The Government has launched a proposal to stamp out homophobic bullying in schools, an initiative further backed by Will Young to banish the derogatory use of phrases with negative connotations such as ‘you’re so gay’.

Equalities Minister Jo Swinson launched the proposal during Anti-Bullying Week (18th – 22nd November) to help drive out homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in secondary schools.   With 99% of young gay people hearing phrases such as ‘that’s so gay’ frequently, and 84% feeling distressed when they do so, prompted pop idol, Will Young, whose nephew was bullied because of the star’s sexuality, to work with Stonewall, Mumsnet and over half the secondary schools in Great Britain to ensure the incorrect usage of the word ‘gay’ be rectified  amongst school age students.

However, the problem does not lie solely with the students.  Teachers, schools and parents, even society, are not recognising the severity and the impact of this form of discrimination, consequently not responding correctly to punish or educate the offending students in the same way they would, for example, with a racially discriminatory term.  Only 10% of gay pupils report that teachers challenge homophobic language every time they hear it, and only half of LGBT pupils report that their schools say homophobic bullying is wrong, even fewer in faith schools at 37% as revealed in The School Report: The experiences of gay young people in Britain’s schools in 2012, published by Stonewall. Schools, by law, have a duty to prevent and challenge homophobic bullying.

With 23% of gay UK youngsters attempting suicide, this is a serious issue that has recently received the full support of the Government.  The scheme will provide greater legal powers for schools to challenge bullying and cyber-bullying, by publishing updated advice and guidance for governing bodies and schools, building on action already taken by the Government, with the Church of England introducing a campaign to fight homophobic bullying in its schools also.   Swinson said:

“Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying has serious consequences – it can affect children’s well-being, lead to poor educational performance and prevent them getting ahead in life.

 “This new project will help us to fully understand the issues and develop effective, evidence-based tools and best practice that will help schools and others to stamp out this harmful behaviour.”

Although receiving much deserved media attention now, positive steps have already been taken to combat this issue.  Diversity Role Models, founded by Suran Dickson in 2011, is an initiative aimed at helping schools eradicate homophobic and transphobic bullying to provide a safe environment for their LGBT students and families. For students to talk with a role model who is actually gay, bi or transgender, helps to put a human face to an oft-misunderstood concept. As Dickson states:

“Usually the first response isn’t wholly positive; surveys done before DRM workshops reveal alarming attitudes such as ‘I detest gay people’ and ‘they don’t deserve any rights’. This vitriol dissipates very quickly once students begin to understand that the theme that underpins us all, LGBT and straight – is love. We are real people and the gender of the people we fall in love with says nothing about our characters, our values or our abilities. We challenge students to think critically about their own behaviours and to contribute to making their school a safe place”.

90% of 6000 young people say they would try not to use the word ‘gay’ incorrectly after DRM workshops because they realise that the term they use to mean ‘rubbish’ is actually the identity of real and likeable people.

In a generation endeavouring to eliminate discrimination and encourage not just tolerance, but acceptance, it is imperative to provide education from a young age regarding diversity. While the UK is leading the way when it comes to legislative equality for LGBT people, the oppressive regimes of the likes of Russia, Lebanon and Cameroon, to name but a few, are apparent for all to see in newspapers.  With a US School Board Member stating that trans students should be ‘castrated’ before being allowed to use the bathroom, it would seem even in countries where equality and discrimination are of paramount importance to society by law, we still have steps to take to ensure the safe environment for LGBT students.

Almost half of LGBT pupils skip school due to being bullied, with one in three changing their plans for future education because of it.  The students of today, are our ambassadors for the future.  In an ideal world, no child should have to suffer for who they are; no person should have to be fearful for who they love. The onus lies with us to instil acceptance and to eliminate prejudice to reach that ideal, and in doing so perhaps also re-educate ourselves in the value of diversity.  

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