All Catholic high schools in Scotland will have a “safe space” for LGBTI pupils, MSPs have heard.
Holyrood’s equalities and human rights committee convener Christina McKelvie said they heard some pupils who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) had taken their own lives after being bullied.
She added the students had raised particular concerns about Catholic schools and she felt personal and social education (PSE) classes were critical to helping pupils.
McKelvie said: “A lot of young people have told me some horrendous stories about how PSE is used, especially going down a moralistic route as well, where a lot of young people feel really backed into a corner where they thought their thoughts and feelings were not being respected.”
She said she had heard teachers are “not equipped” to deal with LGBTI issues or misogyny “because either it’s dealt with as a moralistic issue or it’s something that they don’t believe in”.
Barbara Coupar, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said Catholic schools “propose the gospel, not impose the gospel” and had taken on board guidelines against hate crime.
She added many teachers did not feel equipped to become counsellors for pupils regardless of the problem so schools were making sure teachers and pupils knew where to go for help inside and outside the school.
Ms Coupar said: “That’s why we’re going to down this avenue of ensuring that within all of our Catholic secondary schools that they would be able to go to someone, a trusted adult, a safe space within the school, where there would be someone who would have had that opportunity to be trained, for want of a better word, in order to be able to meet the needs of the young people in their care.”
McKelvie said: “What we are looking for is if there’s a belief issue there, what we want is for teachers to be able to handle that, and if they can’t, for whatever reason, they’re equipped to signpost those kids to the right places for those kids to get that support.
“We’re hearing of young people who go down the route of self-harm, attempt and, in some cases, actually commit suicide.
“There doesn’t seem be a recognition at all that there’s an issue about LGBTI young people and how they should be supported through school.”
Some schools, including Catholic schools, were “brilliant” on PSE and LGBTI pupils, but in other places the classes were “disturbing”.
She added: “The young people we spoke to did raise some issues about Catholic schools.
“We would like to get some insight into that whether there is a recognition of these issues especially about LGBTI young people and what the Catholic Education Service are doing to address that without making young people feel as if they are committing a sin.”