OPINION – The UK’s schools are failing their LGBTQ pupils.

Jason Reid asks why there still isn’t enough educational support for queer kids.


You may have heard the recent tragic news about Jamel Myles, the nine-year-old boy from Denver, Colorado who took his own life after being bullied at school for coming out as gay. How on earth did it come to that? Why wasn’t there support? Was the school oblivious to the bullying? So many questions I wanted answered but, of course, none of them would bring Jamel back. Memories came back to me like a dark wave of vociferousness in my mind, thinking of my own experiences at school. 

I can only speak of those experiences and my schooling in the 90s, but the fact that a child committed suicide because of gay bullying in 2018 demonstrates explicitly how schools, who have a duty of care, are still failing LGBT+ children. Isolated case or not, there’s simply no excuse: it shouldn’t be happening. 

I attended a Roman Catholic school at both primary and secondary level. The teachers were strict, and Religious Education was considered more important than Maths. As part of our brief sex education, we were taught about the family unit, procreation and the evils of abortion. Nothing else. Seemingly that was considered sufficient knowledge to be able to form healthy relationships in adult life.

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One of the fondest early memories I have from childhood is clacking up and down the garden in my mum’s heels, thinking I was just like my fabulous teacher; I remember loving the noise they made. My sexuality started to become apparent from the age of about ten, but I didn’t know what those feelings meant because there was no way for me to articulate them. I just knew that the only part of P.E I enjoyed was the showers afterwards. 

My effeminacy made me stand out from the crowd, but not in the way I wanted. And so, throughout secondary school, I was bullied more and more. Most of that was internalised and taken with me into adult life. I’m still working on it, as I’m sure many LGBT+ people are. Which begs the question; after all this time and the countless lives that have been affected, why don’t schools do more to teach ALL children about what it is to be LGBT+? Create a culture of understanding and compassion. Not the bible-bashing heteronormative nonsense I had drummed into me by my sadistic R.E teacher. 

When I read comments online questioning why Jamel at nine years old had gay feelings in the first place, I was aghast. Instead of victim-blaming, which is so often a go-to, strangely, questions should be asked about how his fellow pupils knew to bully him for being gay. Where was that coming from? Why was it even in their consciousness?  Surely even in Trump’s America where trans rights are being rolled back and gay issues are ignored, if children are picking up archaic evangelical attitudes at home, then schools have an even more pressing responsibility to teach respect and equality for all. 

According to a 2017 Stonewall report, almost half of British LGB pupils and 64% of British trans pupils are regularly bullied for who they are. There are glimmers of hope and change though. Slowly, but surely. How I would have LOVED a drag queen story time at my school. I wouldn’t have been listening though; probably too busy riffling through her drag bag in wonderment. 

The sooner heteronormativity isn’t the default setting in schools, the better. The sooner faith schools are nothing but a distant memory, the better. We owe it to future generations of LGBT+ people. We owe it to Jamel Myles. 

Jamel’s mother Leia put it beautifully; “Teach your kids love, teach them it’s OK to have differences, we’re all different. Teach them compassion, teach them respect, teach them to be more accepting of each other.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re the bully or you’re not the bully, there’s pain in everybody. Until we correct the pain and the hurt that’s in everybody and turn it into love, nothing will change. We have to change ourselves for our children.”

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