Nicky Morgan & Jo Swinson: Our plan to eliminate homophobia in schools

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Writing for PinkNews, Education Secretary and Women and Equalities Minister, Nicky Morgan, and Employment Relations, Women and Equalities Minister, Jo Swinson, explain the importance of tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools.

School days should be the best days of young people’s lives, but the harsh reality is that not everyone enjoys their time in the classroom. For many, memories of being bullied in the playground, in the corridors and in classrooms will stay with them for the rest of their lives. All forms of bullying are utterly unacceptable. Being bullied can deter children from being themselves, achieving their full potential and developing the important skills they need to prepare them for success in modern Britain.

Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying are particularly pernicious forms of bullying, which are not only upsetting but also leave young people feeling isolated and uncomfortable with who they are. For all of the great advances this country had made in securing LGBT equality, these types of bullying remain stubbornly persistent – with a recent survey from charity Metro finding that the vast majority of LGBT young people had experienced some form of harassment or name calling.

The impact of this bullying is stark, not only does it make young people unhappy at school, it can also have a real impact on their attendance and achievement, severely damaging their life chances. More worrying still it can also have severe mental health implications for the young people affected, more than half of LGBT young people report having self-harmed and they are also almost twice as likely to have thought about suicide as their peers. In 21st century Britain this is unacceptable and something we must all commit to stopping.

This problem goes beyond direct bullying, we know that the use of the word ‘gay’ as an insult is endemic in our schools and we must take action to prevent this. This isn’t just an issue of “sticks and stones” – the use of the word gay as an insult has a real impact on the self-esteem of young people, particularly those struggling to come to terms with their sexuality. We also know that in those schools which fail to tackle the pejorative use of the word ‘gay’ rates of direct bullying are also higher. The impact of this language goes beyond LGBT young people – it can affect any young person who is in some way different. We do not want a generation of boys who did not apply themselves academically because it was ‘gay’ or girls who could have excelled in sport but didn’t because they were scared of being labelled lesbian. The truth is, we don’t tolerate racist language like that and we should not tolerate homophobia in the same way.

The coalition government has already taken decisive action on bullying. All schools must have a behaviour policy which confronts all forms of bullying and we have changed the law to strengthen the powers teachers have to enforce disciple and good behaviour. Many schools tackle school bullying with imagination and determination. But there is still more work to do. We are on a moral mission to protect our young people from bullying. This is why, today, we are announcing £2 million to fund projects to address homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools.

We will tackle bullying by focusing on the causes. We want to see this funding used to promote create a whole school approach to tackling homophobic bullying.

We want organisations to come forward with their creative ideas about how they would take this on in our schools and most importantly we want to have rigorous evaluation of these projects so we know what works and how we can roll them out to other schools. This funding will go to the projects that will make the biggest difference to the lives of all young people, making sure they are fully prepared for, and comfortable growing up in, modern Britain.

Nicky Morgan is the Education Secretary Cabinet Minister for Women and Equalities. Jo Swinson is the Minister for Employment Relations, Women and Equalities.