Instructor opens first driving school for homosexuals after hearing about offensive jokes by other tutors
Learners complained about having to lie to previous instructorsTransgender learners faced questions on their gender from other instructorsDiscreet car used with no markings to advertise LGBT friendly service
08:54 GMT, 11 April 2013
19:44 GMT, 11 April 2013
A lesbian businesswoman is helping homosexual learner drivers dodge old-school driving instructors by opening Britain's first ‘gay driving school.’
Karis Smith, 27, started Gay Driving School Manchester after friends complained about jokes being made by instructors about their sexuality when having lessons.
She said stories of instructors referring to pupils as ‘faggots’ or grilling transgender youngsters on whether they are a boy or a girl had left her horrified.
Karis Smith, who works as a driving instructor for the AA, runs 'The Gay Driving School', aimed at making the experience of learning to drive easier for the LGBT community
And she said some gay leaner drivers pretended to be heterosexual because they felt uncomfortable revealing their homosexuality to a stranger.
Now Miss Smith's solo business is creating a stir amongst Manchester's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community with her promise to make pupils feel ‘comfortable’ over their sexuality when behind the wheel of her Ford Focus.
On her website Miss Smith says: ‘Gay Lesbian Bisexual TG/TS/TV Looking for driving lessons with a friendly driving instructor in a comfortable learning environment Then look no further! I am a young, female, gay driving instructor.
‘Learning to drive can be a daunting experience enough, without worrying about getting on with your instructor.
‘You will learn much better if you are relaxed, comfortable and most importantly yourself! I am fully committed to teaching you to be a safe, conscientious driver whilst achieving that all important pink driving license!’
Today Miss Smith, from Fallowfield, Manchester said: ‘The response I've had so far has been very positive.
The gay friendly service was launched in response to complaints to members of the LGBT community that other instructors had made them feel uncomfortable
‘I have heard a lot of horror stories about people's experiences with driving instructors, where they have had to explain their sexuality.
‘There have even been stories about transgender learners who have had to put up with jokes about their gender or questions about their looks.
‘As a pupil you'll spend 40 to 50 hours learning to drive in very close proximity to a total stranger.
‘Part of feeling at ease during your lessons is building a good rapport with your instructor – this is much easier when you can just be yourself.
‘A lot of gay people told me that they had strange experiences and it quickly became apparent that many of them said they'd never felt that comfortable with their instructors.
‘I've had a pupil come to me halfway through her training as her previous instructor shared many of his far-right political beliefs and extreme views on race, immigration and sexuality during conversations in the lessons that made her very uncomfortable.
‘I don't think we should live in a world where all LGBT people should only use services from other LGBT providers – but I do think it's important for people to have that option should they wish.
‘With this venture there is no need to explain yourself and its a lot more relaxed. You won't be met with a barrage of questions about your personal life.
Karis Smith's website offers a 'comfortable learning environment' for people who are gay, bisexual, transgender, transexual or transvestite
‘I think the people who have appreciated it the most are those who are transgender. Getting behind the wheel for the first time is daunting enough without having to worry about how a driving instructor will treat you.’
The driving school, which is gay friendly and not gay only, is set up as an AA franchise and Karis said the fact that the Ford Focus car she uses looks discreet is a positive factor for pupils.
The former Manchester University student said all of her pupils, more than 50 so far, have passed their driving tests in three attempts or less.
Some of the complaints made to Karis were issues such as constantly having to use ‘non-gender’ pronouns when chatting with their instructor, mentioning their 'partner' rather than girlfriend or boyfriend.
Another complaint was having to lie about what they did for a living rather than admitting they worked in a bar in Manchester's Canal Street gay district.
Sarah McNally, from the Lesbian and Gay Foundation Manchester, said: ‘Unfortunately some people still face discrimination and homophobia in society today, so you should be able to feel more comfortable accessing LGBT specific spaces or services.’