Personal initiative to political progress

A year ago with no previous experience, no funding and very little resources, Liam Stevenson and I co-founded Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) – a campaign which seeks to address issues of homo/bi/transphobia and LGBTI inclusivity within Scottish education. TIE is the product of both personal experience and a newfound friendship.

As a teenager, I struggled to come to terms with my own identity; a prisoner in my own mind, I felt suffocated by a society which told me that, in order to be accepted, I had to be someone else. I could not admit my identity to myself, let alone tell anyone else – and, so, I ultimately sought redemption by contemplating suicide. My experience is not unique; and there are aspects of my own journey towards self-acceptance which are universal for most LGBTI young people. Indeed, there is a body of alarming statistics which emphasises this – those of us who identify as LGBTI are, disturbingly, much more likely to face mental health issues, suicide attempts, instances of self-harm and loneliness.

It took me almost seven years to open up about my circumstances. When I crossed paths with Liam – now a very close friend and campaigning partner – in late 2014 at a food bank fundraiser, it wasn’t long before we realised that we reflected each other. Despite leading very different lives until we met, we both wore masks.

Reflecting on my own experience at a Catholic secondary school, where homophobic comments were common and unchallenged, it made sense to us that if we are to be successful in eradicating identity based prejudice from our society, we had to start in the classroom.

Initially, we filed a petition with the Scottish Parliament, calling for LGBTI education to be commonplace in all schools. We gave evidence to a parliamentary committee in October 2015 and while we awaited a decision as to whether our petition would be taken forward, we built the campaign’s profile by utilising media connections to raise awareness to.

Ultimately, our petition was rejected – and, from there, we refocussed our aims and began calling for teachers to be trained on how to discuss LGBTI issues and effectively challenge homo/bi/transphobia.

One of the most important strategic steps we took was to involve the union movement in our efforts. As we were visiting schools across the country delivering assemblies and workshops, raising the profile of the campaign and shaping the narrative around this issue, there were various motions regarding support for TIE being moved in several union circles. Eventually, this culminated in April 2016 as we secured the unanimous backing of the STUC. Ultimately, this meant that we now held the royal flush in our hand – as we had the teachers’ unions in our corner.

Following from this, TIE reached a turning point during this year’s Scottish parliamentary elections, as we secured the support of several party leaders – including Sturgeon, Harvie and Rennie – which, in turn, led to manifesto commitments to implement our teacher training proposals; marking the biggest step forward in efforts to fully incorporate LGBTI identities into the education system since the repeal of Clause 2a (Section 28) sixteen years ago.

This month, we launched our LGBTI teacher training initiative – which, for the first time, would be free to attend for all teachers, whether trainee or practicing and would also be inclusive of additional support needs. In less than twenty four hours, our events were fully booked; further highlighting that not only is LGBTI inclusivity an issue that teachers are aware of – but it is one that they want to actively pursue.

So what began as a simple idea fuelled by a passion for change has ultimately transformed into a contemporary example of grassroots organising. There is a long road and many challenges ahead before TIE is successful in fully steering the trajectory of societal progress. But we are driven, not only by the cross cultural support that we have amassed, but by the stories and experiences of the young LGBTI people whom we meet on our journey.

Because, while statistics are powerful, it is not until you see the laceration marks on school pupils’ arms, or speak to the relatives of those who were not as lucky as I was, that it is evident that the time to transform our heterosexist education system is now.

Jordan Daly is co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) (