Ken Livingstone looks back to school days to launch anti-homophobia campaign

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The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone joined with teachers and educationalists to launch an anti-homophobic bullying campaign spearheaded by the gay rights charity Stonewall. He drew on his own “behind the bike sheds” experiences to illustrate the change in educational needs relating to homophobia since the 1950s.

The campaign, ‘Spell it out’ is a DVD led project offering guidance and support for teachers to enable them to effectively tackle incidents of homophobic bullying within their classrooms.

At the event, attended by around 100 key decision makers in education together with representatives of the main political parties, Mr Livingstone said: “We’ve now reached a situation where it would be almost impossible for someone to successfully become elected on a racist or sexist platform but we still see homophobia espoused.”

He added: “Although we’ve changed a lot of legislation and we’ve changed a lot of attitudes, it is in our schools and colleges that homophobia is most prevalent. The toll is horrendous, just in terms of the sheer misery to the incidents of suicide.”

Speaking to following the launch, Mr Livingstone reflected back to his own school days. “I went to school in the 1950s, a vast boys school in Brixton and there was a big disconnect between the ‘dirty old men’ that we were warned about and what we were all doing to each other. So when I hear people talking about just five or ten percent of people being gay, I think, ‘not in my school’!

“In my school of two thousand boys, roughly a third, maybe a half of them, whilst never thinking of themselves as gay, engaged in sexual acts with other boys. We had no idea that what we were doing was anything other than ‘naughty’ and something that our teachers frowned upon.”

He added: “It was mainly driven by the fact that we weren’t having sex with women. I grew up in a world where the average man didn’t lose his virginity until he was 19 and the average woman until they were 21. Many not until the night of their marriage, only after a whole day of eating and drinking, when you’re hardly going to get the best results! My generation has been wholly envious of the generations that followed in relation to sex.”

Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of Stonewall, praised Mr Livingstone for his commitment over many decades to gay rights and for the funding that will enable the charity to distribute the DVD amongst the staff rooms of all London schools.

Speaking to following the Mayor’s speech, Mr Summerskill said: “We’re in discussions with the Department for Education and Skills to rolling this out beyond London. We’re also discussing other bullying materials too, so we hope that the government will be spending more money on materials that can be used not just in the staff room like ‘Spell it Out’ but in classrooms too.”

It is understood that the Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, will be making further commitments to anti-homophobic bullying campaigns in the near future. Sources close to the leaders of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats told that they would be supporting future campaigns whole heartedly.

Conservative led Barnet Council was amongst the first local authorities to introduce an anti-homophobic bullying campaign across its schools.