Friday, September 3, 1999 Published at 02:06 GMT 03:06 UK
Campaign targets homophobia
The campaign aims to tackle prejudice head on
Homophobia has a huge impact on mental health and can prevent people seeking the healthcare they need, according to an Aids charity.
The Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) is launching what it claims is Europe's first national anti-homophobia campaign on Friday.
The hard-hitting campaign, which will target teachers, parents and the public through a series of advertisements in the media, on public transport and in the cinema, aims to raise awareness about the negative effects of homophobia.
The adverts turn prejudice on its head with statements such as 'homophobes shouldn't be left alone with kids'.
THT says research shows two thirds of British adults hold homophobic views, with men more likely to be prejudiced than women.
Two fifths are reported to believe that gay people should not be able to hold a responsible position in life and a quarter think they should not be allowed to work with children.
Much of the prejudice starts at school, says the THT.
Some 82% of teachers interviewed by the Institute of Education in 1997 said they were aware of homophobic bullying at school.
However, few schools have a policy on it and many teachers are reluctant to take positive action because they are unclear of the implications of Section 28, introduced by the Conservatives to curb 'promotion' of homosexuality.
The Section, however, states that the restrictions should not be used "to prohibit the doing of anything for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease".
The THT says homophobia can also lower self-esteem, leading to risk-taking behaviour and preventing effective HIV promotion work.
It adds that prejudice has other damaging effects on mental health.
Research shows one in five gay people have attempted self-harm or suicide because of homophobic abuse.
The 'Its Prejudice That's Queer' campaign will also draw attention to research showing that one in three gay men and one in four lesbians have experienced violent attacks.
Seven out of 10 had not reported attacks to the police.
Young gay people were even more likely to have suffered aggression.
Nick Partridge, chief executive of the THT, said: "Homophobia is a serious, widespread problem which must be tackled.
"The consequences are as far-reaching as they are damaging.
"Homophobia harms the health of gay people physically, mentally and emotionally.
"In particular, it can affect their confidence and ability to negotiate safer sex which is a key concern in preventing the spread of HIV."
Debbie Epstein, Reader in Education at the Institute of Education at the University of London, said: "Homophobic abuse is often used as a form of bullying in schools. Children are not born homophobic, these attitudes are learnt.
"By challenging such attitudes in schools, we can ensure that pupils learn that homophobia, like all forms of prejudice or discrimination, is wrong and unacceptable."
The Metropolitan Police are supporting the campaign. They say there has been a big increase in reporting of homophobic crime in recent years, partly due to attempts by the police to encourage victims to come forward.