Carl Austin-Behan is the former Lord Mayor of Manchester and the LGBT+ adviser to the current mayor, Andy Burnham. Austin-Behan, who was Manchester’s first openly gay mayor, expressed his concern on Twitter after meeting a transgender pupil in a Wigan school who was being forced to wear a blouse and pinafore despite identifying as a boy.
Austin-Behan was visiting the school on September 5 when he met the transgender boy who was being made to wear the school’s uniform for girls instead of allowing him to wear a shirt and trousers. He explained that despite the school promoting LGBT+ awareness that strict “binary” uniform policies in schools can be harmful to young trans and gender non-conforming students.
Austin-Behan was confused to hear the school has an LGBT School Network Group and promote LGBT+ awareness but would not allow the pupil in question to use the uniform he feels more comfortable wearing.
In response to these claims the Wigan council states that it has been reassured that the staff in the school are “very supportive” of their pupil’s choices with the Director of Children’s Services at Wigan council, James Winterbottom, telling Wigan Today: “We’ve spoken to the school and have been reassured they are very supportive of all pupils’ choices and will be reassuring the pupil of this.”
I met a young trans lad this evening who’s forced to wear a blouse & pinafore for school as the school won’t allow him to wear a shirt and trousers -yet the school has an LGBT School Network Group and promotes #LGBT Awareness – I will be asking questions @MayorofGM @WiganCouncil
— Dr Carl Austin-Behan ? (@CarlAustinBehan) September 5, 2019
The LGBT+ adviser spoke out about strict school uniform policies to the Local Democracy Reporting Service saying that he believes there is no place for such “binary” uniforms in this day and age. Austin-Behan explains: “For people who might be trans or non-binary, they want to feel that they can be comfortable within their gender identity, and I think schools need to be more understanding of this. They might have real difficulties having to dress in something that doesn’t feel appropriate for them, and that might impact on their mental health.”
His call for local authorities to work harder to support LGBT+ pupils is not unfounded. LGBT+ youth are at a much higher risk of attempting suicide; therefore action needs to be taken to protect LGBT+ children. Austin-Behan said schools need to “up their game a little bit,” with the growing number of students coming out as trans or non-binary during their school years.
He explained that LGBT+ networks in schools make a big difference to the health and wellbeing of LGBT+ students and mentioned that beginning in September 2020 LGBT+ relationships and sex education will be introduced into schools to ensure teachers and students are educated on these topics.
This July, the Welsh government announced that they would be making it mandatory for Welsh schools to make their uniforms gender-neutral. Many hope this gender-neutral uniform policy will be extended across the UK so that situations like the one encountered by Austin-Behan will become a thing of the past.
© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.
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