Anti-gay bullying forces thousands of pupils to leave school after GCSEs

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The Independent Online

Homophobic bullying in British schools is forcing thousands of gay pupils to leave early, prompting calls for the introduction of sexual orientation lessons to the curriculum.

Homophobic bullying in British schools is forcing thousands of gay pupils to leave early, prompting calls for the introduction of sexual orientation lessons to the curriculum.

Stonewall, the gay equality charity, estimates that up to 60,000 schoolchildren are the victims of homophobic bullying. The charity, backed by London's Mayor, Ken Livingstone,is calling for the new lessons to be introduced in schools across Britain. It also wants schools to promote positive gay role models.

As part of their Education for All campaign, Stonewall has drawn up a 10-point plan to encourage teachers to create an inclusive culture that does not assume all pupils are heterosexual.

There are an estimated 450,000 gay and lesbian pupils in schools. But research done in 2001 by the University of York has shown that gay pupils with six GCSEs are more likely than heterosexual students to leave school at 16.

One in four secondary school teachers report that they are aware of physical homophobic bullying, yet only 6 per cent of schools have policies that address the problem.

Anti-bullying charities have received increasing numbers of reports of homophobic bullying. In one case, a child was burned during a chemistry lesson, and in another a lesbian was subjected to a rape attack.

Michael's experience of homophobic bullying is shared by thousands of young people across the country. The 16-year-old from Hertfordshire is always careful when he goes out with his boyfriend in public not to draw attention to himself by being openly affectionate.

"We do go out together but have been taught not to hold hands," says Michael, who has asked for his surname not to be published.

He has good reason to be cautious after being targeted by homophobic bullies at and outside his school. So severe was the abuse that he ended up seeing a psychiatrist and taking anti-depressants.

In his opinion, teachers at his school could have done more to intervene. "Although my head of year was understanding, she acted as if it were a normal everyday case of teasing in the playground. I gave her a list of names of people I knew to be causing a problem but when she spoke to them it got worse."

Stonewall said that its aim is to ensure access to education is not limited by people's sexual orientation.

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall's chief executive, said: "It's a question of valuing every pupil equally. Even today, almost every adult lesbian or gay man I talk to has appalling memories of their schooldays. It's time that headteachers took seriously their responsibilities to the 450,000 pupils in British schools who are growing up as lesbian or gay."

Mr Livingstone said: "I've become increasingly concerned that too many lesbian, gay and bisexual schoolchildren are still often denied some of their life chances by casual and sometimes concerted bullying."

Jonathan Charlesworth, from the pressure group Each, which offers advice to bullied gay children, appealed to advertisers to be more responsible with the images they use of gay people.

He said: "Children's minds are not able to decode the images on TV in the way that adults can. So something that may appear like a bit of a laugh or tongue in cheek to adults can affect gay or lesbian children in the playground."

Additional reporting by Nayab Chohan

SCHOOL TALES

Robert, 16, from Bromley, London

I know of a boy who was beaten up in his school for being gay. He had to leave school and is being taught at home. I think it's terrible that somebody can be picked on for their sexuality.

Beth, 14, from Blackheath, London

A friend of mine told me she was gay and then had to be moved class after boys in our class picked on her. She found it so difficult to say that she had to tell me by text.

John, from Abingdon, Oxford

There is a lot of verbal abuse towards people suspected of being gay. People that seem gay will get isolated from the others a lot, and people won't really want to hang around with them.

Yana, 13, from Kent

A boy in my school is always getting picked on because he is gay. Other boys in his class call him "puff", "queer" or "faggot". I've seen him being pushed around and teased a lot.

James, from Bermondsey, London

There is a 15-year-old boy who is bullied for being gay at my school. He doesn't have any friends. He was beaten up twice because he told someone to stop calling him "homo".

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