Monday, 12 May 2014

Tackling Homophobia in Local Schools

I read with a thankful heart the morning this a beautiful inspiring piece written by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. I commend his words and look forward to seeing what comes out of this iddlic vision of what schools could and should be like. But it caused me to reflect on my experience of our local schools. 

As a youth worker who supports LGBT young people I am often the receiver of news on bad practice from local schools that reinforces the School Report  collated by Stonewall who's main findings report: 
  • Homophobic bullying continues to be widespread in Britain’s schools. More than half (55 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils have experienced direct bullying
  • The use of homophobic language is endemic. Almost all (99 per cent) gay young people hear the phrases  ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’ in school and ninety six per cent of gay pupils hear homophobic language such as ‘poof’ or ‘lezza’
  • Three in five gay pupils who experience homophobic bullying say that teachers who witness the bullying never intervene
  • Homophobic bullying has a profoundly damaging impact on young people’s school experience. One in three (32 per cent) gay pupils experiencing bullying change their future educational plans because of it and three in five say it impacts directly on their school work
  • Gay people who are bullied are at a higher risk of suicide, self-harm and depression. Two in five (41 per cent) have attempted or thought about taking their own life directly because of bullying and the same number say that they deliberately self-harm directly because of bullying
With the most relevant stat for me being:
  • Only half of gay pupils report that their schools say homophobic bullying is wrong, even fewer do in faith schools (37 per cent)
I hear on a daily basis young people relaying what has been said to them, being asked in science lessons how big a penis they can fit inside their anus ('its a science lesson, its a scientific question' the reply came when the young person challenged their classmate). The usual taunts of 'Fag, queer, fudge packer, bum bandit, dyke' and the infamous 'thats so gay'. Some times things get physical, one young person reported having a knife pulled on them in the school grounds and being made to admit they were gay, other students saw, parents saw, teachers saw, no one stepped in!  

However whilst I hear many reports of young people being bullied and victimised by fellow students it is often the prejudice of the teachers and staff that baffles me the most.

One report I have received is of a transgender young person being made to change for PE in a disabled toilet as well as having to use this facility on a daily basis for their basic needs. The same young person reported a supply teacher for referring to her as 'What is that?' this was followed by a heated exchange and the young person involved standing their ground to not be treated like that in front of other students. Needless to say that supply no longer goes into that particular school. 

Another local example is of a school drawing up a contract with a same sex couple regarding their physical contact and behaviour. The contract identified the need to be in different classes at all times, to not be found in the toilets together, to get changed in different changing rooms and to not be party to any physical displays of affection. Both parties were asked to sign the contract and family members were brought into the school to see this outworked. Imagine if the school required all couples to come in with their parents and to sign upto contractual agreements like this? 

But I can't just say these stories are out of order and then carryon my normal practice. 

These stories get shared in order that we might all learn and grown so here in my local context I am getting involved for a third year with a fabulous project called Explore Diversity a day where young people and their teachers from many different schools are pulled together to undertake a conference hosted by young people. The young people share key note speeches, lead workshops and use music and drama to help educate their local peers and teachers on the 9 different strands of the 2010 Equality Act. Hearing directly how young people are affected by the bullying and practices of their schools has a deep impact on those that attend and gives space for students and staff to reflect on how they can make changes to their practices. Its quite a simple idea really, book a space, invite local groups of young people to host workshops and speak, give them space and time to share their experiences and mass invite your local schools. Something that could easily be replicated!  

Some of the fabulous local young people I know made this short film Saving Face based on a real story please take a few minutes to watch it and consider what life in education is like for those young people in your area. 

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