Tackling homophobic bullying through education

Earlier this week I listened to one of the most moving speeches I’ve ever heard.  Bereaved parent Roger Crouch told a silent audience at the Speaker’s apartments about the suicide of his 15 year old son Dominic. He’d taken his own life by throwing himself off a car park roof after suffering homophobic taunts at his school in Cheltenham.

MPs and public figures from a range of professions, including news readers Evan Davis and Jane Hill, were gathered for the Parliamentary launch of Diversity Role Models.  This new charity will provide schools with speakers who can talk openly about the diversity of life.  You can read more here http://diversityrolemodels.org/

It’s now 6 years since as a new MP I raised the issue of school bullying in Parliament.  The issue had not been properly discussed before and homophobic bullying was very much off the agenda.  I was able to persuade my fellow members of the Education Select Committee that we should mount an investigation into bullying with particular emphasis on identity related bullying.  Our report http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmeduski/85/8502.htm came out in early 2007.   I also ran a parallel Lib Dem campaign, putting a motion through the Lib Dem conference and hosting a House of Commons reception for children’s charities http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bu2eqxepZ4k

In the last few years a huge amount of work has been done in this area.  The government published guidance for schools, Stonewall has published some excellent research and done some great work in schools.  I’ve seen the drama “Fit” performed in a tough south London school and witnessed the way it made children think about their attitudes.

But homophobic bullying is still a huge problem.  Children who are gay, suspected of being gay or are known to have a gay relative are more likely to be the victims of bullying than other groups.  We only know of a minority of cases as research shows about 60% of children never report being bullied for this reason.

So there is still a lot of work to be done.  I often mention bullying when I am talking to classes in Bristol’s schools.  The more children see that there are successful gay people in their own communities and see them on TV then we stand a chance of ending the misery of this particularly distressing type of bullying.