Letters: Homophobia in schools

How schools force gay people into hiding
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The Independent Online

After reading Johann Hari's article "Violence against gay people can and must be stopped" (4 November), I recalled my school days, not too long ago (15 years) when our humanities teacher raised the subject of homosexuality.

The lesson basically centred around the word "bumming", at which point the class erupted into laughing and jeering. The teacher continued by suggesting there would be a "certain amount of bleeding" (more moans and cries). The subject was never again raised and all homos were disgraced. It was the lowest form of life.

I battled with my own feelings for years and finally came out of the closet aged 20. My parents try to talk about it but are obviously disappointed. "It's your choice," and, "If it makes you happy." They are wrong on both counts. I was truly horrified when I realised I was gay, but there is absolutely nothing I can do to change it, and for this I am labelled as a perverted disgusting dirty queer.

There's work to do yet, and sweeping the subject under the carpet at schools will have to stop.

Philip Steel


As a gay man who has worked in several comprehensive schools in southern England and London, I have inevitably been asked on a number of occasions, "Are you gay?" During the last seven years, I have never once answered truthfully and simply said, "Yes, I am." Instead, I have responded with something along the lines of: "What has that question got to do with our learning objective?"

Indeed, my gay status has never been directly related to the learning objective; however, this is not the real reason I sink into some degrading apologia for why such a question is "inappropriate" in the classroom. On reflection, I do not answer the question truthfully because I am afraid of the power my students may wield over me consequently. I am not ashamed of being gay, but I am ashamed that I cannot be who I am, in its totality, to the people I work very hard to teach.

I am sorrier that during my whole career, not a single student has come to me for help or advice upon thinking he or she might be gay. To them, I apologise for my cowardice.

John Jones

London E1

Can we ever win in Afghanistan?

We hear daily of the deaths of our young soldiers. We share the grief of their loved ones. We wonder again why we are in Afghanistan. We are unaware of any bomb a Taliban follower has ever brought to our shores while remembering the al-Qa'ida training camps and the implied threat of the damage they could bring about here.

We question the motives of the Taliban fighters, wondering if they seek only to see their country free of occupiers. We become less sure of the practicality of our mission to bring democracy to a country which everyday seems less inclined to embrace it. We question whether we have the will to pursue this conflict to the end. Will the indigenous Taliban fighters ever accept defeat, and if not will they simply return when we eventually, inevitably withdraw?

We hear Gordon Brown assure us that the danger to our homeland would increase immeasurably if we fail to engage the militants, yet we are aware of history and the many defeats suffered by protagonists in previous excursions into this arena.

We begin to wonder if Kim Howells is right – shore up homeland defences, use technology to contain the training camp threat, focus on identifying and educating those among us who consider revenge as the antidote to their frustration at our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The British people have had their confidence in our politicians severely tested. We are confused, with every day bringing new questions as to whether our discredited political leaders are remotely close to finding a solution to the so-called War on Terror and where it will ultimately lead us.

David Wilson

Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

For the last couple of years we have had senior Army officers and former ministers and others in the Nato task force in Afghanistan disparaging the campaign with messages to the effect that the Taliban are winning the war and that unless this or that is improved we will fail in our mission.

Don't they understand that this type of talk just gives encouragement to the Taliban to keep up their efforts?

Tony Probert

Locking, North Somerset

We are told that the troops are in Afghanistan to free our streets from terrorists. But the London suicide bombers made clear in video messages that they acted in revenge for the invasion of Iraq. And these Islamists were born and bred in Yorkshire.

Bill Boyd

London SW16

Singing from the same hymn sheet

Richard Ingrams is complimentary about Catholic liturgy (31 October) but says convert Anglicans would miss their superior hymns, written to poems by George Herbert and others, as these are supplanted by a dreary collections in Catholic hymnals.

What great things Richard has yet to discover about the Catholic Church. The Divine Office, read by Catholic priests and people at the hours of every day, has a special poetry appendix at the back including several poems by Herbert, Hopkins, Eliot and Donne.

The late Fr Philip O'Dowd, the much-loved, Catholic chaplain of the University where I work, helped to compile the anthology in the 1970s while a seminarian in Rome. He chose George Herbert's wonderful "The Call" for his own ordination.

Fr Philip's choice of a non-dreary Catholic hymn-book called Laudate, for our 200-strong University chaplaincy congregation, means that I, an Anglican convert to Catholicism, get to belt out, every Sunday, on campus, many of the classics that Richard would enjoy, and others he would come to appreciate, such as Tim Dudley Smith's "Lord for the Years" and Bob Hurd's haunting setting of Psalm 41: "As the deer longs for running streams". Come and join in any time Richard; we are already singing from your hymn sheet.

Liz Sockett


The perils of selling poppies

For the past 14 years, I have volunteered annually to sell poppies house-to-house in my area for the Royal British Legion, and have almost always found people willing to donate to this cause.

