Thursday, 17 November 2011

Tha'll not come a changin' wi' t'rest #LG

I can't believe the findings that Sheffield Hallam University have come up with today. In its study Tackling Homophobia and Transphobia In Settings Supporting Young People it found that LGBT young people in more than one school across Yorkshire were being asked to change for sports and PE in a separate room or toilet and not in the changing rooms with other students.

It made me think back to the article I wrote about the stupidity and homophobia of the American Family Association on just such an issue early last year. I never thought I'd be taking up keyboard about the same issue in my own country.

The reason cited was when students complained about being singled out in such a way was because it was "for their own safety" or to "stop causing a fuss". The problem of course is in singling anyone out as different. Whilst there may be a fear of letting an openly or perceived LGBT pupil face what might happen in a changing room, singling them out and taking them away from the situation makes them more of an overt target, not just in the changing room but elsewhere.

Knowing the layout of my old school changing facilities the only option to change elsewhere would have been in the staff changing room. Surely that is open to other dangers! Or misinterpretation! Or along a long corridor well away from the changing rooms of the rest. Causing a pupil to walk in gym kit to and from the sports centre while other pupils are going about their change of class. In other words making the 'difference' of that LGBT pupil spread outside their year group, possibly to older pupils, or maybe also in vision of other closeted LGBT pupils.

The effect of such policy certainly leads to LGBT pupils wanting to avoid physical education classes or school altogether on such day. May as a result of the isolation and picking out as different by staff lead to increased bullying, increased homophobia and false assumptions of paedophilia based on the actions, lead to other pupils still questioning or hiding their identity not to come out.

I faced enough bullying on the assumption by others (as I was denying it myself) that I was gay in secondary school. Although never in the changing rooms, possibly because I was a team player and one of the sportsmen who went on to earn an honours tie for representing my school at the senior level. It happened often enough away from the eyes of teachers and I served a couple of punishments for fighting back at the wrong point, because the teachers never seemed to take action over the homophobic bullying, or maybe I was scared to admit that was an element of it.

So how do you deal with homophobic bullying in the changing rooms?

  • First don't isolate the victims, if you have to isolate the bullies in a separate changing facility. 
  • Never publicly mark out somebody who already feels different as such, then the others will jump to their own conclusions as to why the steps are being taken. Look for example at the above comment about paedophilia. While you may think removing an LGBT pupil is for their safety the rumour could start by those left that it is for theirs and a new generation grow up with that stereotype. Grr!
  • Learn and teach that not every naked (fe)male body is going to be attractive to an (L)GBT pupil. I still go to the gym and there are some very unattractive and off-putting sights in the male changing rooms.
  • If you are being inclusive that means encourage LGBT pupils to take part in sport, not every LGBT person is poor at sports look at Martina Navratilova, Steven Davies, Dónal Óg Cusack, Matt Mitcham and others as examples who excel at their sport. Doubt if any of them ever had to change in alternative changing facilities because of their sexuality.
So lets look at the needs of the already possibly nervous LGBT pupil in a sensible way that won't hinder them or others in the long term. Isolation and a separate changing regime most certain is not going to prevent that.

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