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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Life and Style
life
News
Melissa and Joan Rivers together at an NBC event in May 2014
peopleDaughter Melissa thanks fans for 'outpouring of support'
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
News
peopleWrestling veteran drifting in and out of consciousness
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Nursery assistants required in Cambridgeshire

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

Nursery assistants required for day to day roles in Cambridge

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

Primary teachers needed for supply in Huntingdon

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers need...

KS2 Teacher Plymouth

£21500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone