Not Everyone Was Happy When Scottish School Received an LGBT Award

A non-denominational Christian-based school in Scotland is facing backlash from a Catholic group after receiving an award for its inclusion of LGBT students.

Cumbernauld Academy received a Silver LGBT Charter Mark award from an organization called “LGBT Youth Scotland” this past spring for its work to create an inclusive environment for LGBT students and staff members.

Mark Cairns (center) surrounded by faculty and student representatives from Cumbernauld School.

Head teacher (equivalent of principal) Mark Cairns, a practicing Catholic, received the award for his educational leadership. But Cairns told The Cumbernauld News that the work to create a more welcoming environment was a team effort by all members on staff:

“I am immensely proud of our whole school community by the way we have embraced the principles of inclusion that underpin the LGBT Charter. It is the mark of a confident and inclusive community that we have embarked on this journey of ensuring that the rights of all LGBT young people are evident in the way we all live our lives in Cumbernauld Academy.”

Cairns later interviewed with The Herald, where he discussed his Catholic faith, LGBT inclusion policies, and school management. He said that while he is a practicing Catholic, he doesn’t think a school needs to be Catholic in order to be excellent, saying:

“Look, there can be no doubt that Catholic schools have contributed magnificently to Scotland’s education system and they helped form me and define me as a person. But I wonder if sometimes a sort of Catholic exceptionalism is aired by some whereby it’s claimed that Catholic schools possess some kind of moral X-factor somehow missing in the non-denominational sector. This would be at odds with the reality in schools such as Cumbernauld Academy.

“I know there are brilliant Catholic schools but everything that makes them great can also be found in a good non-denominational school. At Cumbernauld Academy we have a strong pattern of pastoral support based on fundamental core values of decency, respect for others and honesty. We have a mission to reach out to disadvantaged communities at home and overseas. Crucially, the spiritual needs of all children – no matter their faith background – are met. I don’t know of any non-denominational school where this is not the case.”

Cairns went on to say that while he is a Catholic, he puts the needs of his students before Church teachings on homosexuality:

“As a practising Catholic I fully understand the church’s teaching and tradition on some of these issues. But here my primary responsibility is to the care and wellbeing of all my pupils. Though I know that the pastoral care in Catholic schools is excellent I also wonder if there is the potential for a conflict of interests in this area.”

Cumbernauld students walking on a campus crosswalk painted and decorated to celebrate the award

A few months after Cairns received the award, “Catholic Truth,” a conservative Catholic website sent a letter to Cairns accusing him of brainwashing students into “becoming” LGBT, as well as not providing safe spaces for students who were against same-sex marriage. LGBT Youth Scotland put out a statement denouncing the letter saying:

“Research is showing that 71 percent of LGBT young people experiencing bullying on the ground of being LGBT and nine per cent LGBT leaving education as result. We are not aware of research which shows that a high number of people who do not agree with same-sex relationships are being bullied within schools. Indeed it is wrong to assume that Catholic pupils are not supportive of same-sex relationships. The rest of the letter implies that by taking steps to be LGBT inclusive schools will encourage people to be LGBT. Sexual orientation and transgender identity is an intrinsic part of people’s identities and lives. No one can encourage it or promote it.”

Cairns and Cumbernauld Academy chose not to respond to the conservative letter.

The work being done by Cumbernauld Academy is a welcome form of inclusion for LGBT students. Cairns’ Catholicism no doubt played a role in his desire to value the safety and support of youth over harmful, ingrained social patterns. Cumbernauld Academy sounds like a model that Catholic schools could emulate.

–Kaitlin Brown, New Ways Ministry, July 18, 2018

6 replies
  1. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    Anyone who thinks for a second that someone can be “brainwashed” into being gay is thoroughly misinformed.

