In an exclusive and in-depth interview, education writer James McEnaney speaks to Dr Mhairi Crawford, chief executive of LGBT Youth Scotland.


In recent weeks and months there have been lots of provocative and controversial claims about the LGBT Charter. First of all, what actually is the charter and how does it work?

The charter is an equalities accreditation, so we have a framework and all of these organisations are choosing what they want to do themselves. We ask that they meet certain standards, but the standards do not prescribe how they do something.

It's been effectively used within schools for the last 10 years.

Originally, when we were working with young people and it was youth work engagement, their feedback was that we were supporting LGBTQ+ young people within schools, however, they said we want you to support staff, because we feel like the staff need to be feeling supported and knowledgeable and understand maybe the experiences of LGBTQ+ young people within schools. So the concept changed from working with young people a long time ago to also working with staff. Young people said it was great when we were in there, but things didn't get better, so life is still bad in the schools. So they needed the schools to change and they asked that we do that through helping the staff team at the school. So we've developed a range of standards which young people pointed us towards and over the last 10 years it's been developed and built upon the place that it is now.


And did that development process only involve discussions with young people or was the teaching profession also involved?

We did engage with lots of teaching practitioners across Scotland to ask them what their need was because as much as the young people were saying 'this is what staff need' we also wanted to consult with staff. So we did a big consultation around what they expected and what they felt would help them, and in the end we came up with these six sections of quite a robust group of standards. So it's just like with the General Teaching Council Scotland, or with the Eco-schools flag. It's just like every other accreditation because you want to gather the evidence that's in your school or your education is setting to make sure that you are adhering to the standards.

However, the standards are made in a way that they should be adapted to the context of the school. So whether you're in a secondary school or perhaps a college or an informal education setting, it's around your young people and the context that you have and adapting the standards to fit them. It's never about us saying 'here's your cookie cutter approach - we want you to do this.'

We work really closely with teaching unions and with Education Scotland and with the GTCS. We don't want this to be a bureaucratic thing. We know how hard teachers lives are at the moment in terms of trying to get by day-to-day - we want to just enhance the tools and the skills that they have to be able to support their young LGBTQ+ people within the school.


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One of the big stories in Scottish education in recent years has been the work around inclusive education, especially in the context of actual classroom teaching content, but it sounds like your work is quite different from that?

The Scottish government's inclusive education work is quite heavily, or has been quite heavily, focused on curriculum, and there are still some outcomes there that need to be met with that. But actually if you look at some of the research that's out there in terms of creating an inclusive environment, yes, you need the curriculum - but you need the whole school approach. The Scottish Government themselves years ago adopted a pilot around gender inclusion that came from the Institute of Physics and actually the research showed that taking that whole school approach actually had much greater benefits. So you need to have the visibility in the classroom, but you also need to have that safe environment in school.

It also helps with LGBTQ+ staff and families because there's a lot of hiddenness around that as well and we just want to ensure that we're being an inclusive supporter of staff and families too.

We ask that leadership teams are involved because if you're going to look at cultural change within an organisation you need to have senior leadership involved - one staff member cannot change it. We ask that a certain percentage of staff and support staff are trained, and we offer training. We ask that an action plan is developed, which is where a lot of the these things [the controversies] come out. We ask that the policies are inclusive. But it's not just LGBTQ+ identities, it's inclusive of all protected characteristics within the Equality Act because inclusion is a wider thing. But then we also ask that there is work done around campaigns and work done around visibility. But they develop their own action plan - we don't mandate it. We ask that they evidence a number of campaigns and they shape how want to do that and they come out with all sorts of weird wonderful things.


And are teachers still asking for this sort of support? Is there still a need for it, given all the progress that has been made since the end of Section 28 more than twenty years ago?

We speak to teacher groups all across the country and one of the first things they ask is: 'Okay, so what can we sat and what can't we say?' And we'll talk about the hangover of section 28 and how that has affected people, really affected them in their professional journey, to such extreme levels where we were not allowed to say some things, now we are, but now we may be in a position where we're going back again to where we can't talk about it. And imagine LGBTQ+ staff who have gone through that and felt like they might be being persecuted for a lot of different reasons. But I would say in the last 18 months in particular these questions keep coming up and up and up again.


You told me earlier that before taking on this role your background was in working on gender equality. Some argue that action like the LGBT charter, or broader LGBT inclusion, and especially trans inclusion, are in conflict with progress in areas like gender equality. Do you accept that?

No. If you look, there are examples out there of trans inclusion within women-only spaces, and in very difficult circumstances involving women-only spaces, that have been there for 10 plus years, and there's never been an issue. So why is trans inclusion now an issue when it wasn't for that length of time? And a lot of the rhetoric and narrative seems to be focused on trans women, and they are a tiny percentage of the population, and actually disregarding trans men. I get that some people are worried but I certainly would count myself as a feminist that has absolutely no problem in saying that trans women are no threat to feminism.