Homophobic bullying sadly still exists. Education reporter Ruth Scammell finds out what is being done with youngsters to try and combat the problem.
It’s hard for youngsters who are trying to come to terms with their homosexuality.
Discovering at a young age that you are gay can be very difficult.
Now, at the start of anti-bullying week, one school in Portsmouth has been having a big focus on homophobic bullying and is trying to look at the best way of tackling the problem.
Portsmouth City Council launched an anti-bullying initiative in the summer, with schools being given packs with advice about how to combat the problem.
PCSO Tracy Mann has been working with students at Priory School in Southsea with a focus on homophobic bullying.
She is what is termed a LAGLO (lesbian and gay liaison officer).
‘We help, support and advise members of the community who suffer from hate crime because of their LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) status,’ says PCSO Mann.
‘It’s through that I became aware of some nasty incidents involving young people.
‘Not a lot was being done about homophobic bullying.’
PCSO Mann works in schools, supporting staff and training them in how to support children who are being bullied as a result of being gay.
She also runs some assemblies with groups of children to reassure them that there is support available and also to try and prevent homophobic bullying happening in the first place.
‘At first, we work with the staff,’ she says.
‘Often we find in schools that the pastoral or behavioural staff will notice that there is an incident. They will pick up that it’s happening.
‘We have got a lot of practice in developing this type of message.
‘We talk to the school about how they would like us to deliver the training to the staff.
‘We work with pastoral and behavioural heads. We also do a short assembly to each of the year groups.
‘That’s why it’s a whole-school approach.
‘We do a bit of work around history. We look at why people might feel uncomfortable about stuff.’
The school began to use the Think Before You Speak campaign.
This encourages children not to use the term ‘gay’ in common language as a descriptive word.
‘It empowers the whole of the staff to understand what hate crime is and to tackle it together at the same time with a zero tolerance approach so the kids are getting the same message,’ PCSO Mann adds.
‘It’s the use of the word gay. We get people to think about how it might make people who are gay feel.
‘Youngsters don’t understand the impact it can have on them because people don’t talk about it.
‘We get everybody feeling really positive about it. We are encouraging them to use a different word.
‘In school it’s a much safer environment but if they use it out in the big wide world it’s going to be perceived differently.’
And PCSO Mann recognises that although homosexuality is more acceptable nowadays, there are still problems in society.
‘It’s such a big taboo still. They don’t realise what effect it might have,’ she adds.
‘It’s about understanding how it must feel to be a young LGBT person.
‘It’s about getting people to stop and think. If a young person used a racist word or a religious insult, a school teacher would deal with it, quite rightly.
‘But it’s different if someone says “you’re gay”.
‘We are talking about respect.
‘This has come on leaps and bounds over the years. But it’s got a fear factor attached to it.
‘Just think about what you’re doing and why.’
Scott Lewis is assistant headteacher at the school and he is also in charge of behaviour and safety.
He says working with the police has had a huge impact on the way youngsters at the school respond to homosexuality.
‘It all started about two years ago with an alleged homophobic incident in school,’ he says.
‘From there we realised there was a bit of a gap and a need for training for staff to address homophobic bullying in school to become more confident in dealing with the pupils.’
The school has training sessions that often run on inset days.
Mr Lewis says the campaign to ban the word gay has been successful at the school.
‘Some of our kids have picked up different words,’ he says. ‘You just don’t hear that word at school any more.
‘With that, the strategy within the school is to try and raise awareness of anti-bullying.’
There are posters around the school raising awareness of homophobic bullying and offering help and support to victims.
And Mr Lewis adds it has definitely had an impact as children have become less fearful of coming out in the first place.
‘There are a number of children who have come out as being gay this year, particularly boys.
‘It’s a change of culture that they are quite happy and relaxed to come out.
‘It’s been a massive change in the school because of the work that we have been doing. It’s more acceptable in everyday society.’
Praise for work
This year, Portsmouth City Council was named by lesbian, gay and bisexual rights charity Stonewall as one of the best local authorities in Britain for tackling bullying in the city’s schools.
The charity published the Education Equality Index 2014, which as well as listing the Top 10 local authorities in Britain named Portsmouth City Council as best new entrant.
The Index measures practice and policy at all of the participating local authorities.
This year, the city council launched the Portsmouth Anti-Bullying Guidance and Resource Pack. It has been developed to provide support to schools and to help them develop effective anti-bullying practices.
Councillor Neill Young is the cabinet member for children and education at Portsmouth City Council.
He highlights the importance of working with schools to wipe out bullying, of all kinds.
He says: ‘With homophobic bullying, it’s about getting the children to understand the vocabulary that they use.
‘There are some words that children use sometimes without even thinking that it would cause harm.
‘It’s important that through things like Anti-Bullying Week we are able to highlight to children the impact that some of the words do have on other children.’
Anti-Bullying Week focuses on all aspects of bullying and Cllr Young adds it’s important that all issues are addressed.
‘It’s about raising awareness around young people that bullying isn’t acceptable,’ he says.
‘It’s about making sure staff are able to identify the children who are being bullied but don’t have the confidence or are worried about coming forward and asking for help.
‘Bullying in schools has been around for years.
‘We would like to stamp it out completely but that’s something we are always going to be aware of and constantly trying to tackle.
‘There are people out there to help.’
To read The News’ view on this click here.