New Stonewall chief Ruth Hunt: Teach preschool children to celebrate being gay

 

Preschool children should be taught about gay relationships to combat future homophobia in society, the new chief executive of Stonewall has told The Independent.

In an exclusive interview, Ruth Hunt said that she wants the gay rights charity to commission books “celebrating difference in all its forms for under-fives”.

The initiative is part of the organisation’s commitment to tackling homophobia in schools, which has the backing of the new Education Secretary. “Nicky Morgan wrote to me this week saying she was very keen to tackle homophobic bullying in schools, and there’s a very real commitment to shifting attitudes in schools,” said Ms Hunt.

“I think the next step is about going into preschools. We need to encourage [under-fives] to think about different families. Loads of kids these days have two mums or two dads – or at least gay uncles and aunts.”

Ms Hunt says the Coalition has been very supportive of the charity’s work with children, which has included sending a film into every primary school celebrating same-sex-parent families. Explaining her own vision for curbing homophobia among future generations, Ms Hunt said: “I think the next step is about going into preschools. I know from all my godchildren that the quality of children’s books depicting difference is dire.

“I really want to commission – and this is something we’ve got to talk about as an organisation – a suite of books that celebrates difference in all its forms for under-fives. With different families in it but also mixed-race people and sent into every preschool setting. That will take time too. But that is possibly one of the most radical campaigns we could do.

Hunt says that gay and lesbian people feel they have to Hunt says that gay and lesbian people feel they have to "edit" their behaviour (Getty Images)
“The most important thing is that it’s all age appropriate, but we grew up reading Cinderella and that didn’t turn me into a blatant heterosexual, so we need to just chill out a bit, don’t we? Banning books is never the way. There’s no evidence whatsoever that you can make anyone gay.”

Working with younger children might curb homophobia that is already rife in primary schools, where the use of the word “gay” as a pejorative term is still endemic, she said. “Most language moves on but 98 per cent of kids hear ‘that’s so gay’ on a regular basis and it was the same five years ago. We’ve seen bullying of gay kids go down from 65 per cent to 50 per cent, so the bullying’s going down but not the language.

“It’s happening in primary schools too. What we’re hearing also in primary schools is ‘you’re so lesbian’ just for girls holding hands. And they’re eight. Teachers have anxiety about pushing back on it. And parents need to too.”

Ruth Hunt was deputy to Ben Summerskill (centre), who led Stonewall for 11 years Ruth Hunt was deputy to Ben Summerskill (centre), who led Stonewall for 11 years (Getty Images)
Speaking about government support for Stonewall’s work, she said David Cameron was “incredibly brave” to pursue equal marriage. “You can’t underestimate the importance of marriage at shifting social attitudes and it was incredibly brave of Cameron to pursue that. He didn’t have to.”

The charity has only three international staff at present, but Ms Hunt says they will probably be expanding their international team “because the demand is so high that we’re turning countries away at the moment”.

But her style of working will be in contrast to those of Peter Tatchell and more confrontational campaigners for international gay rights. “[Stonewall’s method of tackling homophobia abroad] doesn’t lend itself to what British-based activists want us to do, which would be to stand outside embassies and shout. We’ve got to be led by the activists on the ground.

“What activists say is shouting out loud in the press is not necessarily helpful... I think a kiss from John Barrowman is hugely powerful, in the same way that showing the Brookside kiss in the [2012] Olympic opening ceremony was incredibly powerful.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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 General

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Office Administrator - Full or Part Time

£14600 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 2003 the company...

Recruitment Genius: Social Media & Content Marketing Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing, Google certi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has won the award ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn