The recent suggestion by Amelia Lee, strategic director for the charity LGBT Youth North West, to establish a school solely for LGBT+ students forms part of a worrying trend in favour of segregation in our education system, also evident in calls for the establishment of state-school only colleges in Oxbridge.
Segregation marks an abandonment of principle, and merely kicks the issue of prejudice into the long grass, thereby perpetuating inequality in our society. Benign intentions undoubtedly lie behind the proposal of an LGBT+ school in Manchester and Amelia Lee’s portrayal of homophobic bullying in schools is unfortunately all too close to the truth, however the proposals for an LGBT+ school are the ultimate disservice to the cause of equality. It signifies a negation of the current assumption which underpins our education system: that everyone should be treated equally.
The LGBT+ pupil’s education, a key component of one’s upbringing, will be defined on grounds of their sexuality or their gender status. At least as harmful would be the concurrent effect on pupils attending ‘normal’ schools – I use this word intentionally, for discrimination necessarily involves defining the ‘norm’. Siphoning off LGBT+ pupils to ‘other’ schools will entrench an ‘us’ and ‘them’ conception of difference in the highly malleable minds of young children; schools which admit pupils based on their sexuality will emblaze in the minds of young children the very lines of difference we should be keen to extinguish.
If we do not confront prejudice at a young age, when are we going to deal with it? Hasn’t progress already been made in recent generations concerning equality, precisely because we have addressed issues of prejudice head-on rather than accepting their inevitability?
It would seem consistent with my logic that women-only colleges at Oxbridge should be banned and, moreover, that they should never have existed, but I doubt their continuing existence is harmful. At an early age, schools are imparting gender equality to their students and this can hardly be overturned by the odd all-female college at university. Cementing differences between children of school age carries many more dangers.
Were all-women colleges ever justified? Unequivocally, yes. In an era when women were decades away from having the vote (Girton was founded in 1869, Newnham in 1871), women-only colleges provided a crucial platform upon which women were able to propound their equal worth and obtain an education. Therefore it is indeed possible to be comfortable with the continuing existence of the odd all-women college, and moreover approve of their initial foundation, but simultaneously dread with horror LGBT+ schools or the prospect of state-school colleges at Oxbridge.
When all-women colleges were first founded, women were fighting widespread prejudice. Times have changed, thankfully, and it would be misleading to suggest that a shock antidote with regards to segregation is the answer to the lingering problems of prejudice and inequality in our society. State school pupils attending Oxbridge interviews are not hampered by an elitist nostalgia held by university dons but, instead, by the inadequacies of their schooling. Accordingly, they do not need their own colleges. Nor is segregation necessary to ensure LGBT+ equality. We have a framework of education based on inclusivity – it would be the height of folly to imperil this.
The struggle led initially by women, and since by others, has been formative in developing a broad, albeit neither all-encompassing nor entirely complete, acceptance of equality. This has rendered the need for segregation unnecessary in today’s society and paved the way for ultimate equality based on inclusivity.
It is no longer necessary to take one step backwards, before taking another two forwards.