|Shimna Integrated College (via NICIE)|
That is why when I heard the news that there is a school in Northern Ireland setting up a gay-straight alliance, I suspected it would be one of the integrated secondary schools. I'm proud of the fact that the pupils at Shimna Integrated College in Newcastle are taking integration to the next stage. The integration of Northern Irish society is needed so that we can get beyond managing sectarianism and looking to the bigger picture, looking to the wider issues.
Gay-straight alliances in schools are big in the USA, they are designed to welcome all pupils irrespective of sexuality and seek to end homophobic bullying and the feeling of otherness and not belonging that many LGBT teens can feel*. To end homophobia, not just in school, but in society as a whole we need our non-LGBT friends to support us. We don't and can't live in an LGBT ghetto especially as the recent Rainbow Project report shows that there is still some work to be done to make our workplaces LGB friendly (never mind the T) in Northern Ireland.
Kevin Lambe, the principal of Shimna has hit the nail on the head when he says:
"Most bullying, most racism has been publicly gotten rid of. Words that you are called because of your religion, because of your skin colour, most of that has disappeared.
"But homophobic bullying I'm sorry to say is quite common. As the form of bullying which most induces young people to harm themselves or even kill themselves, surely we can't turn away from that and say 'oh that's a delicate type of bullying, we can't really deal with that'."
The other great news about the setting up of the alliance at the college is that there hasn't been a single complaint from a parent. Whilst the young generation are often most tolerant about the various diversities we have in our communities sometimes those a little older still hold some form of prejudice. But the parents there see this as a natural progression a way for the pupils of Shimna to have a shared present in their education. I hope to hear of other schools across Northern Ireland following suit.
* Myself included at that age.