EXCLUSIVE: Casual homophobia in the online staffroom

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Homophobic comments from people claiming to be teachers have appeared on the chat forum of the website for the Times Education Supplement (TES).

Despite new guidelines aimed at helping teachers to tackle homophobia in schools, users of the “Staffroom” pages of the respected education website have publicly revealed ignorant and offensive views about gay people.

In a thread started yesterday, entitled “What do you do if you find you have a gay pupil in your class,” one response read “Tell him not be be such a ‘big jessie’?”

Last month, one user of the TES Staffroom forum started a thread speculating that rubgy player Gareth Thomas was about to come out as gay.

The user, who later states that they are gay themselves, went on to say: “How awesome is that! What a shame that more people in sports like him feel they cannot ‘come out’.”

Several homophobic comments from other site users were then posted in reply. One use wrote that Thomas was “probably” gay “because he is involved in the most macho sport of all-rugby. Bet he had fun in the scrums though…”

One user even posted the following message:

“How could he prefer man bum sex to ladies boobs and hips? How could he prefer tackle to labias, clits, and lips?”

One user offered a more positive comment: “His sexuality is his business and good luck to him whatever he is”, but went on to say:

“However, having him in a changing rooms is surely as inappropriate as having a heterosexual male in the women’s changing areas. I would not want him there.”

In another thread a science teacher wrote that he wanted to show Stephen Fry’s recent documentary about HIV to his class at school to teach them about the AIDS virus.

Another user replied to him: “I am not sure all parents would really want GCSE kids watching this kind of stuff. Also it does lean towards the gay agenda and possibly the introducing depraved acts into your classrooms.”

Several of the users are even using the word ‘gay’ in exactly the same way they are being told to prevent it being used by children in schools.

For example, in a conversation about Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond one poster said: “The Hamster looked gay with those crappy blonde streaks and that frankly ludicrous jacket.”

When asked about the comments, a spokesperson for TES told PinkNews.co.uk:

“The views on the website do not represent those of the TES. If we receive complaints about threads then we investigate and if they break our terms and conditions we remove them.”

At the time of writing, the messages had not been removed from the site.

Alan Wardle, Stonewall’s director of Parliamentary affairs, told PinkNews.co.uk:

“TES have a responsibility to make sure their website is properly monitored. There are not only homophobic comments on the forum but also racists comments.

“Obviously they can’t stop people from posting these messages, but they need to have sufficiently robust mechanisms in place to monitor and edit the website.

“Any offensive material should be removed immediately.

“In the terms and conditions of the website they state that such comments will not be tolerated, but they need to enforce and monitor that policy better. They don’t seem to be implementing the policy they have set. They should also block repeat offenders.

“In short, they need to have someone frequently checking the website for any inappropriate comments, as we do with our website.

“If a small organisation like Stonewall can moderate a website effectively, TES have no excuse not to do so themselves.”

The School Report, Stonewall’s recently-published research into homophobic bullying in Britain’s schools, found that almost two thirds of young gay people have experienced homophobic bullying.

97% of gay pupils regularly hear homophobic insults at school; three in ten of the 1100 young people surveyed said that it was teachers and support staff who carry out the bullying.

Other findings included the fact that half of teachers fail to respond to homophobic language when they hear it and less than a quarter of schools have told pupils that homophobic bullying is wrong.

Young people taking part in the survey comment that “the teachers join in on the joke.”

One girl at a secondary school in Greater London said: “PSHE was about AIDS – the teacher didn’t contradict that it was a ‘gay disease’ and implied what gay men did in bed was disgusting.”

Another pupil from a school in Wales said:

“My teacher was very ignorant about gay issues and the laws about gay sex but I didn’t want to correct her because I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact I knew about it.”

Steve Sinnott, general secretray of the National Union of Teachers, admitted that there is a problem.

“Some teachers have a long way to go,” he told PinkNews.co.uk.

“We are proud that our own guidelines on homophobic bullying seek to eradicate such behaviour in schools. It is an issue for every teacher to ensure comments like these are seen as unacceptable.”

Ed Balls MP, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, committed the government to tackling gay bullying in schools last month.

“Homophobic insults should be viewed as seriously as racism,” he said.

“Even casual use of homophobic language in schools can create an atmosphere that isolates young people and can be the forerunner of more serious forms of bullying.”

The Lib Dems and the Conservatives back the new guidelines on homophobic bullying sent to teachers last month.

TES Staffroom recent comments.