    DON E SIEGAL says:

    Moral X-factor

    Cairns: “Look, there can be no doubt that Catholic schools have contributed magnificently to Scotland’s education system and they helped form me and define me as a person. But I wonder if sometimes a sort of Catholic exceptionalism is aired by some whereby it’s claimed that Catholic schools possess some kind of moral X-factor somehow missing in the non-denominational sector. This would be at odds with the reality in schools such as Cumbernauld Academy.”

    I facilitate the RCIA for 18+ yr/o inquires. If I try to suggest that a person can live a moral life without being a Christian, I inevitably experience this X-factor pushback. It goes something like this: Yah but, don’t you think that because you are a Christian you have special tools to live the moral life?

    One of my theological heroes is Edward Schillebeeckx (1914-2009). He called this Christian imperialism and strongly condemned such theology. Schillebeeckx: “[I] know that the idea of election by God includes mediation and universality without any partiality threatening humanity. This means that the election and creation intention of God who seeks the salvation of all people are subordinated. All historical forms of religious election must stand in a serving function to the universal election of all humankind. If not, threat, danger and violence toward people of a different faith are inherent to the self-understanding of being elected of individuals, peoples and communities of faith. Christian-religious imperialism should be radically condemned for humane reasons.”

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      It’s wonderful to see this remembrance of the splendid contributions of Fr. Schillebeeckx. We actually studied his work in theology classes at Holy Cross in the late 1960s. Here’s a comprehensive overview of his achievements:

      Needless to say, we need a whole lot more of his illuminated approach to Christology, and a whole lot less of the stuff we’re getting from some entrenched far-right-wing theologians, who believe they have a franchise to speak on behalf of Jesus Himself.

  3. Barry Blackburn
    Barry Blackburn says:

    KUDOS to Cumbernauld Academy from this retired Canadian Catholic educator. The Principal’s wise comments on the best of education show that none of us lives in a Catholic bubble where we judge everything by an our and their standard. The award speaks volumes about inclusion and the celebration of the very best of education everywhere. KUDOS indeed!

  4. Patrick Riley
    Patrick Riley says:

    Are any clergy behind « Catholic Truth » website? How is Catholic Truth funded? Is it really only one or a few individuals with no clergy support?

  5. Dr. Aaron Milavec
    Dr. Aaron Milavec says:

    I am proud of the pastoral and theological balance that has been achieved at Cumbernauld Academy. You have provided the safe haven whereby students of all colors can appreciate “differences” that represent the divine diversity that exists among us.

    It is the lack of compassion and sensitivity that drives young people to acts of desperation. Some feel alienated from their own school chums because they feel left out by their dating games. Some even despair that God cursed them with the abnormality of being “queer.” Many run away from intolerable situations at home and live, vulnerable and exposed, in the dark alleyways and flop houses of our urban jungles. Many resort to cutting themselves or overdosing on drugs.

    I myself, while teaching in Roman Catholic seminaries for twenty-five years, was required to keep a guarded silence on a whole host of sexual issues. But this reluctant obedience has not served me nor has it served those whom I helped prepare for lay and ordained ministry.

    Pope Francis, for his part, has forthrightly warned our bishops against “the temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word . . . , within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve.” When this happens, “the bread” that Jesus blesses and gives to his disciples is transformed “into a stone” that is either “cast against the sinners” or it is carried by them as an “unbearable burden” (Luke 11:46).

    By way of atoning for my years of silence, I have prepared WHAT JESUS WOULD SAY TO SAME-SEX COUPLES in order to equip my former students and all those faithful Catholics who are interested in sorting out the wheat from the chaff within current Vatican teaching on same-sex marriages. Whether you want to speak to your teenage daughter or to your bishop, these case studies will provide discussion points that will expose the disordered thoughts of Cardinal Ratzinger and draw us into harmony with the mind of Christ.
    If you are unable to attend the 2018 World Meeting of Families, I would invite you to receive a free copy of my book [available at ] and to read it in solidarity with those who will be meeting August 21-26th in Dublin.

    Peace, justice, and joy,
    Dr. Aaron Milavec


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