Homophobia in schools: the last taboo

“I’ve been stabbed because of my sexuality.”

This pupil is one of thousands of victims of homophobic bullying in schools across the UK. Almost two thirds of young people, in the gay community, experience bullying in secondary schools. The charitable organisation Stonewall, which lends support to the gay community, found that homophobic bullying, after taunting because of weight, is the most frequent form of abuse in secondary schools. It is three times more prevalent than bullying due to religion or ethnicity. Unfortunately, a culture of homophobia exists in many school environments and this creates problems for young people trying to come to terms with their sexuality.

Previous poster campaign by Stonewall. Image courtesy of Stonewall.org.uk

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Colour purple worn for bullied suicides

By Claudie Qumsieh

Victims of homophobic bullying are being remembered today as hundreds of thousands of people wear purple in tribute. In the past month alone at least 10 teenagers have committed suicide in the U.S after bullying related to their sexual orientation.

These high-profile cases have led to a global movement started by gay journalist Dan Savage whose “It gets better” clip has been watched by almost a million people on You Tube.“When a gay teenager commits suicide, it’s because he can’t picture a life for himself that’s filled with joy and family and pleasure and is worth sticking around for[…] So I felt it was really important that, as gay adults, we show them that our lives are good and happy and healthy and that there’s a life worth sticking around for after high school” This project has resulted in hundreds of people (including celebrities) posting their own testimonies and stories of hope on the newly created online video channel “It Gets Better”.

Hillary Clinton joined the campaign today when she posted her video saying “These most recent deaths are a reminder that all Americans have to work harder to overcome bigotry and hatred. I have a message out there for all the young people who are being bullied, or who feel alone and find it hard to imagine a better future.  First of all, hang in there. And ask for help. Your life is so important — to your family, your friends, and to your country.” Clinton goes on to  speak about civil servants who work at the state department “It wasn’t long ago that these men and women would not have been able to serve openly, but today they can. Because it has gotten better. And it will get better for you”.  Although civil servants can be openly gay and keep their job, America’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy is still causing controversy. DADT  means that gay military personnel must conceal their sexual orientation when serving otherwise they will be dismissed. A recent call to overrule this policy failed, however one judge has reopened the debate this week.

One supporter of the DADT policy, a Republican Tea Party candidate for US Senate Ken Buck compared homosexuality to alcoholism “I think that birth has an influence over [homosexuality] like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that, basically, you have a choice”.

The U.S case is not unusual. In Scotland young gay and bisexual men are 6.7 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population. In an NHS Greater Glasgow survey “Something to tell you” 80% of gay young people said they have experienced discrimination. According to a Stonewall survey 68% of young Scottish lesbian, gay or bisexual people have been bullied at school, 21% of Scottish schools teach that homophobic bullying is wrong. In schools that say homophobic bullying is wrong, gay pupils are 60% less likely to be bullied.

Actor Sir Ian McKellan,Co-founder of Stonewall, is touring schools in the UK to promote tolerance. At a time when educating children about tolerance and difference is a priority, the Christian Institute unhelpfully published an article headlined McKellan “set to promote homosexuality in schools”. As Sir Ian says religionis the one area where people are not frightened to be openly homophobic”.

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