This week is Anti- Bullying Week. Schools across Wales will be holding fundraisers and special assemblies to raise awareness of the effects of bullying on young people in our schools.
If you, your child, your best mate or sibling are being, or have been bullied, you will already know the demoralising and destructive effects it has. Our School Report tells us that more than half of lesbian, gay, bisexual young people still experience homophobic bullying. Two in five say that it is affecting their studies and three quarters admit to skipping school at some point. Almost one in four gay pupils have tried to take their own life as a direct consequence of homophobic bullying. Yet less than one in four gay pupils in Wales say a teacher has spoken with them about how homophobic bullying is wrong.
When I’ve visited schools and colleges to talk about Stonewall Cymru’s work, I’ve been particularly struck by the pervasiveness of the word ‘gay’ to describe things negatively. These young people see a range of LGB characters on TV and in the media, they understand that someone they know is likely to be gay, but are disconnected with the language they use. Teachers see the negative impact of homophobic bullying on their pupils school work and attendance but almost half of teachers polled for our ‘Teachers Report’ felt that homophobic language was just ‘harmless banter’. Nearly all (99%) respondents to the School Report say that they hear the word ‘gay’ used as a negative, almost daily. A culture has developed that allows that language to go unchallenged.
For anyone who is bullied, life at home, school or work can be miserable. Welsh Government statistics tell us that the level of truancy is up, but for many young people who are bullied truancy is the only escape they have. Our research with young gay people confirms this, with two in five of those who experience homophobic bullying skipping school at least once, and one in seven skipping school more than six times.
School responses vary widely – some teachers refuse to accept that they have any sort of bullying in their school, others refuse to accept that they have any lesbian, gay or bisexual pupils in their school. Good teachers see the bullying and do their best to tackle it and make the school a safe and inclusive environment for all young people.
Stonewall Cymru are working with schools on how to effectively tackle bullying and create positive learning environments. Through our Schools Champions programme we are benchmarking anti-bullying action and charting success and areas for improvement with the aim of helping schools develop their own, lasting, solutions. When schools explicitly state that homophobic bullying is wrong, pupils get the message. When they go further to demonstrate that equality and diversity is essential in education, the culture starts to change. When this happens the results are tangible: better attainment, lower truancy and improved mental health.
Tackling homophobia and homophobic bullying isn’t easy. It takes leadership from schools and local councils and it takes courage from teachers and pupils. It takes people like you and me to ask the real questions, such as “why don’t you tell your pupils that homophobia is wrong?” or “Do you feel comfortable enough to challenge homophobic language in your classroom?” This Anti Bullying week that is exactly what we’re asking you to do. You have power and a voice now that you never had in school. So do something today – write to your old school and ask them what they’re doing to challenge and prevent homophobic bullying.
Luke Young is the Education Officer for Stonewall Cymru, the all-Wales Lesbian Gay and Bisexual Charity. www.stonewallcymru.org.uk