However, I was saddened, this year, to read the "Health and Safety Advice" given to collectors, which includes a warning to "work in close proximity with others, to reduce the risk of having your collecting box snatched", and "If threatened by a member of the public, don't put yourself at risk of personal injury." Such warnings are not likely to encourage people who might volunteer to sell poppies.

Despite having been mugged on the New York subway in 1973 in broad daylight, I am not of a timid nature and will not allow myself to be intimidated by the implied danger in collecting for charity. It is a sad day indeed when volunteers even have to consider such possibilities.

Happily, I can report that I have this year mainly encountered friendly people willing to give to the cause, some indifference but no hostility, except for the grandmother who felt it necessary to scream at her young granddaughters "Never open the door to a stranger!" when faced with a middle-aged poppy seller. I hope her grandchildren will not grow up into fearful adults.

Janet Berridge


I always feel a little self-conscious wearing my poppy, because I know there are those who see it as a symbol of British glory or of "empire" or as a right-wing emblem or an establishment totem (Mark Steel, 4 November).

But it merely symbolises the place where so many died, alone, too young, in agony, in pitiable terror. The paradox of those delicate flowers thriving in the aftermath of what had been a noisy, fiery hell, is why the symbol is so powerful.

We mustn't let the right wing take ownership of this, the most poignant and powerful of reminder of the ghastly folly of war and of the fragile beauty of life. This means that people like Mark Steel must wear a poppy.

Don't sneer at the poppy. Wear it for the right reasons.

Tim Terry

London E14

Myth of the rich man's parliament

The myth that cutting MP perks will lead to a Parliament full of rich people, as claimed by Denis MacShane (Opinion, 5 November) and others, needs dispelling.

Most of his Rotherham constituents, like mine, will survive very well on a £64,000 salary, travel costs paid and up to £15,000 to live in London. The image of MPs crying poverty over such amounts is much more unappetising to the voter in constituencies such as his and mine. If Denis MacShane intends to sleep on his office floor in a sleeping bag then I congratulate him, because the taxpayer will be £60,000 the better off in the next Parliament.

One benefit of the new system is that we might again see steelworkers standing to be Labour representatives in Parliament.

John Mann MP

(Lab, Bassetlaw), House of Commons

Denis MacShane states, "For five years, an MP is accountable to his or her constituents and to no one else." However idealistic an MP may be on election, the lure of the greasy pole in the gift of the party machine corrupts all but a few.

And as for the poor female MP travelling home at one in the morning, it's a fair bet that sitting behind her in second class will be a House of Commons female cleaner or waiter on minimum wage making the same journey every night. Perhaps if MPs have to live a little more like us (which post-Kelly, they may), they will know the problems we face and legislate accordingly.

Andrew Whyte


The fatuity of Denis MacShane's diatribe against the Kelly report is illustrated when he complains that Labour MPs will have to live in boarding houses. Any MP will be able to rent a property. Rents will be reimbursable and there will never again be cause to suspect that MPs are using the expenses system for private gain. What is there to whinge about in that?

Michael Dempsey

London E1

Drug abuse

The letter (5 November) from John Rogers claiming outrage at Peter Stoker's definition of an alcoholic has neatly made Mr Stoker's point for him. Individuals who must have a glass of wine every lunchtime and every evening or those that must drink two pints of beer every day are indeed alcoholics. Perhaps this suggests why we should be worried about this most common form of drug abuse.

Philip Crowley

Southall, Middlesex

However much those of us who favour legalisation hammer the point that it is the criminalisation of drugs that causes our problems, some of your correspondents insist on making the argument that they are harmful. Of course they are harmful, but if people wish to harm themselves that is their privilege. Our problems arise from the desperate individual stealing to get his next fix and the drug barons who are his expensive source of supply. All this would cease if the government controlled purchase and distribution.

Pete Parkins


Votes for terror

Robert Fisk (4 November) thinks it unjust that Hamas won a "fair election in 2006" and yet "were brutally punished for it". The very fact that the election was fair is the reason that they must be punished. Hamas campaigned openly for a mandate to destroy the State of Israel, sponsored terrorism, encouraged and supported suicide bombers and broadcast vicious anti-Semitic lies. If the people of Gaza voted "fairly" for such a government, they deserve all they get.

Alan Halibard

Bet Shemesh, Israel

Our debt to Labour

Peter Metcalfe asks why people are livid with the Labour government (letter, 5 November). It is not because of the policies he listed, such as improvements in the NHS. The reason for the anger is that those policies were funded by government debt, to be repaid by the next generation of taxpayers. Labour persuaded the electorate to vote them into office by promising improved services, but decided not to go to the tiresome bother of ensuring that those same voters were the people who actually paid for the policies they voted for.

Michael Brice


Barack who?

Shaun Walker (Life, 4 November) set out to see how many out of 20 youngsters in the rarefied atmosphere of Turkmenistan could name the President of the USA, and only found one who thought she knew and was about right. Interesting for somebody, I feel, to try the same on the streets of south London. I fear the result will be little different.

Graham Feakins

London SE24