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Tackling homophobic bullying in Wales

July 13, 2010 11:58 PM

Jenny Randerson is Welsh Liberal Democrat Shadow Education Minister in the National Assembly for Wales. She writes in the latest edition of party weekly newspaper Liberal Democrat News on the subject of homophobic bullying:

My purpose in raising this topic for this article is to give me an opportunity to highlight an important issue, one on which there is significant agreement across the political spectrum, but not one that has been given sufficient attention and also we want to let other Liberal Democrat members across the UK know what we are doing here in Wales and the issues we're campaigning on.

Homophobic bullying is on a spectrum of bullying. There have been recent media reports showing that charities working with children in Wales were concerned about the extent of bullying in Welsh schools. There is undoubtedly a general problem, not only in Wales, but across the UK and homophobic bullying is a part of it.

Any headteacher who tells you that there is no bullying at their school is not aware of what is going on. Any headteacher who does not believe that there is the potential for homophobic bullying at their school is not living in the real world. I do not believe that they are denying it maliciously; many heads are so overstretched in so many ways that they are not even aware of it. However, they should be made aware of it, and it is important that the Government continues to play its part in ensuring that that happens.

The statistics speak for themselves. 65% of LGBT teenagers have been bullied while at school, 75% of those at a faith school. Of those bullied, 12% have been sexually

assaulted. 17% have suffered death threats. 41% have suffered physical abuse. Only 8% have escaped verbal abuse, and all because of their sexuality.

The statistics become more harrowing, 50% of those bullied have contemplated suicide, 40% had attempted it. 30% attempted suicide on more than one occasion.

The final shocking statistics: only 6% of schools have a specific policy to deal with homophobic bullying. Those few that did have them saw incidents of homophobic bullying fall by 60%.

Last year, starting at Cardiff Mardi Gras, the newly invigorated Ieuenctid Rhyddfrydol Cymru (Liberal Youth Wales) launched a Welsh version of the successful "Homophobia is Gay" campaign. Liberal Youth Wales and I are calling on the Welsh government to take immediate action to stop this appalling neglect. As education policy is devolved, we have the perfect opportunity to make a real change for Welsh LGBT teenagers - changes that can make our society a better, fairer, more equal place.

The IR Cymru campaign has been under way for some months, and I congratulate them on this initiative. From the outset, these young students have been reaching out to a variety of groups and areas for support, including other political parties. Indeed, a cross-party campaign is beginning to grow. They have achieved a broad consensus for action in this area, and I am proud that they have gained support for the

campaign from many organisations and unions across Wales. All those organisations have expressed broad support for the campaign to introduce guidance on dealing with homophobic bullying in secondary schools and colleges. Having such an inclusive coalition of groups is a sure sign that this issue is of vital importance and has resonance.

We are asking the government to issue compulsory homophobic bullying guidance to all schools whether state, public or faith. This guidance would be reached via consensus between experts like Stonewall, teachers' and head teachers' unions, and of course, students themselves.

There are more figures and statistics and behind each one of those, they tell a different story of a teenager or even teachers suffering at the hands of their peers. With the issuing of this guidance, we would have the first real chance to reach out to help those who are suffering and show that the Assembly is ready and willing to use its influence to give them the protection that they need. It also gives us a chance to give our schools the tools and the input that they need to battle the terrible epidemic of homophobic bullying.