Kirkcaldy school leads the way in LGBT+ equality

As recently as ten years ago being gay, bisexual or transgender was a taboo subject and certainly not something to be discussed in the school classroom.

Thursday, 15th March 2018, 2:33 pm
Updated Thursday, 15th March 2018, 3:38 pm
Dr Murray with members of the LGBT+ group. Pic by George McLuskie.
Dr Murray with members of the LGBT+ group. Pic by George McLuskie.

But today LGBT issues are an important and growing part of the school curriculum, and Kirkcaldy High School is leading the way – with its LGBT+ group at the helm.

Not only are the members there to help any pupils being subjected to bullying or struggling with issues around their sexuality, they are also helping to advise teachers, NHS staff and even the Scottish Government on aspects of equality and young people.

And they have also helped other schools in Fife to set up their own groups to promote equality for all.

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KHS LGBT+ group l-r Alanah Ferguson, John Hamilton, Cameron Bowie and Blain Aitken

With membership of the group currently standing at between 15-20, from all year groups, the school’s headmaster Derek Allan hopes it will eventually become just another school club like the badminton or calligraphy group.

It was set up three years ago when a pupil, undergoing an interview to become a prefect, was asked what the school should be doing to improve and she said it should be doing more towards equality for all, including the LGBT community.

The teacher doing the interview spoke to guidance teacher Gillian Pirie and the idea for the group to provide pupils with a safe space came about.

It has developed from there and now has several members who are not gay or bisexual, but who are allies and supporters, including the vice chairman, Alanah Ferguson.

Fife's first Pride parade

The committee meets weekly on a Monday lunchtime and the group on Tuesdays, and lots of good ideas as well as friendships have been struck up through it, with members from S1 right through to S6.

“We decided to make it an all inclusive group, encouraging people who are allies or supporters to come along too, or else it would have become an exclusive group,” explained Alanah.

“We think that having a group like this gives pupils the chance to come along and speak to their peers about anything they want.

“Often it is easier for them to come to one of us rather than their parents or even a teacher.”

Visit to KHS by Sir Ian McKellen

Cameron Bowie, chairman of the group, added: “Our aim was to increase the knowledge of the LGBT community within the school and to inform and educate them to help reduce bullying.

“I think we are doing that and the school is one of the first in Fife to set up such a group.”

The group is supported by chemistry and science teacher Dr Paul Murray who himself came out recently as bisexual, and who is held in high regard among pupils at the school.

It holds four assemblies a year, picking a theme for each one on a different subject, and it holds the main one in February which is LGBT history month.

Fife Pride l-r Alanah Ferguson, ...., and teacher Paul Murray

These have covered subjects from terminology and bullying to coming out, and all aim to promote equality among all pupils, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality or religion.

“What we want to promote is self worth and to encourage people to be themselves, whoever that may be and to have people accept them and celebrate them for who they are,” said Cameron Bowie.

“Over time the school has improved the general ethos and promoted the ideal of respecting everyone.”

And it has been so successful in doing so that representatives from the group were invited by Kirkcaldy MSP David Torrance to visit the Scottish Parliament’s equalities and human rights committee to speak about the group.

The school was also delighted to have a visit from acting legend, Sir Ian McKellen, one of the founders of the Stonewall charity in February last year, who talked to pupils in S5 and 6 and the LGBT group about his personal journey and his struggle as a gay actor who didn’t come out until he was in his 40s.

And, after taking part in the Respect Me conference in Glasgow last year, the group made connections with other high schools and have been instrumental in helping to set up LGBT and equality groups in Balwearie and Queen Anne High Schools.

KHS LGBT+ group l-r Alanah Ferguson, John Hamilton, Cameron Bowie and Blain Aitken

Members have also done work with HIV Scotland and with Fife Pride which held its first march in Kirkcaldy last summer and is organising another this year, and they have been invited by NHS Fife to take part in an information CPD event for nurses in June.

In addition they hold sessions with staff in the school on how to tackle bullying if they come across it.

And just a few weeks ago the committee was invited to the Scottish Government’s launch of the national website on bullying at Victoria Quay.

Alanah (16), is vice chairman of the group and came along in S3 to support friends who were in the LGBT community.
“I tagged along as the plus one and joined in the discussion and I just felt that being able to have an influence within the school was a great thing.
“My dad was in the military so we moved around a lot, and being a member of this group and helping others to live the kind of life they want to has really helped me find out a lot about myself. I am a lot more open-minded and I think it is a great group.
“I came along in support then got really interested and now I am the vice chair!
“It was great taking part in Fife Pride last year and KHS had a big presence. I have also joined the Flavours of Fife group which has members from all over the region.
“It is great to be approached and asked to help by groups like the government and NHS Fife and to know we are helping to make things better for other people.”

Dr Paul Murray joined KHS as a probationer teacher in 2012.
“I am not your stereotypical male – I have long hair, I’m quite flamboyant and I am not interested in football.
“When I was younger I wanted to ride bikes, play the fiddle and sing and I got a hard time because of that.
“I was constantly called a poof and had nasty notes left on my chair in classes and it was just ignored by the teachers.
“I was thinking about the difference there would be if this happened today and it is great to say that we have come a huge way forward from that bullying culture.
“I spent a long time trying to persuade myself I wasn’t gay and I was married and divorced then I came along and got involved in this group and just a few years ago I realised I was bisexual and things all fell into place.
“The chances are that if this group didn’t exist then I would have remained confused for a lot longer, but now I can publicly accept what I am and I am a lot happier.
“We are tackling one of the last bastions of phobias, the one everyone has ignored for decades and by doing this all the others are falling too.
“By being open and ourselves we are normalising things and creating acceptance. Back in the 1970s and 80s Pride started up as a protest. Today it is a celebration of diversity – about people being who they are and being totally open and honest about it.”

Fife's first Pride parade
Visit to KHS by Sir Ian McKellen
Fife Pride l-r Alanah Ferguson, ...., and teacher Paul Murray