Northern Ireland school is first to form gay-straight alliance

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

A school in Northern Ireland is the first in the country to form a student gay-straight alliance.

Teachers at Shimna Integrated College in Newcastle, County Down, hope the initiative will help tackle anti-gay bullying.

Gay-straight alliances are popular in US high schools and are designed to welcome all students, regardless of sexuality.

Kevin Lambe, principal at Shimna Integrated College, told the BBC that while other bullying had mostly disappeared, homophobic bullying remains common.

He said: “Most bullying, most racism has been publicly gotten rid of. Words that you are called because of your religion, because of your skin colour, most of that has disappeared.

“But homophobic bullying I’m sorry to say is quite common. As the form of bullying which most induces young people to harm themselves or even kill themselves, surely we can’t turn away from that and say ‘oh that’s a delicate type of bullying, we can’t really deal with that’.”

Mr Lambe added that no parents had complained about the alliance.

“I haven’t had a single parent say a negative word about it,” he said. “I’ve had positive words about it, but no negativity at all.”

He said: “Let’s be honest, homophobic bullying happens openly, therefore I really believe you have to react to it and deal with it openly.”

The school has been praised by Northern Ireland LGBT group Rainbow Project.

Education equality officer Gavin Boyd said: “Homophobic bullying is a serious and prevalent problem across schools in Northern Ireland. It is not frequently discussed in schools and many teachers are unsure of how or even if they should intervene when they witness homophobic bullying.”

He added: “There are young people, teachers and principals in schools all over Northern Ireland who want to make sure that their school is a safe and welcoming place for everyone, but perhaps they don’t know how to achieve this or if they will have support in tackling homophobic bullying.”