The Joyce Layland LGBT Centre May Become Britain’s First LGBT School

feature image via Shutterstock

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.

Joyce Layland LGBT Centre image via genderspeaker

Joyce Layland LGBT Centre
image via genderspeaker

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.”

A Young Women's Peer Health Project meeting inside the center image via Young Women's Peer Health Project

A Young Women’s Peer Health Project meeting inside the center
image via Young Women’s Peer Health Project

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.”

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21 Comments

  1. So odd to see my hometown on Autostraddle!

    I’ve had a few heated conversations about this with (straight) people at work this week, hopefully the majority of people don’t think there’s “no point” in a school like this and it gets more funding.

  2. I wish the school all the best and I’m glad to hear that they’re working with teachers in mainstream schools in the meantime. I would have hoped that the inclusivity/anti-homophobic-bullying situation in British schools might have improved since I finished school, but I get the impression (from friends of mine who became secondary teachers in the UK) that homophobia is unfortunately still a big problem. I’d love to see greater inclusion of queer themes and history in the mainstream school curriculum too – I remember learning about people like Alan Turing without there being any mention of queerness!

  3. As a teacher in urban middle and high schools, I have watched queer students check out and/or drop out due to homophobia. However, most of that bullying actually came from the adults in the school. I would move in a heartbeat to work at a school that educates, rather than ignores or harasses, our youth.

    • Oh yes, because creating a safe environment during the most volatile years of social growth is totally going to coddle these kids. Why, we’re practically spoiling by letting them receive an education and the tools to become happy, healthy and well-adjusted adults!!

      Did you ever consider that this kind of environment will help youth learn the tools to handle the harsh realities of the world? No? Didn’t think so.

      • “Did you ever consider that this kind of environment will help youth learn the tools to handle the harsh realities of the world? No? Didn’t think so.”

        Lol, I did, and I still think the cons outweigh the pros.

    • Yea but it’s not like the kids currently dropping out are being successful. It seems like there going to try and focus on the kids that are already struggling.

      I think there is something to be said for learning coping skills and building a strong support network before you enter the real world.

      • I agree that there isn’t really anywhere to go but up for these kids as individuals, but I believe for change on a larger scale and for it to be long lasting that it’s better to invest money and energy creating better environments in the schools these kids are already in.

        Most of the efforts schools make are so half baked and half assed that they could really be over hauled and fully funded. It would help a lot more LGBT kids and it would educate, and hold accountable, the kids doing the bullying, perhaps creating a better society for everyone.

        Sometimes I feel like advocates, social workers, teachers, activists, etc. get so caught up in protecting the oppressed that focus, and therefore the pressure, gets shifted so much on the survivor, the target of the abuse, to be resilient and have all these tools, that there isn’t focus on the perpetrator as someone who needs to be confronted and to change. These are their peers and they are still young and shape-able. These kids are still under adult supervision and I think productive(?), I’m not sure if that’s the best word, supervision is what needs to happen.

        • Funny thing, they’re actually working on helping more schools develop better education environments as well. Did you actually read the article?

          “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.””

          • Yes, yes I did read the article. I don’t think training teachers is enough.

            I would structure the entire program in the schools to include the entire administration and all the staff. Clearly you didn’t read my comment.

            Why reply to me? I didn’t direct my reply to you. I wouldn’t direct a meaningful reply to you. You don’t want to hear it.

        • I mean, I totally agree that a complete overhaul of the existing system would go a long way, and that a lot of money and energy should go toward that.

          however, change and reform take a hella long time, especially on a national/public scale, and these kids are being bullied RIGHT NOW, to the point of cutting class, shutting down, dropping out or worse. as someone else pointed out, a lot of bullying comes from the adults supervising them! So like, I don’t think it’s a negative use of resources to also create a safe space for those kids NOW while teachers and administrators are still learning how to create better environments (which is also something that this particular group is working on)!

          • I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a negative use of resources by any means. I mean it’s a school and wouldn’t be any different than any other private school. I simply don’t believe in segregated schools, whether they be religious, sex exclusive, or in this case LGBT are the best option.

            I don’t believe that it’s a matter of teachers and administrators not knowing how to create better environments. I think it’s an issue of schools and/or legislators/policy makers not feeling like they have a responsibility to stand up for LGBT youth or not wanting to be in the position of disciplining students whose beliefs they may share. Schools can take take quick action when they want to and have had access to professionals on the topic bullying and various minority populations for quite some time.

