Last year, Anti-Bullying Week really served as the starting point for my campaign for greater understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues in my school. It was a valuable opportunity as it was the first time that both staff and students saw me openly tackle homophobia in my educational environment; indeed, for many individuals, it was the first time they had heard homophobic behaviour be defined and addressed in school. Prejudice against the LGBT community is present on some level in all educational institutions, and had previously never been specifically or widely addressed in my school. I seized on the opportunity to parallel homophobic abuse with all other kinds of violence and intimidation, revealing how the issue is equally as damaging to the welfare of students as racism, sexism or religious persecution.
My main focus during Anti-Bullying Week was increasing awareness of the impact of homophobic language. I wanted to draw attention to how much myself and other students heard overtly derogatory language, and how use of these terms were not always treated as serious incidents. However, I equally wanted to address the more common issue of the casual, but ultimately incorrect use of the phrase 'that's so gay'. This issue was explored in depth in the workshop that Diversity Role Models delivered in my school in the summer, which I was extremely pleased about. It is also the subject of Stonewall's 2013 anti-bullying campaign, illustrating the significance of language as a nationwide indicator of the day-to-day experiences of gay young people. I am a firm believer that words only mean as much as we allow them to; the word 'gay' cannot simultaneously mean 'homosexual', 'unusual' and essentially 'rubbish' without these interpretations combining. I felt that no student, gay, straight or questioning, should have to deal with the stigma of their behaviour being condemned as 'gay', whilst the term held such taboo and negative connotations. By delivering assemblies on the scope of bullying and methods of tackling it, I hope that my emphasis on homophobia made all members of the school community reconsider their use of the word 'gay' and highlighted the impact that bullying with regard to orientation does hold - ultimately, 99% of students have reported hearing 'gay' used as an insult, and 65% of LGB pupils experience bullying of some kind.
Raising the issue of homophobia in some educational environments may seem alien and daunting, but this simply demonstrates how rare it is for schools to frankly address this issue, and how necessary it is. I would urge anyone who wanted to broach the topic, whether a member of staff or a student, to do so without hesitance or shame. From my own experience, my initiative was largely well-received, and when students take action it directly highlights to educators what our needs and concerns are. Do not shy away from focusing on the issue if you think it is prominent in your school, and definitely integrate discussions of homophobia with other prejudices, in order to normalise the subject area. These steps, as well as initially addressing the language pupils use, are good ways to tackle the 'smallest' but most pervasive kinds of bullying.
LGBT themes are often difficult to explore in modern comprehensives because many may not feel that homophobia is an issue in their school. However, it is in precisely these kinds of multicultural environments where racial and religious prejudices are gradually decreasing, with the attitude to homosexuality often lagging behind. Remember that bullying can only be reduced if it is recognised and discussed; monopolising on Anti-Bullying Week may be the perfect first step towards future successes, creating a safe space for all to be open about sex and gender.