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Unions 2000 Wednesday, 19 April, 2000, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Teachers denounce bullying of gay pupils
Andy Speake
Gay teacher Andy Speake was bullied as a teenager
By Gary Eason at the ATL conference in Belfast

Teachers have deplored homophobic bullying by schoolchildren and say few schools acknowledge it or have policies to tackle it.

At the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) annual conference, being held in Belfast, parents were also criticised for condoning or even encouraging their children's bullying of homosexual pupils.

Delegates overwhelmingly called on the government to see through its promise to repeal Clause 28 of the Local Government Act, which prevents local authorities from promoting homosexuality.

Michael Catty
Michael Catty: "Parents may even applaud bullying"

Michael Catty, an ATL member from Hertfordshire, said bullying was abhorrent to teachers and parents alike.

"It makes the victims' school lives a misery. It destroys their self-confidence. At worst it can lead to suicide," he said.

The law put a duty on head teachers to have policies to counter bullying.


"But there's one form that is still allowed to continue in many schools," he said.

"This is bullying aimed at gay and lesbian pupils."

He quoted research studies which had set out the scale of the problem, with 77% of pupils who were known by others to be gay saying they had been bullied, but only 6% of schools having policies to deal with it.

Most parents, if they learned that their own child had been bullying others, were shocked and would work with the school to deal with it.

"Unfortunately, this is often not the case with homophobic bullying. Indeed the homophobic attitude may have come from the parents and is possibly even applauded by them," he said.

Hilary Pollard
Hilary Pollard: "Bad law"

Hilary Pollard, chairman of the ATL's equal opportunities committee, said she had expected to have been able to have withdrawn a part of the resolution which said that if the government acted on its "oft-repeated" pledge to repeal Clause 28, the whole issue could be more openly discussed in schools.

But opposition to the government's intention this in the House of Lords meant the clause was still in place.

Parents concerned

"What a bad law, that prevents us from helping children in their most need," she said.

Andy Speake, from Devon, who announced that he was gay, said that teachers were usually quick to stop children using terms of abuse such as "slag, tart, grass or thicko".

But others "such as queer, puff, gay, lezzie" were not challenged.

The effect of Clause 28 was to reinforce such prejudice, he said.

Sam Bechler
Sam Bechler: Backs Clause 28

But Wolverhampton delegate Sam Bechler was in favour of the clause. His opposition was not to homosexuals as people but to the practice of homosexuality, he said.

History showed it had gone hand in hand with the decline and fall of many of the world's empires.

"Parents have come to me, not only because I'm a trade union official but also because I figure largely in some of the societies I live in, especially in the church, and have said: 'We don't want our children to be exposed to homosexual doctrine in schools'," he said.

'Could get worse'

David Brittan from Hackney disassociated himself from Dr Bechler's remarks but was also against the call for the government to repeal Clause 28.

Its actual words did not affect schools, he said, although they might have had an influence on them.

But the wording the government had come up with to try to appease its opponents in the House of Lords would be worse, he said.

"What they want to do would stop me doing what I am doing with my Year 9s now, which is teaching them about gay people and the need for gay people to have equal rights with everybody else," he said.

"We have to educate the average person in the church pew to understand, and then the problem will disappear."

But Michael Catty said the new guidance to teachers might be introduced whether or not Clause 28 was repealed.

"Clause 28 has been an inhibitory and bad and nasty piece of legislation, and it must go," he said.

See also:

30 Mar 00 | UK Education
29 Mar 00 | UK Politics
24 Mar 00 | UK Education
06 Mar 00 | UK
07 Feb 00 | UK Education
29 Mar 00 | UK Education
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