Can't be racist or sexist, but ...

27th January 2006 at 00:00
Whenever Tony Fenwick walked into a classroom, his pupils would accuse each other of having gay trainers, gay coats or gay bags.

The 45-year-old English teacher "came out" at a staff meeting at his Hertfordshire school, "because it was a wet Monday morning, and I was bored". His head later told him that she would have preferred him to tell people less publicly.

He has experienced little direct homophobia from colleagues. But the pupils are not so restrained. Each time he began to teach a class, pupils would hurl insults at each other's clothing and property. "Gay was a universal word for dysfunctional," he said. "It was used against objects. This was a school where racist and sexist abuse were non-starters. But homophobic abuse was rife.

"Once I had to spend an entire GCSE English lesson talking about homophobia because of a comment about a pupil," Mr Fenwick said. "And there are lots of teachers who will say, 'don't call him gay. That's a horrible word'.

"You should have homophobia built into the bullying policy in every school.

Otherwise, you're saying, you can't bully on the grounds of race or sex, but sexual orientation is OK. There's a hierarchy of bullying."

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