Homophobic bullying must be beaten

13th August 2010 at 01:00

It was pleasing to read in The TESS (July 30) that LGBT Youth Scotland, which represents lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people, had received a positive report from HMIE. The organisation aims "to work to empower lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people and the wider LGBT community so that they are embraced as full members of the Scottish family at home, school, and in every community".

It provides youth and community-based services for LGBT young people, conducts national programmes and does development work. A toolkit to help teachers tackle homophobic bullying has been developed by its Scottish arm, along with Learning and Teaching Scotland, in response to concerns expressed by pupils and their teachers that LGBT issues were missing from the Scottish curriculum and school environment.

The purpose of these lesson plans is to suggest resources teachers might use to address homophobia in the context of the values, purposes and principles of Curriculum for Excellence. These plans meet aspects of various curriculum areas, including a number of experiences and outcomes under health and well-being.

LGBT Youth Scotland says it is vital to remember homophobic behaviour is likely to be displayed by a minority of young people. But there will probably be many more youngsters who are receptive to anti-discrimination messages and it is crucial to give them the courage to challenge their peers' sneering comments and behaviour.

Some pupils may be unresponsive in these lessons for various reasons: hostility, apathy, nervousness or embarrassment. This subject must be handled sensitively and there should be no rushed judgments about individuals' lack of response. Hearing positive messages from respected teachers about anti-homophobia and LGBT issues will benefit all pupils.

Yet I suspect few schools are using the toolkit. There is often a reluctance to deal with sensitive matters relating to sexuality. But more than 70 countries treat being gay as a crime, with seven of these punishing same-sex acts with death. Pupils ought to be aware of such a major humanitarian issue. Nor is Britain free from homophobia.

Famous gay people, such as Stephen Fry, Sir Ian McKellen, Sarah Waters and Carol Ann Duffy, are seen as successful, witty and creative, and it is almost inconsequential that they happen to be gay. Their achievements may insulate them against homophobic mocking. Social pressure to be "straight" is still powerful. Joe McElderry, the 19-year-old winner of The X Factor, was forced to come out as gay, apparently after his Twitter account was hacked into. He had not felt able to divulge his sexual orientation previously.

Bodies such as LGBT Youth Scotland challenge us to tackle the bullying of gay young people, because most of the formal school curriculum promotes heterosexuality and its values. The word "gay" is used by many pupils as a term of abuse for anything seen as inadequate, such as a faulty printer. The campaign group Stonewall says almost two-thirds of gay pupils experience homophobic bullying in British schools. There is no excuse for not dealing with this. Most teachers have no specific training in this area. This gap needs to be bridged if we and our pupils aspire to be responsible citizens and confident individuals.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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