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Comment: Yes, there is homophobia at Eton

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Former Eton College student Jamie Jackson writes an open letter to children’s author Piers Torday, after he made claims about low levels of homophobia at the famous school.

Dear Piers Torday,

I was interested to read on PinkNews about your claims that Eton was a relatively good school to be openly gay at.

I am very pleased that was your experience at Eton.

However, I have to say that in your position as head of the Old Etonian gay organisation (‘the Dragonflies’), I felt this was a pretty irresponsible contribution, given your position lent credence to the idea you were speaking on behalf of gay/bi alumni more generally, rather than just yourself.

The idea that Eton does not have a problem with homophobia allows the school to ignore these issues, rather than tackling them head on.

As a small, blonde kid, with effeminate mannerisms and a voice that refused to break, I was pretty acquainted with the insult ‘gay’ and even ‘fag’/’faggot’ at the school, especially in E and F block (years 9 and 10).

Luckily, I don’t feel that I was systematically targeted or bullied for it to an extent that made me genuinely unhappy for long periods of time, but it is perfectly possible other boys who were less fortunate with their friends or who received systematic abuse would have been.

Sadly, homophobic bullying happens, to varying extents, at every school. However, I think there are significant areas in which the school needs to improve. A few examples:

– There was never any attempt to provide sex education that was not purely targeted at heterosexual students.

– Whilst some teachers did pick boys up on using the word ‘gay’ as an insult, many others ignored it, and few even used it themselves as the punchline to ‘jokes’, and, worse, as an insult.

– I am not aware of the schools’ policies on teachers attempting to use inclusive language, but there seemed to be no effort to try and use such language.

– There were never any specific campaigns against homophobic bullying – asides from one (excellent) lecture from Peter Tatchell, there was no attempt to educate most students about LGBT issues. Stonewall studies have shown that merely stating that homophobic bullying is unacceptable in school assemblies can reduce the rate of such bullying by 40%.

For all these reasons, I, and half a dozen of my friends I either privately knew were gay/bi at school or who have subsequently told me, were not ‘out’ at school.

It is extraordinary to think that out of 263 students in my year who, even if we are to use the most conservative estimates, at least around 15 were gay/bi, none felt able to truly come out publicly.

I think I was aware of three ‘out’ Etonians in my whole time school – one was publicly outed, one came out 6 months before leaving, and the other was taunted about it.

Coming out was easily the scariest thing I have done in my life so far: we need to create the best possible environment in which to do so.

I am amazed that you think, in 2015, ‘there are kids at the school now who are basically out’ is such a crowning achievement. Other schools across the country have LGBT societies and relatively high numbers of ‘out’ students.

Given Eton strives for excellence, we should hold it to this standard in all areas. Whether it is marginally better than other all-boys boarding schools or not is no consolation to the boy who lives in fear of the day he has to come out.

I am glad the Dragonflies organise social events for its members. I will not be joining.

An organisation that claims to represent gay/bi Old Etonians and yet does not appear to lobby the school or campaign for change in its policies towards such individuals is one that appears to be ignoring the actions it could be taking to improve life for gay/bi students at the school.

I, overall, had a fantastic time at school. That should not prevent us from trying to make it a better, happier place.


Jamie Jackson

Jamie Jackson is a student at St John’s College, Oxford.

As with all comment, this does not necessarily reflect the views of PinkNews.

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