Homophobia has no place in our schools

18th April 2008 at 01:00
Four years ago Stonewall Cymru launched Education for All, a campaign to tackle homophobia and homophobic bullying in schools. At that time, reports of Neath schoolgirl Laura Rhodes's tragic suicide, after being branded the "school dyke", revealed the shocking extent of homophobic bullying in Wales.

Education for All has been a tremendous success. After lengthy campaigning, the challenge to homophobia and homophobic bullying is high on the agenda - so much so that the Assembly government is sponsoring a bilingual edition of our Spell it Out DVD, a training resource aimed at helping teachers better understand and tackle homophobic bullying.

Next year, the Assembly government will produce much-needed guidance on tackling anti-gay attitudes in schools. But have things really changed for gay people in education? Stonewall Cymru's Counted In! - the biggest survey of gay people in Wales - highlighted that 25 per cent of same-sex parents were aware their child was being bullied.

Increasingly, the word "gay" is used as a term of abuse. Homophobic language has become embedded in our culture because it is rarely challenged. High-profile celebrities regularly used "gay" to mean something, or someone, is rubbish. Homophobic bullying is on the increase; Stonewall's School Report found that four in five young people say homophobic language and comments in school are commonplace; and 65 per cent of gay young people at school have experienced homophobic bullying. Around six out of 10 did not report it.

So it comes as no surprise that Stonewall's latest report, Serves you Right, the first statistically significant national poll of lesbian, gay and bisexual people ever conducted, tells us that gay people expect discrimination when accessing education.

Three in 10 lesbian and gay people expect to be treated worse than heterosexuals if they enrol their child in school. In Wales, an astonishing 89 per cent of lesbian and gay people expect to face barriers to becoming a school governor.

In spite of exemplary support from the Welsh Assembly, too few schools or local authorities are willing, or able, to tackle homophobia in education. Schools and local authorities need to encourage more applications to be school governors from the lesbian and gay community.

Gay school governors are positive role models who understand the complexities of being "out" in school, or having to keep your sexual orientation a secret for fear of bullying. They can help schools develop policies that address anti-gay bullying and promote an inclusive environment.

Schools are often unsure of the best way to deal with this issue. It is crucial that teachers who challenge homophobic bullying have the support of the head.

As yet there is no duty on public services requiring them to promote equality for lesbian and gay people. We are working tirelessly to change this because we know it will have a significant impact on education in the 21st century. Wales can, and must, lead the way in developing an education system based on fairness and respect for all.

Matthew Batten is policy and public affairs officer for charity Stonewall Cymru.

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