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If you feel every young person and teacher has a right to feel safe...

June 8, 2006 1:24 PM

Sarah Teather MP has emailed thousands of Lib Dem party members across the UK to ask them to give their support to the Liberal Democrats' campaign to stamp out homophobia in schools.

She wrote:

Last week, the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Education team launched an online petition against homophobic bullying in schools

Why? Because all bullying has serious effects on victims, often resulting in pupils' failure to achieve their full potential at school, or it leads to truancy, self-harm and in some cases, suicide.

Opposing homophobic bullying is not about being "politically correct" but it is about ensuring that all pupils know bullying will not be tolerated, there are no exceptions on the basis of sexuality. It also affects those with gay family members and pupils labelled "gay" by their peers. And teachers, as well as pupils, can be victims of such abuse.

Incidents of racist bullying are monitored by schools and it is understood by pupils, parents and staff that racist abuse in the classroom or on the playground is unacceptable and offenders will be punished. However words like "gay" are commonly bandied about as an insult, frequently unchallenged by staff. Shouting "nigger" down the school corridors would not be tolerated so why are pupils allowed to use homosexuality as a day to day disparagement?

"If someone's called faggot in the playground, teachers tend to turn a blind eye in a way they can't with racist comments. Even those who want to challenge it don't always feel they know how to ... If someone shouts, 'You f***ing gay', they're much more likely to be picked up for saying 'f***' than for using gay as an insult." - Jonathan Charlesworth, Project Manager of EACH (Educational Action

Challenging Homophobia) (The Guardian 23 Nov 2004)

The added tragedy of homophobic bullying is the sense of isolation it can create for its victim. If a pupil is bullied because of race, or looks or a disability they are likely to at least have supportive parents to whom they can turn. This is so often not the case for gay teens. It is difficult for them to know within the school which teacher they can confide in. That is why it is so important for schools to be properly aware of the issue and prepared to deal with both its victims and its perpetrators.

My colleague and Liberal Democrat Shadow Minister for Further & Higher Education Stephen Williams MP has his own painful memories of homophobic abuse from his time in school:

"It's a subject that has been ignored for too long, even in other debates on bullying. Thousands of pupils are suffering unnecessarily because of the ignorance or indifference of school leaders.

"It is a huge step forward when every pupil is aware of where their school stands on the issue of homophobic bullying. Publicly agreed school policies provide a vital point of reference for gay and lesbian pupils and staff who experience bullying at school."

If, like us, you feel strongly that every young person and teacher has a right to feel safe, respected as an individual and valued as a member of the school community no matter what their sexuality I urge you to sign our petition.

Go to http://www.libdems.org.uk/campaigns/stop-homophobic-bullying.html to join us in saying - it is simply not acceptable for homophobic bullying to go unchallenged in our schools.