Aids charity combats prejudice

3rd September 1999 at 01:00
TEACHERS' failure to crack down on homophobia in schools will be one target of a hard- hitting national advertising campaign launched today by the Aids charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust.

Under the slogan "It's prejudice that is queer", the advertisements will turn homophobic language on its head, with messages such as "I can't stand homophobes, especially when they flaunt it."

An advertisement targeted at teachers, and published on page nine of The TES, declares: "Homophobes shouldn't be left alone with kids."

It continues: "Many children, gay and straight, suffer homophobic abuse at school. ... This kind of bullying leads to truancy, under- achievement, depression and, in extreme cases, suicide. Good teachers always challenge the homophobes..."

With two-fifths of violent attacks on gay people under 18 taking place at school, reaching teachers is seen as important.

Will Nutland, manager of the Gay Men's Team at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "It is important that teachers recognise their own language towards gay people can affect that of their pupils. It is also important that teachers challenge the use of homophobic language by their pupils so that they learn that homophobia is as unacceptable and damaging as any prejudice."

Only 6 per cent of schools have written anti-homophobia policies and research by the trust has revealed that more than two-fifths of teachers say they have difficulty in addressing the needs of gay pupils as a result of Section 28, the Thatcher government's prohibition on the promotion of homosexuality by LEAs and schools.

The new advert quotes government guidance on the issue: "Section 28 does not affect the activities of school governors, nor of teachers. It will not prevent the objective discussion of homosexuality in the classroom, nor the counselling of pupils concerned about their sexuality."

Debbie Epstein, reader in education at the Institute of Education, London University, said: "Children are not born homophobic, these attitudes are learned."

However, Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, said: "I think the majority of parents and the majority of teachers will be horrified."

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