Mark is a volunteer at Stonewall.
I write as a retired teacher with 36 years’ experience of working in secondary schools. I am also a gay man. I have witnessed the coming and going of Section 28 and its pernicious and repressive effect in the period from 1988-2003. I have seen the evolution of pejorative language referring to LGBT people, from ‘queer’, ‘poof’ and ‘pansy’ during my school days to ‘that’s so gay’ and ‘batty boy’ in more recent years. Similar sentiments, different words. From my schooldays until when I started teaching in the 1970s, homophobia was perpetrated by staff as well as by pupils.
Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 was intended to prevent local authorities from intentionally promoting homosexuality or publishing material with the intention of promoting homosexuality, and from promoting the teaching in any state school of the ‘acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. Stonewall was formed in 1989 to fight for repeal of Section 28, although this was a long battle and the legislation was not abolished until 2000 in Scotland and 2003 in the rest of the UK.
Sadly, despite the repeal of Section 28, many lesbian, gay, bi and trans pupils continue to experience bullying in schools.
Internalised homophobia can increase the impact of homophobic language and bullying. For young people who are not out, simply hearing homophobic language and sentiments can raise their anxiety about being open about their sexual orientation. Being comfortable with who we are, being able to be authentic with others, and building self-esteem are vital building blocks in ensuring mental and emotional health.
Tackling homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying – the short-term, reactive approach – should be very similar to dealing with other forms of bullying. The unacceptability of such bullying must be made clear to the perpetrators. Often mediation between perpetrators and victims can be powerful if the victim is willing for this to happen. Restorative practice may also be appropriate. This uses the incident of bullying as an educative opportunity for repairing harm by encouraging more socially responsible relationships and behaviours that take into account the perspectives of others.
Preventing homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying – the long-term, proactive approach – has a positive effect on the entire school community and helps to develop a healthy school ethos of acceptance and celebration of diversity and difference. It is vital that LGBT issues are discussed openly in schools. If these issues are or seem to be taboo, this can only serve to reinforce the view that living one’s life as an LGBT person is morally wrong. An atmosphere of openness does not only benefit LGBT students. It is also to the advantage of non-LGBT students who are assumed to be LGB or T, including those who are bullied for ‘gender-atypical’ behaviour, and of those who have LGBT family members and friends. From my own experience and that of my former colleagues, I know that opening up LGBT issues also has a very positive influence on the broadest aspects of a school’s ethos.
How can Stonewall help? Stonewall delivers teacher training through its acclaimed Train the Trainer courses, produces a wide range of education resources and develops membership programmes, the Stonewall School Champions scheme, to empower primary and secondary teachers and education professionals to tackle homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in schools and colleges. Everything we do is based on meeting the needs of schools, teachers and young people.