HOMOPHOBIC BULLYING IN SCHOOLS
Opposing homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools has been another long-term issue for us. We have mostly supported others, such as Schools Out, in their endeavours, leaving direct action by RW again mostly to writing to Government Ministers from time to time.
There has been widespread and growing awareness in recent years of the problem of bullying and harassment in schools of those young people trying to establish their identities by ‘coming out’. A 2007 survey in our schools drew attention to this and the associated problems of suicide and self harm. We were recently alarmed by reports that the present Minister of Education seems to be unaware of this and more recent research to the same effect. We have written to her accordingly and we are not re-assured by her reply. During work done earlier in the term of your government under the auspices of the Minister of Social Development into violence in schools this dimension seems to have been conspicuously lacking in terms both of awareness and effective practical action despite assurances to the contrary when we took the matter up.
As a result of an article by Chris Banks in Express, suggesting that the Government was still not taking the issue of homophobic bullying in schools remotely seriously, we wrote again to the Education Minister, Anne Tolley, expressing our concern. We eventually received a lengthy reply, which can be read here.
Although the response goes into great detail, it appears to cover bullying in general, and there is no evidence that the specific issue of homophobic bullying is being covered in any detail. This is in spite of international campaigns which clearly show it to be a major issue of concern in many Western countries. As Tony Simpson, our former chair has commented (as quoted in Express) “As it is known that this is a topic which many schools remain nervous about, it is interesting that there appears to be little targeting of the issue as such”.
We have supported and publicised the two reports by Murray Riches, produced by the Green Party, on queer youth, and in particular his recent report How safe are our schools?, which sets out the widely differing practices and policies on such bullying across our education sector, and the inadequate response of the Education Review Office to this state of affairs. We are awaiting advice on the best way to proceed, but again doing all we can to encourage cross-party support for action within Parliament on this issue, mostly through our Vice-Patrons, who now include representatives all the main Parliamentary parties.