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  • Writer's pictureKatrine Lyngsø

LGBT-inclusive teaching in Scottish Education

Scotland continues to take monumental steps for LGBT rights – but there is still a long way ahead. Education is the outset. Universities have been leading the way for a decade, but all schools will now follow their example.

November 9th, 2018 was a historic day for the LGBT community and those fighting for it. Scotland took one further steps in the right direction towards becoming a more progressive and inclusive society.

Scotland is often identified as one of the best countries in Europe in relation to legal protections for LGBT people, and November 9th put the Scots even higher on the scale.

SMPs accepted the recommendations of the ‘Time for Inclusive Education’ (TIE) campaign. This require all state schools to embed LGBT inclusive teaching in the curriculum.

The Section 28 policy banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in Scottish education until 2000. If LGBT students were bullied there was nearly nothing teachers could do. Neither were teachers allowed to mention alternative sexualities or incorporate any LGBT subjects in their classes. Until now teaching LGBT inclusive subjects have not been illegal, nor has it been a requirement.

The Scottish Parliament is the first to ever formally take this decision in the world and it’s a significant victory for LGBT rights. LGBT Youth Scotland’s report from 2017 is the largest piece of research regarding Scottish LGBT youth, which indicates that changing the Education system is severely needed.

LGBT youngsters, between 13 and 25, were asked how they felt LGBT discrimination should be dealt with. More than half answered that it should be addressed in schools.

The report shows that 27% of transgender pupils left education because of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in the learning environment.

46% of LGBT and 53% of transgender young people rated their school experience as 'bad'. 71% of LGBT pupils experienced bullying in school because of their LGBT identity.

Many Scottish universities have been teaching LGBT inclusive subjects for years. At Robert Gordon’s University in Aberdeen, even more, have been done to build equality and diversity.

Hamish Walker set up a staff led LGBT+ network in January 2014. The RGU Rainbow network provides a safe space for LGBT staff, students and allies to discuss university policies and share concerns and experiences.

Hamish identified as gay half-way through secondary school in the mid-’90s. “There was never any open talk about having an alternative sexuality. I had no role model, and I honestly had no idea what I was. Gay or transgender people were never even mentioned.

“I came out when I started University, years after I knew that I was gay. In secondary school, it just wasn’t possible. The teachers wouldn’t have been able to deal with it. There were no policies, and no one was like me – but it wasn’t talked about so that’s an assumption.”

Hamish believes RGU is going the right direction but is taking “baby steps”.

The University has hosted LGBT awareness month in February for five years and on the 20th of November this year the university’s transgender policy went live on their website.

The same day, the university took part in the LGBT Remembrance Day for the first time, honouring the 369 people killed in the last year because of their gender identity, one in the UK. Equality champion of sexual orientation at RGU, Dr Duncan Cockburn, commemorated this with one minute of silence.

Stevie Rachel Maybanks was invited to speak about her experience as the first firefighter to transition to female while working at the Scottish Rescue and Fire service.

The event was free for all. Members of the public, students and staff came to RGU to listen to Stevie’s story, which finished with a loud, standing, minute-long applause from the entire room.

Stevie decided to open up about her experiences to spark talks about support, transparency, and the need for communication. She has become a spokesman for the LGBT community and an idol for many. She promotes LGBT awareness in originations, like RGU.

Stevie calls RGU’s transgender policy a “breath of fresh air”. Open LGBT events contribute to placing RGU on the radar as an inclusive institution. It reassures students that they can reach their full potential without fearing discrimination or prejudice.

Stevie talked about her extraordinary life in the military, marine, as a diving and outdoors instructor and as a man. But Stevie was “living a lie”.

“I was male, but I never was”.

Stevie announced her transition to her boss and colleagues eight years after she transitioned in her private life with hormone therapy. For years she left her home dressed as a woman but changed into male one kilometre from the fire station in her car. For her eight-hour work day, she was a man.

The first time Stevie questioned her gender identity was when she played dress-up at the age of five. Her mother ordered her to “get that stuff off immediately,” referring to the high heels and make-up.

It took Stevie a lot longer to acknowledge and declare her true identity. She was 50 years old when she fully transitioned. It was mostly about timing for Stevie. She wanted her children to be old enough to understand and accept her.

Stevie looked into the air and frowned when asked if she would have transitioned earlier if her children had been exposed to gender diversity at an earlier age through their education. “That’s a good question,” she said, still frowning “I never even considered it a possibility. I guess I would, yes, but society wasn’t there yet – but we are now, at least here in Scotland”.

Scotland has made considerable progress for LGBT rights in recent months. The reform to the Gender Recognition Act secured that transgender people no longer need a medical diagnosis to have their gender identity legally recognised. The reform also acknowledges non-binary identities and give every person the right to self-declare, down to the age of 16.

Gender dysphoria has also been renamed as gender incongruence and has been moved from mental health to sexual health. And the most recent development, the Scottish Government approved the proposal of LGBT inclusive teaching in all state schools.

Despite the recent moves, Stevie still worries about the statics showing harassment and discriminating of LGBT people in institutions.

Terminating homophobia and transphobia needs to be tackled by raising awareness, but stronger legislation surrounding public and media hate speech must be introduced first. The law is currently inadequately tackling anti-LGBT hate crimes.

All hate crimes aren’t held equally accountable by the existing law. Crimes committed because of gender identity and/or sexual orientation aren’t treated as ‘aggravated offences’ and therefore has a lower maximum sentence than faith or race hate crime.

There’s a need for new properly funded and supported gender identity clinics where people can refer themselves. Consultation waiting lists are currently 14 months averagely in Scotland before people can access hormones, deal with unwanted facial hair and body dysmorphia.

To make society view everybody as people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, visible Pride events in every area of Scotland should be allowed to grow and spread even further to permanently change the perception of LGBT people, even in smaller local communities.

Similar things can be established in institutions, from schools to corporate companies. Diverse role models would ensure all institutions reflect society at large. To enforce positive action in recruitment, the process should be required to be monitored for conscious and unconscious bias against any social group.

Stevie and Hamish, who are both fighting to build equality and diversity in institutions and communities, agree that starting in education is the right stepping stone. There is an increasing number of self-organised support campus networks, but the new legislation ensures that all pupils will learn about gender identity and sexual orientation as an incorporated part of their classes.

The learning environment should be welcoming but the education must also reflect the individuals it serves, to ensure people will begin their lives on the right path – the path to success regardless of gender reassignment, sex, marriage and sexual orientation.

There are more steps that need to be taken for and with the LGBT community. But the recent victories for LGBT rights calls for celebration, as Scotland has travelled a long way in relatively short time.

The progress in Scottish legislation and society gives hope to the LGBT population living here but also to those living in less progressive societies. The past doesn’t define the future. Hopefully, the Scots can set an example of equalising LGBT rights to other countries.

“The steps we take now will carry on to the generation to come”

- Stevie Maybanks

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