          • “I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a negative use of resources by any means.” –> “I feel like these artificial social environments set kids up to fail in the harsh realities of the real world, but to each his/her own.”

            I’d say that “failure” to deal with “harsh realities in the real world” is a “negative” outcome of their resources, so now you’re just back-tracking. There are perfectly legitimate points in what you’re raising AFTER your initial comment, but it is that initial comment which struck me as just utterly callous. That is why I’m replying to you because, my god, it just seems like you’re so focused on the “big plan” that you forget (or just don’t care) that for a lot of these students, these kinds of schools or programs can save their lives NOW. These schools are NOT mutually exclusive to wider-systemic changes. Many youth may not survive long enough to benefit from your ideals, so there is no reason why these kinds of schools can’t exist as stepping stones towards something better.

          • I know I am wasting my time speaking to you and this is the last time I reply to you. I’d like to make that clear.

            “I’d say that “failure” to deal with “harsh realities in the real world” is a “negative” outcome of their resources, so now you’re just back-tracking. ”

            I am not back tracking. I do not consider funds that educate children a negative use of resources. Your wrong assumptions are based on a failure to understand how I define the success of a school. I believe a school has multiple roles. To nurture children’s esteem, to educate, to prepare for the real world, to encourage curiosity, to develop artistry, etc. so while I do believe life skills are important I don’t believe that a well educated child is a waste of resources.

            What is with the black and white thinking around here sometimes…

            It’s fine if you think I’m callous. Whatevs. Once you start programs it’s incredibly difficult to implement new programs and particularly when new programs require bigger change, more money, make more people uncomfortable…they point to the school you started and they say, “Hey, that worked. Let’s open one more of those.” And we can maintain the status quo for a lot longer than anyone ever intended. Some of the best intended baby steps have been the worst nightmares.

          • But Jessie would it be so horrible if this was the solution. Integration has not solved racism. A-camp has a such a strong appeal because its a LGBT normative space. It would never become all LGBT children because the kids doing well aren’t going to want to leave their current school communities. I don’t think systematically placing struggling LGBT youth within a LGBT normative space would be such a bad idea.

            Paperofflowers you were far more “callous and disrespectful of her position then, she was to the school. It is a artificial social environment but I think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

        • I understand your point Jessie. I do think education policy should change the rules for all schools. And I think it’s important to realize you have to be taught to hate. We still have a generation of homophobic parents and adults in charge. Think of the defense of Leela Alcorns parents. Progressive people didn’t get that she was neglected and emotionally abused. Homophobia is still seen as normal and the LGBT kids not normal. I just don’t think we will be able to make progress with large scale reduction in bullying until it’s no longer ok to tell someone their going to hell.

          LGBT kids dropping out of school could be worse off. They can get involved with illegal activity and be arrested. They don’t have a safe nurturing place to be and grow during the day. I admit I focus on micro level interventions that help individuals. But we can work towards individual progress and large scale progress.

  4. I don’t know why this has been facing so much opposition and outcries of ‘segregation’ from the public.
    The school will only have 40 places for students who are being so bullied that they can’t access mainstream education – what’s wrong with that?! People are reacting as if all LGBT youth everywhere are going to be educated separately forevermore. The general opinion is that we should eradicate homophobic bullying in all schools in the UK and, therefore, this TINY school which could really help unhappy kids needn’t be created.
    WHY CAN’T LGBT YOUTH HAVE 1 NICE THING?!?!!

  5. Aww, those are my awesome neighbours in the centre of the picture!

    This is such an incredible idea and could lead to a really empowering, amazing resource for LGBTQ youth AND SAVE LIVES.

    The cries of segregation are from people who have their heads so far up their own backsides that they have no clue about the emotional, physical, educational and other dangers faced by youth who experience homo/transphobic bullying and discrimination, or else don’t want to engage with this issue.

    I’m just gonna bump that link Robin shared from LBGTQ Youth North West as it’s short, to the point and an essential read when reading all the hype around this project:
    http://www.lgbtyouthnorthwest.org.uk/2015/01/lgbt-school-setting-the-record-straight/

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