Successful schools adopt a cross-curriculum approach when discussing LGBT issues

Stonewall, the organisation that campaigns for equality and justice for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. But perhaps celebration doesn't really capture the mood: the lobbying group, which was founded in 1989 to campaign against Section 28, finds that six years after the repeal of that legislation it is just as busy as it was under Margaret Thatcher.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 prohibited local authorities in England and Wales from "promoting" homosexuality. While the legislation applied only to local authorities, its impact was felt throughout the education system, leaving teachers unclear about what they could and could not say about gay issues.

The result was silence which, even six years after Section 28's repeal, leaves many gay pupils isolated within a school culture that, at best, barely acknowledges their existence and, at worst, tolerates crude and often violent bullying.

In fact, Stonewall's 2007 school report made depressing reading. It found that homophobic bullying is almost endemic in Britain's schools, with 65 per cent of young lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils experiencing direct bullying, a number that rises to 75 per cent among those attending faith schools. Even those not directly bullied are learning in an environment where homophobic language and comments are commonplace, where the word "gay" is virtually synonymous with rubbish or useless.

"What we are seeing now is the aftermath of Section 28," says Gary Nunn, spokesman for Stonewall, who says homophobic bullying is treated far less seriously than other forms of prejudice. "It will take quite a long time to remove the festering legacy of silence that Section 28 had on schools."

Stonewall is among the organisations working to dismantle that legacy. It has produced a DVD, Spell it Out, to help teachers gain confidence when discussing gay issues. Its Education Champions Programme targets local authorities and it is also behind FIT, a hip-hop musical, which has toured schools up and down the land, challenging the way many young people use "gay" as an insult. FIT has now been seen by 20,000 pupils and Stonewall is fundraising to put the play out on DVD.

There's a workshop that accompanies the play, where, astonishingly, many pupils are open about their homophobic views. "It's seen as cool to be homophobic in a way that it's not cool to be racist," says Nunn. "The good news is that we have pupils walk out of the workshop after seeing FIT and they admit their views have changed."

Gendered Intelligence, an organisation that supports the young trans community, is also touring schools with a play and workshop based on the real-life experiences of LGBT people. It has been seen by about 500 young people.

"You cannot change everyone's attitude in the space of two or three hours but we are very pleased with the response," says Jay Stewart of Gendered Intelligence. "It's a journey for the pupils, with a number of them saying that after taking part in the workshop they would now intervene if they saw homophobic or transphobic bullying."

The problem for Gendered Intelligence, as for so many organisations tackling this issue, is getting into schools. The barriers are financial and cultural.

Nigel Tart of Schools Out, a lobby group, says there are big differences from school to school. "It all depends on the head and the governors," says Tart. "Some schools are doing some really good work, but for most schools this is not a core issue."

For too many schools, gay issues remain confined to personal, social and health education (PSHE), in the context of discussions about bullying and Aids. In response, Schools Out launched LGBT History Month, which has been running every February since 2005 in a bid to get gay issues back into schools.

Stoke Newington School in London is among those to have embraced the initiative. It started when music teacher Elly Barnes did a project looking at gay-and-out rock stars and then spread across the curriculum, even into maths where they studied Alan Turing, who cracked the enigma code and invented modern computer science.

This cross-curriculum approach is welcomed as there's a worry among some in the LGBT movement that by putting any discussion of gay issues in a box only reaffirms the isolation felt by young gay or trans people.

"Successful schools don't put LGBT issues in a box," says Mark Bennett, who works with primary and secondary school teachers and is part of the No Outsiders project, a University of Sunderland research scheme that is focused on 15 primary schools. He says the schools that teach these issues well make sure they include LGBT examples when talking about relationships or families in general. "When they talk about civil rights or the law," he adds, "then LGBT issues are also discussed."

And while it's important to focus on homophobic bullying, there also has to be a discussion of LGBT identities. "It's like talking about racism without mentioning that not everyone is white," says Bennett. "Even if people are not bullied they will still feel isolated because they never hear of other people like them."

The good news is that schools that do address this issue can make a major difference. As the Stonewall report found, in schools that say homophobic bullying is wrong, gay young people are 60 per cent less likely to be bullied. That's an awful lot of young people getting off to a better, happier start in life.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Administration Assistant / Apprenticeship Industry

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity for an e...

Recruitment Genius: NVQ Assessor

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Private Training Provider off...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own