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Tackling homophobic bullying through education

November 12, 2011

Earlier this week I listened to one of the most moving speeches I’ve ever heard.  Bereaved parent Roger Crouch told a silent audience at the Speaker’s apartments about the suicide of his 15 year old son Dominic. He’d taken his own life by throwing himself off a car park roof after suffering homophobic taunts at his school in Cheltenham.

MPs and public figures from a range of professions, including news readers Evan Davis and Jane Hill, were gathered for the Parliamentary launch of Diversity Role Models.  This new charity will provide schools with speakers who can talk openly about the diversity of life.  You can read more here

It’s now 6 years since as a new MP I raised the issue of school bullying in Parliament.  The issue had not been properly discussed before and homophobic bullying was very much off the agenda.  I was able to persuade my fellow members of the Education Select Committee that we should mount an investigation into bullying with particular emphasis on identity related bullying.  Our report came out in early 2007.   I also ran a parallel Lib Dem campaign, putting a motion through the Lib Dem conference and hosting a House of Commons reception for children’s charities

In the last few years a huge amount of work has been done in this area.  The government published guidance for schools, Stonewall has published some excellent research and done some great work in schools.  I’ve seen the drama “Fit” performed in a tough south London school and witnessed the way it made children think about their attitudes.

But homophobic bullying is still a huge problem.  Children who are gay, suspected of being gay or are known to have a gay relative are more likely to be the victims of bullying than other groups.  We only know of a minority of cases as research shows about 60% of children never report being bullied for this reason.

So there is still a lot of work to be done.  I often mention bullying when I am talking to classes in Bristol’s schools.  The more children see that there are successful gay people in their own communities and see them on TV then we stand a chance of ending the misery of this particularly distressing type of bullying.



12 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2011 3:45 am

    I never suffered any kind of bullying at my schools because I was able to look after myself and my true sexual nature did not become apparent to until I entered the RAF and was based in Cyprus back in 1959.

    Being gay was totally against the civil and military law. On the charge sheets posted on the boards in Akrotiri and Nicosia were weekly charges of “Buggery” and seemed to be treated almost as a mere peccadillo by the military it was so rife. Certainly in Limassol gay sex was freely available.

    On my return to UK it was still against the UK law and one had to be very careful. Now it seems largely accepted provided we do not “Flaunt” our sexuality: which of course is far from an ideal situation.

    I suspect that homophobic bullying comes straight from the parents: fathers who express their extreme views at home. Personally I would trace this back to my pet hatred: SPORT!

    • rosemary permalink
      November 13, 2011 3:04 pm

      I don’t agree that the bullying always comes straight from the fathers. Children in playgrounds will sometimes say, “Oh that is so GAY!” – as a way of expressing disapproval or irritation. They don’t necessarily know what “gay” means, either in the original sense, or the political sense. Actually, in the political sense it is an acronym, and it means “Good As You”. This should be explained to them.

  2. Paul Bemmy Down permalink
    November 13, 2011 6:55 pm

    I think you have it really wrong with regard sport. This is one arena where it makes no difference of your social background, your job, your ethnicity, and, to keep to the subject, whether you are gay or not. Not all sports are the same, and some may be less accomadating than others, but in the main, sport is a good thing. We have recently had a Welsh rugby international and a World Cup rugby referee quite openly saying they are gay and this shows how things have moved forward. What I would say is sport has been hijacked by the media, big business, and vested interest, and turned into a spectator occupation, when sport is really about playing and not watching. The media thrives on controversy because it draws more spectators and thus more income. This means highlighting the less saviory side, but thats not what sport is really about!

    • November 13, 2011 9:26 pm

      but there are precious few openly gay sports stars, Gareth Thomas being one of a tiny number in the world. The British sports governing bodies are now moving, led much to my surprise by Rugby League and Rugby Union. At a Downing Street reception several other sports (tennis and cricket) signed up to a charter to combat homophobia. Football was conspicuous by its absence. Football has done a lot of good work on racism but has a stubborn blind spot on homophobia….I wonder what they are hiding.

  3. Paul Bemmy Down permalink
    November 14, 2011 11:44 am

    Hi Stephen
    Why the surprise with Rugby? Rugby is a great game, something I discovered later in life, and certainly not the “toffs” game it’s often portrayed. The players still respect the refs decision, respect their opponents, and socialise together after the game. I,m certainly not surprised it’s at the forefront of change!

    • rosemary permalink
      November 14, 2011 1:30 pm

      Paul, is there anything in that old adage: “Football is a game for gentlemen played by hooligans; Rugby Union is a game for hooligans played by gentlemen; and Rugby League is a game for hooligans played by hooligans.” ? I’ve never played any of them or been to watch.

  4. Paul Bemmy Down permalink
    November 14, 2011 6:37 pm

    Hi Rosemary. No. I played football and now watch rugby. Rugby is played by all sorts, but they all respect the Ref. I find it very sad that young people choose to watch sport when they have so many opportunities these days to actually play. The Olympics will hopefully encourage more participation, but with so much Lottery money going there, which would otherwise have gone straight to grassroots sport, I doubt we will be any better off. England and Bath rugby capt. Lewis Moody has just written in his book that he was bullied in school. If it can happen to someone like him it shows that anyone is vulnerable, and the sooner it’s sorted out the better.

  5. Paul Bemmy Down permalink
    November 14, 2011 7:37 pm

    Ben Cohen was an England International Rugby player who not long ago retired and now compaigns against homophobic bullying. Google “Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation.”

    • November 14, 2011 9:33 pm

      Ben Cohen was at the Downing STreet reception I referred to, though I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. My surprise at the position of the rugby codes is a simple refelection of my upbringing in a rugby mad south Wales school. But that was the 1980s and I am delighted attitudes have moved on. But the football leagues need to up their game in this area.

  6. robertjessetelford permalink
    November 16, 2011 9:24 pm

    What can the UK government practically do to stop homophobic bullying? A genuine question.

    • rosemary permalink
      November 17, 2011 11:47 am

      Or just bullying – of anyone who is different from the group. A different class, nationality, sex, sexuality, or just dressed differently – in a uniform for instance. Etonians have to run across their town to avoid being beaten up, and BGS boys often hide their blazers under anoraks on public buses. Anyone with an educated voice can get a really hard time of it, in all sorts of groups, not just at work. As for redheads – they can get the hardest time of all, and a politician was sacked in oppostion from the front bench by the present PM for saying so in an internet message. Who gives the dead redheads the airtime Stephen Lawrence gets? And that is not intended disrespectfully of his memory, or of the people we are speaking of here.

      It is human nature we are up against, as with corruption, and it needs to be moulded vigorously by teachers and parents, as well as clergy, policemen, and political leaders, in each and every generation. Focusing on just one manifestation of bullying, as we have done with “racism”, doesn’t tackle the root cause, which is man’s nastiness to man. And girls can be vile too, especially if they scent weakness in the prey.


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