Who are the villains of our story ?

Annette Pryce responds to the latest report from Stonewall on the state of schools today and the way in which they are tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.

Here’s a story, it’s about a teenage girl who was 14 when she came out as a lesbian at school. After months of verbal abuse and no support, she was caught truanting by the deputy head who called her into his office.

This deputy head proceeded to find out why she was truanting, and when he found out it was because she was gay and being bullied, the expected response of: compassion, understanding, tolerance and the immediate suspension of the bullies, wasn’t forthcoming.

He proceeded to ask her how she knew she was gay, he asked her if she ‘knew what lesbians did in bed’, then he asked her to ‘describe it for him’, prompting her with details of possible activities that two women would engage in.

It doesn’t end there. He made noises about what he would tell her parents if there was an incident. (i.e what would he tell them if she was physically attacked, as though it was inevitable somehow.) He proceeded then to blackmail her into telling her parents:

“I’ll give you until Friday to tell them or I’ll tell them for you.”

Wind this story forwards 18 years, that deputy head went onto become the head teacher and then later retired.

That 14 year old girl, went onto become the LGBT Executive member for the National Union of Teachers, this is my story.

I became a teacher to break this cycle and make school life better for the pupils I teach, however the latest Stonewall School Report is a damning indictment of the current education system and its’ stubborn refusal to get with the times. Fourteen years since section 28 was repealed, and generations of young people still have to endure this kind of abuse. I do not accept that this should be the way it is forever and ever and ever, just because our parents were bullied doesn’t mean we had to be , or that our students have to be. We have a moral duty as a profession to start speaking up and not hiding in the staffroom. When one student feels unsafe, they are all unsafe. While,  according to the report, the prevalence of homophobic and biphobic bullying is down, it is still stupidly high.

  • Nearly half of LGBT pupils (45 per cent) – including 64 per cent of trans pupils – are bullied for being LGBT in Britain’s schools.This is down from 55 per cent of lesbian, gay and bi pupils who experienced bullying because of their sexual orientation in 2012 and 65 per cent in 2007 

I wont deny that there are many pockets of excellent practice, my own school is very progressive considering it’s in the middle of the home counties; there a massive great big rainbow flag in the assembly hall for goodness sake. There is some brilliant work being done by schools all over the country, but these are the minority, not all schools are like this. We know this from surveys done by teachers, we know that not all schools have great policies on tackling this type of bullying. We know that LGBTQ+ teachers suffer micro-aggressions and outright prejudice when attempting to train their colleagues.

It’s a sad fact that there are some teachers who just don’t want to know, who are prejudiced, who are homophobic, biphobic and transphobic. I have 18 years experience in secondary teaching, and I can say unequivocably those teachers don’t deserve to stay in the profession. They either need to grow up,  or leave teaching, they are one of the  villains of the story. We could easily just blame the students and their parental influences, but there are so many factors that are at play.

Students don’t go through school in a bubble, they must understand what wider society looks like, and refusing to acknowledge LGBTQ+ people in school, not explaining to young people that hate crimes are still crimes in the same way assault is doesnt prepare them. To not even deal with HBT bullying in the statutory way that racism is dealt with sends a signal to everyone that it’s deemed not to be that important or oppressive or damaging.

  • Seven in 10 LGBT pupils report that their school says that homophobic and biphobic bullying is wrong, up from half in 2012 and a quarter in 2007. However, just two in five LGBT pupils report that their schools say that transphobic bullying is wrong.

The second part of this headline is the most troubling, lets face it, the trans community have had an amazing year or two for visibility, but with it has come the inevitable backlash. How the hell are young people meant to deal with the constant level of hate coming from people who ought to know better, constantly having their identity invalidated, the dehumanising way in which they are misgendered, deprived of their dignity and their right to use a bathroom of their choice.

I’m so angry I can’t put it all into words, that even some teachers are the perpetrators of this prejudice.  When you realise the entrenched views of adults are the problem, rather than the kids themselves, we all need a good look in a mirror.

But since it’s my profession, and because I know rather a lot of teachers who are nothing like that and their only wish is to be supportive, what does that leave us with. It leaves us with ignorance and a confidence gap.

  • Just one in five LGBT pupils have been taught about safe sex in relation to same-sex relationships
  • More than four in five trans young people have self-harmed, as have three in five lesbian, gay and bi young people who aren’t trans
  • More than two in five trans young people have attempted to take their own life, and one in five lesbian, gay and bi students who aren’t trans have done the same

Lack of statutory SRE in secondary schools, which has a knock on effect of no funding for training is hopefully about to change, but what a travesty it is for a whole group of young people to be denied basic personal safety information.  The government, this one and all the ones previous, have so much to answer for. They are the villains of the story too.

And the statistics on young trans people are harrowing. Only this week a 17-year-old trans woman has been shot dead in Georgia – becoming the 14th trans person killed in the USA this year.

“[Barrin] is the youngest known trans person killed in the US since the turn of the year, all 14 of whom have been women of colour.” Pink News

How many kids need to die in the UK before our government will take some notice? Does all violence aginst the LGBTQ+ community just get straight-splained away so they don’t have to ask themselves some uncomfortable questions?

When you create a law that is fundamentally damaging to generations of young people , when even after it’s repealed ,that legacy lives on in a  profession that isn’t even given adequate training  in initial teacher training to tackle it. When you take away even that stage and place trainee teachers directly into schools with bad practices, and don’t provide funding for continuous professional development, but instead beat teachers over the heads with countless and endless targets to meet, then move the goal posts.

I’m so angry I can’t put it all into words at the fact that even teachers are the perpetrators of this prejudice.  When you realise their entrenched views of adults are the problem, rather than the kids themselves, we all need a good look in a mirror.

When you use the tool that teachers hate to make them challenge HBT bullying, as though OFSTED were the panacea for all things good in education,.. oh go and sit down.. would you please…..!

The profession should have an awareness of diversity in their bones, but they don’t because the government doesn’t, and people still believe that those under the age of 18 could not possibly know they are LGBTQ+ as though sexual orientation,(or gender identity),  were some sort of ‘adult’ condition, but heterosexuality starts when you’re 16.

This has become tedious now, the entire profession, (or at least the ones who give a damn), have told the government time and time again that it needs a sea change in the way that this type of bullying is dealt with and it cannot be with the ‘stick’. Head teachers need to be encouraged to do the right thing with time, training and money. Teachers need to be trained and the funding needs to be there to support students, even if that means with mental health issues that usually ensue after being bullied because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. A wrap around approach is the only way.

And for those who want to help their students, being an ally isn’t just about being a hero to everyone, sometimes just one is enough. As teachers we face choices in the classroom every day, and some days we choose to speak up, we challenge, we are the adults in the room and help students see beyond bigotry and hatred through to compassion and understanding. Assemblies, posters on the walls and LGBT history months are great, but it’s those small moments in front of a class that potentially make all the difference. Be a bit braver, save a life. Lets make the next school report from Stonewall the one where there’s nothing left to show.

Follow Annette on Twitter (@LGBTEXEC)

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