In recent years I have become only slightly encouraged by the slow increase of recruitment of staff with LGBT responsibilities in 16 - 18 education establishments. In most cases this person has a student union or student services function in addition to other responsibilities but they are given LGBT training and counselling/mentoring skills which are sorely needed in that environment.
And it is with a heavy heart that I’ll tell you why.
Approximately 7 or 8 years ago when I was working in a general FE college managing the Behavioural and Additional Learning Support department, I was approach by a worried parent in July, telling me that her 16-year-old son **Mark was coming to college to enrol in September, and that Mark was currently transitioning from being her daughter to her son.
Mum was looking for reassurance that the college could put together the right kind of support for Mark during this period of transition.
I invited them to come to the college but when Mark and his mum arrived, I realised very quickly that it was going to be an uphill struggle for this young person to live life as a male in the male-orientated environment he had chosen to enrol onto.
My dilemma was this. I felt very strongly that this shouldn’t be a problem, but I knew for certain that in the Construction and Engineering faculty (in which Mark wanted to enrol), there would be an undercurrent of sniggering behind hands and an inability to see further than the unusualness of it all.
But over the remaining summer weeks I met several times with Mark and his mother to discuss his fears and to pre-empt situations which may occur and the manner in which we ought to deal with them.
I met with, and introduced Mark to, some of the tutors in the faculty (who I must admit never did rise above the locker-room innuendo) but regrettably I knew for sure that from any perspective Mark did not look male. Instead he looked very much like a female trying to look like a male, which was always going to be problematic in view of the age group of our learners and during that era.
Term time loomed, I urged the tutors to be sympathetic and to be fully alert to bullying and social isolation for this student, but I couldn’t be in the classroom all the time and I was relying on the goodwill and understanding of the other adults.
Regrettably Mark didn’t make it to the first half term and he left, saying it was too much of a struggle and that he needed to find somewhere else (or another place in which to live) through his transition years.
Which brings me back to my point. Had we had a fully trained LGBT officer in our campus at the time, this entire scenario would have been played out in a completely different way.
The whole-college openness and honesty with which we would have been able to deal with the request of this young man, would have lessened the agony of it, not only for Mark but for those of us (with no proper training or guidance), who attempted to create stability for him.
In these days of legalised same-sex marriage I see this as being a scenario consigned to history. But I think it will take some time to get it right in the 16-18 environment.
** names have been changed
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