other reasons, would not otherwise receive suitable education.” In this case, Lee has talked about how incredibly common homophobic bullying is in schools, despite the laws against such bullying, which “causes young people to feel isolated and alienated, which often leads to truanting and, in the worst-case scenarios, to suicide.” Additionally, parents of trans children in the community have expressed interest in an alternative provision school that is able to support trans needs. There is a real, immediate need for a separate safe space for LGBT students to get an education.
If the plan the school does go forward, the next steps will be to form partnerships with young people and consult with existing schools and alternative education, in order to properly set up the school according to government regulations. Lee is also pragmatic about the cost: “Public and individuals helping with funding is key. The building might cost £1 million to build a second floor to make room for the provision, and it may cost £500,000 – £1 million per year to run.” However, she points out that this initial spending would save money in the long run; the school would “reduce demand on mental health and social care services, and would help pupils succeed, who would otherwise leave school with no qualifications.”