Equality - Will Young reveals homophobic abuse

22nd November 2013 at 00:00
Pop star tells own story in bid to tackle school bullying

Will Young, the pop star and actor, has spoken out about his experience of homophobic bullying, saying that he has himself been subject to abuse, including the term "batty boy".

Launching a campaign encouraging schools to stamp out the negative use of the word gay, the celebrity, who shot to fame in the UK after winning the inaugural Pop Idol singing contest in 2002, explained that he was on the receiving end of homophobic language only recently.

The 34-year-old, who works as an ambassador for gay rights charity Stonewall, said that schools did not clamp down on homophobic language in the way they did with racism or sexism, adding that school leaders often did not view the pejorative use of "gay" as homophobic at all.

Speaking to TES, Mr Young described how he had suffered from homophobic abuse since becoming famous and an active supporter of gay rights.

"I was in an airport and these kids shouted 'batty boy' at me," Mr Young said. "I walked back and said, 'That's not a very nice term, batty boy,' but they just muttered something. I walked away and they said it again.

"I turned around and confronted them again and explained to them (that the word was offensive), and I genuinely believe they didn't think it was as bad as I thought it was. They just thought that's what you do with gay people.

"Quite often I don't think it's from an evil place and, particularly with young people, they're just learning it."

The singer said he felt that schools had a vital role to play in trying to stamp out the use of homophobic language, but he added that often the staff needed to be educated just as much as the students.

Homophobia suffered from being at the "bottom of the pile" in society, Mr Young said, where it was put on a "lower tier" than sexism, racism and anti-religious language.

"It is not just educating the kids, it's the teachers and the headteachers - that needs to be a priority," he said.

Mr Young said that school inspectors were "pretty good" at tackling homophobic language, but more needed to be done: "Secondary school headteachers don't see it as being homophobic, and many say, 'It happens so often, how are we going to tackle it?' And a lot of the time they see it as just kids being kids."

Last year, the United Nations released a report on schools' responses to homophobic bullying, which showed that more students reported being victims of homophobic bullying than identified themselves as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual or intersex.

The report prompted UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon to label homophobic bullying as "a moral outrage, a grave violation of human rights and a public health crisis".

In a bid to tackle the issue, Stonewall has sent posters to half of all secondary schools in the UK to address the misuse of the word "gay".

A joint survey undertaken by Stonewall and online parents' forum, Mumsnet, found that 99 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people heard phrases such as "that's so gay" or "you're so gay" in school. Just one in 10 of the 1,000 respondents to the poll said that staff at their school would intervene when they heard such homophobic language.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, agreed with Mr Young that the issue needed to be tackled, but said he felt that school leaders were already looking into it.

"Headteachers take homophobic bullying very seriously, as they should do. It does need to be stamped out and that starts with the language, but it takes time for the culture to be changed as we have seen with racist language," Mr Hobby said.

"It is one of so many other things that headteachers must be aware of and be on top of in what is a long and tough job, but we are trying."

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