*TW: discussion of homo/bi/transphobia, bullying, suicide and mental health issues*
“It’s about everybody and it’s about trying to make society better, because once you start eradicating homophobia in the schools you stop churning out damaged adults and things can better very quickly,” states Liam Stevenson from the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign. Alongside Jordan Daly from Glasgow Uni, and anyone else who wants to get involved, their mission is to make education on LGBTQIA+ issues statutory in Scottish schools. A petition for the Scottish Parliament was launched on the anniversary of the Stonewall riots. They are gathering stories from the public to present visually to parliament. With support from Common Weal and Patrick Harvie MSP among others, momentum is building fast.
Liam and Jordan are a political odd-couple. After meeting last year in Yes organising circles in Cumbernauld, they struck up a friendship which changed Liam’s outlook drastically. It also allowed Jordan to revisit the mental trauma and suicidal thoughts he experienced when trying to accept his sexuality in a Catholic school, aged twelve.
“It all started because I spoke to Liam about what I went through at school, and that led us to think, well we need to try and do something about it,” he says.
Liam used to call his friends phobic slurs in the pub without a second thought. Now, he calls those friends out on their language, proving that honest conversation can break down barriers of understanding. A major concern for him is the socialisation his young daughter will receive in school: “At some stage, she can go from being four, to being fourteen, where she’s bullying an LGBT kid at school, so there’s something that goes wrong there, there’s a missing link. Education is the missing link.”
They are aware of giving new “progressive” Scottish politics too much credit, and were disappointed by some bigoted online reactions to their article in The National. However, Liam recognises this as a key time to be making any change in Scotland: “We’re trying to tap into that [political energy] because the SNP have stolen too much of it. We’re trying to take some of it back to the people.”
The “statutory” element of TIE’s goal is the key to stopping (particularly denominational) schools from opting out of new curriculums. It is also the most difficult for many politicians to swallow. In Scottish schools, religious education is the only statutory subject. Section 28, the legislation outlawing discussion of LGBT+ issues in schools, was scrapped in 2000. It is time people started to notice. Jordan says, “Personally I think that it’s the responsibility of the state. I went to a Catholic school; I know they would never have let us in. At this point if you want to be serious about tackling homophobia when 1 in 4 bullied LGBT kids have attempted suicide [statistics from Stonewall], that is a social plague. We need to get serious and there needs to be a radical approach.”
In a world preoccupied by equal marriage, violence occurs daily against people of varying genders and ethnicities due to lack of basic rights and safety. How do TIE plan to include the huge variety of identities that the “LGBT+” acronym claims to cover, for example transgender non-binary teens?
Jordan replies, “When I say homophobia that’s more about my personal experience. This is why we want people to get involved and be speaking. We would like other people to talk to the press. The petition is worded homo-, bi- and transphobia. We’ve tried to be inclusive.
On the topic of transphobia, he continues, “Gender identity needs to be taught in schools. If you think some of the statistics about gay kids are bad, 73% of trans kids are trying to kill themselves. That is massive.”
This leads into a conversation about gender, when I suggest that “passive homophobia” is about policing levels of masculinity and femininity.
“It’s this whole hegemonic masculine concept that society’s got – “this is what a man is” – that’s passive homophobia,” says Jordan.
We speculate about a world where labels aren’t necessary for empowering people who otherwise don’t have language to describe themselves. Jordan says, “The two of us are of the mind-set that you’re a human. That’s it. How do we do this campaign while still reinforcing these tags? I’m aware we’re doing it… Unfortunately a lot of it is that you’re a product of your environment. If you’re in an environment which uses labels, you need to use them to make change.”
The response TIE has already received is no accident of dates or tactics. Many queer youth in Scotland are teetering on the brink and need this kind of movement for survival. Many queer adults have vivid memories of their own ordeals. The message from TIE is a call-to-consciousness: “We’re not the campaign. The campaign is you. It’s everyone.”
Sign the petition before 6th August at: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/petitions/tiecampaign
Email your personal stories to email@example.com
[Ellen MacAskill – @ejdmacaskill]