We need Inclusive PE in Scottish Schools
15th May 2017
Chris Timmins reflects on experiences from school and discusses the need for inclusive PE.
Inclusive Physical Education lessons are crucial to making LGBTQ+ young people feel safe and supported by their peers, teachers and the whole school environment. However, many young people, myself included, often feel isolated and, at points, even scared of going to PE lessons, in particular November and December when Social Dancing begins.
For many students, the words ‘Social Dancing’ come with memories of dances such as the Gay Gordons, Military Two Step and Canadian Barn Dance. However, these dances all too often come accompanied with a teacher shouting ‘Boys, take your girl by the hand’, or words to that effect. As a non-binary and queer young person, these lessons made me feel completely isolated from the class because I didn’t fit into the ‘male’ or ‘female’ roles that I was expected to, and I couldn’t have the safety of dancing with my friends, because I wasn’t allowed to dance with a same sex partner.
I dreaded going to PE, and this experience is shared by too many of my LGBTQ+ friends and fellow LGBTQ+ young people across Scotland. Last October, I reached a breaking point and decided that something had to be done, so myself and the LGBTQ+ group that I set up for my high school, Alphabet Soup, created a change.org petition to gather support and awareness for our need for equal social dancing. The petition gathered approximately 300 signatures in just 6 hours, with comments from other LGBTQ+ people from across the country, which shows just how crucial this issue is and how many young people are affected by it. This petition showed too, that non-inclusive PE lessons were not just affecting LGBTQ+ students, but also students with mental or physical health problems, students that had been bullied and those with low self-esteem, many of whom felt more comfortable dancing with partners of the same sex. The petition certainly raised the attention of both my school and local authority, and discussions are now going forward on how to best include LGBTQ+ young people in physical education lessons, something that I’m very excited and happy about.
However, a basic right to be respected, and free to choose a partner of your choice, shouldn’t be something that young people have to fight and cause controversy for. Teachers and Schools need to support young people to be who they are, without fear of discrimination or isolation – if young people feel included within an environment, it changes and saves their lives. It does not take much, a simple change from ‘boys and girls’ to ‘partner 1 and 2’, or removing phrases from your vocabulary such as ‘ladies and gentlemen’, can validate the identities of so many young people. Every school should be a safe place, where young LGBTQ+ people are respected, and this starts with inclusive PE Lessons.
Chris Timmins is a young Scottish activist who is passionate about improving the lives of LGBTQI+ young people in Scotland, and especially rural communities. He is a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYP) elected through LGBT Youth Scotland to represent interests of LGBTQI+ young people.