For the past nine months, qmunicate has been following the efforts of campaigners from ‘ Time for Inclusive Education’ (TIE), as they’ve lobbied the Scottish government to make LGBTQ+ inclusive education compulsory in schools in order to combat bullying. In January, the Scottish Parliament rejected the petition put forward by the campaigners. Far from being discouraged however, TIE have now launched a national crowdfunder appeal to raise money to send teachers on training courses that will allow them to tackle homophobia within their schools. Jessica Shenton met with Jordan Daly, co-founder of TIE, to discuss mental health in the LGBTQ+ community, why the government needs to do more, and what it’s like to be a young activist.
How did the crowd funder come about?
The whole ethos of the crowdfunder is that if the government aren’t going to give us this money, then we need to raise it ourselves so we can start making changes right now. Ethically and morally it wouldn’t be ok for us to keep campaigning without making change along the way. The crowdfunder is practical but it’s still political as well. We’re trying to embarrass the government. We shouldn’t have to crowdfund, but that’s the situation they’ve left us in. At the same time, we’re managing to get teachers trained and change the ethos of a school.
How did you feel when the petition was rejected?
I was really angry. We had spent over an hour in Holyrood speaking to the committee and they were all really supportive, and really quite shocked. I made sure we didn’t leave that room without making it clear that we wanted a commitment from them to tackle this issue. What really annoyed us is that we had done a cost analysis and figured out a strategy that they could have used. It said if you aren’t going to make this statutory and compulsory in every school, here’s ten other things you could do. When they did close the petition, Michael McMahon’s words were, “I don’t think there’s anything else we can do here”. When I got a copy of the brief, out of the 5000 words that we had handed them they had picked out one line. That’s what the MSP’s were given – so as far as they were concerned there was nothing else that they could do. I was really frustrated, initially I was worried as well because all of a sudden we didn’t have the weight of the committee behind us anymore. Within a few hours we were thinking about what we could do next, and that’s when we thought of launching the crowdfunder.
We’ve seen massive progress on LGBT issues recently, but we’re still struggling on issues such as asexuality and transgender rights. How does the TIE campaign plan to address that?
I would completely agree. I always say there is a hierarchy in the LGBT community and I sit right at the top of it as a gay white cisgender man. We have people who work with us who identify as transgender. One of the questions I always ask teachers is, if a young person comes to you and says “outwardly I’m a girl, but I feel like a boy, and I want to live my life as a boy, can you help me?”, would you know what to do? A year on not one teacher has said yes. Quite a significant amount of teachers were trained under section 28 and haven’t been retrained since. They wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about homosexuality never mind asexuality or transgenderism. That’s something the government forgets, sometimes teachers can be as much of a problem as pupils. Pupils are looking at teachers to give them the answers, and if a teacher doesn’t step in when there’s LGBT phobia taking place it sets the example that it’s ok for them to do it. Teacher training would tackle these issues because not only is it giving teachers the confidence to step in, but it also gives them the resources and skills to talk about transgenderism and asexuality in a constructive way.
The campaign has done a great job raising awareness of mental health issues. I think a lot of people didn’t realise the prevalence of things like suicide and self-harm amongst LGBT youth. What else do you think needs to be done to reduce the risk of this, apart from education?
What we’re doing by tackling education is thinking about the next generation and the younger generations. I think one of the most important things that needs to be done alongside education is making sure these cuts that are coming from the government aren’t being taken out on the groups and support networks that are out there for young LGBT people. That’s one of our biggest worries. Because we’re in a period of austerity and too many parliamentarians and government ministers are deeming mental health resources that specifically focus on LGBT people as not really that necessary. What we’re seeing is so many of these support networks being shut down and limited in what they can do. There needs to be a multi layered attack. As much as we need funding for teachers to be trained, we need to make sure that the other support groups and networks aren’t losing funding and that’s kept up as well.
The crowdfunder is a great example of grassroots activism, but schools who opt to send a teacher for the training are likely to be more inclusive and forward thinking already. Do you feel that there’s an element of preaching to the converted?
Not really no. Just because a senior management team are willing to send a teacher to get trained, it doesn’t mean that the school doesn’t have issues with LGBT phobia. It just means that they are one step ahead. It takes away one barrier for us as we don’t have to explain to them why this has to be tackled. I wouldn’t say it’s preaching to the converted. As much as there are schools doing a lot of good work it’s still not perfect. If a school is willing to send a teacher, it means they’re aware that there is a problem in their school, so it’s still going to have the same affect.
How would you ensure that young people attending less inclusive schools, such as religious schools, don’t miss out?
This is where the government have to step in. For example we haven’t been in a catholic school yet. This is where we need the government to step in and say that this has to happen in every school across the country. They have to make specific funding available, send it out to schools and say to them that they can only spend the money on LGBT training. One of the biggest issues right now is that by not giving schools that funding and telling them what to do with it, it gives schools that don’t want to do it on principle the excuse. They can say “we don’t get money for that”. The responsibility for that lies with the Scottish Government, who I think are very scared to rock that boat and upset people of faith.
When they rejected the petition they said they didn’t like the idea of pushing something on schools against their will. Do you think that’s what they need to do?
Yes, and I think that’s total hypocrisy. The Scottish Government push so much on schools against their will. There were so many head teachers who were against the curriculum for excellence, but they forced schools to do it anyway. They cherry pick what they can force schools to do and what they can’t. We think the reason the Scottish government rejected the petition is not due to educational holdbacks, it’s for political reasons.
Has it been more difficult to be taken seriously as a young activist?
Yes and no. It depends on the environment. At the beginning it did feel like that but now because people know the campaign I wouldn’t say that anyone takes me any less seriously. UNISON came out and backed our campaign a few weeks ago, and I had to go to their national conference and do a speech. I went up in a tshirt, jeans and a pair of converse and did the speech which went down really well. People talking about it on twitter and facebook said they thought that this young guy had walked in from a boyband and got lost, but then when they heard me speak they understood. I think that sometimes people expect people in this field to be professional looking, but we don’t do that because it’s not us. I like the fact that when I do these events I’m on the backfoot straight away. People think I’m just a wee student, and they’re often more impressed once I start speaking and they realise I know what I’m talking about.
Do you have any tips for anybody who might be considering taking part in some kind of activism but holding back?
Do it, but be prepared for how it will take over your life. When we launched TIE we never expected that within a year we would be cooperating with the government and going into schools. I don’t have a social life anymore. The other thing is, as clichéd as it sounds, keep it real. If we think that the government are failing we will go to every paper in the country and say that rather than playing nice. If you’re lobbying the government you need to be hard with your language. The only way that the people that can make change will sit up and listen is if you take direct action. Protest or write articles and embarrass them. If you’re going to do a campaign make sure it’s very direct, very honest and very real. That’s the only way in this day and age for a campaign to be successful.
It doesn’t seem like you’re planning on going away. Can you give us any insights on what your next steps are?
The next biggest step is a motion going through the SNP spring conference. This is where the party will decide the policies that they will pick up in the next government. The SNP youth, LGBT and student groups have affiliated to our campaign. That’s around 40,000 SNP members who have backed us. They’ve put in a motion calling for inclusive sex and LGBT education which directly mentions the TIE campaign and picking up the campaigns aims. If that motion passes and the SNP make the next government, that puts us in a position where all we have to do is hold the government to account rather than getting them to listen to us. In theory they should actually do what we’re asking and make a change.