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Will Young: Schools failing to stamp out homophobic language

Schools are not doing enough to clamp down on homophobic language and bullying, according to singer-songwriter and anti-bullying campaigner Will Young. 

Whereas heads and their staff are quick to stamp out racism, not enough is being done to counter the damaging effects of homophobic bullying, the pop star said in an interview with TES.

Mr Young acts as an ambassador for gay rights charity, Stonewall, and he said homophobic language such as using the word “gay” as a pejorative is not seen as being homophobic by headteachers. 

While he called for students and young people to be taught about the damaging effects of homophobic bullying, he said that it was more important that teachers and headteacher be taught what constitutes it.  

“It is not just educating the kids, it’s the teachers and the heads – that needs to be a priority,” Mr Young said.

“In fairness, Ofsted is pretty good when it comes to looking at homophobic language, but I think part of the reason is that language and the use of the word “gay” has not come under the definition of homophobia.

"Secondary school heads 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.”

The 34-year-old’s comments come ahead of Anti-Bullying Week next week, and he said it was something he had experienced when growing up in school and he is still subjected to it today.

“People used the negative connotation of the word gay when I was at school and that had an impact on me because I knew I was gay from a young age,” he said. “The word has been in the fabric of society and it was particularly present in schools.”     

Mr Young said that a zero tolerance approach was now needed from headteachers if the problem of homophobic bullying was to be properly dealt with. 

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said he agreed with the singer that the issue needed to be tackled, but felt heads already were taking the problem seriously. 

"Headteachers take homophobic bullying very seriously as they should do and 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 heads must be aware of and be on top of in what is a long and tough job, but we are trying," he added.

In July, education secretary Michael Gove pledged to clampdown on homophobic language at a conference organised by Stonewall, adding that it was “outrageous and medieval” to use the word “gay” as an insult.

“Whether it is [former Radio 1 DJ] Chris Moyles or anyone else it is wrong and it should be called out,” Mr Gove said.

Mr Young said he had since held a meeting with Mr Gove on the subject of homophobic language, adding that he hoped it would give the campaign more weight. 

“It’s not going to happen overnight, but I hope just by making people think and to question it and through the work Stonewall is doing that things will change,” he said. 

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