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.
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.”
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