Many teachers want to tell their pupils more about homosexuality but stop short because they mistakenly believe to do so is illegal, says Lord Tope, one of the Liberal Democrats' education spokesmen.
"Why it is that a small but significant group of pupils in all our secondary schools don't achieve as they might? They are not drug-takers, or from run-down council estates, or in large classes or from broken homes.The boys are gay, the girls are lesbian. And day after day, term after term, they are taunted and humiliated, some having clothing or equipment ruined, some being beaten up, and in some cases badly hurt. The tragic irony in all of this is that many of them have yet to have sex with anyone,let alone a relationship."
Lord Tope says many teachers "take refuge" behind Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, thinking this made it illegal to talk about homosexuality in any way. It does prohibit local authorities from "intentionally promoting" homosexuality, but does not apply to individual schools or teachers. The Government has promised to scrap the law entirely.
In a 1996 study by the charity Stonewall, 48 per cent of 80 gay pupils under the age of 18 said they had experienced a violent attack. Almost half of the attacks took place in schools, and over a third involved four or more attackers.
Later this year, Stonewall is to issue good practice guidelines for teachers dealing with homophobia in schools. Stonewall director Angela Mason says: "Teachers can't be expected to know automatically how to help gay pupils. They need helpful, simple guidelines so they know what best to do."
Last year Lord Tope advertised in the gay press for pupils to write to him with their experiences. Several said they been victimised by teachers, as well as pupils.
One boy told how when the deputy head spotted him standing next to the school Christmas tree he shouted out: "Robert, shouldn't you be standing on top of the tree?"
FOUR MEMOIRES OF HUMILIATION
"My books being defaced with filthy wording, or my file, folders and contents of my bag being emptied out of a first-loor window as 'a punishment' for being gay".
Paul, 16, Nottingham.
* "I don't care about exams or jobs and I definitely hate school, I take every chance to be sick and miss lessons. If it wasn't for a support group,it's very likely that I would end my life. Sorry."
Michael, 15, Herts.
* "Why is it better to be black than gay? You don't have to tell your mum you are black."
Sarah, 15, London.
* "One time I wrote all over my bedroom walls that I hated everyone and myself. I tried to take an overdose of pills four times, and tried to slit my wrists one time."
Tom, 18, Midlands