Homophobic Bullying in Schools and Isolation of Lesbian and Gay Students

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2003 National Lesbian & Gay Conference
1 August 2003
Carried as Amended

Conference welcomes the end of Section 28, which was finally repealed receiving royal assent on September 18th, and notes the very long campaign for its repeal amongst the lesbian and gay (L&G) community and the broader labour movement. Conference in particular highlights the role played by trade unions in keeping up the pressure on the government to repeal Section 28 demonstrating that grass roots campaigning does work.

Conference further salutes the work of many UNISON members, teachers and other workers as well as that of L&G campaigning groups during the difficult time while Section 28 was in place.

Conference deplores the pernicious nature of Section 28 in enshrining bigotry into legislation and promoting self censorship in the class room, whilst preventing local authorities from providing materials and training which would enable L&G issues to be addressed across the curriculum. The result of this has been a lack of support for L&G young people in school as well as inadequate sex education and an inability to address homophobic bullying.

Conference notes the frequency of teenage suicides where homophobic bullying has played a role and that homophobic bullying is not limited to L&G students.

Conference further highlights the fact that whereas Section 28 banned local authorities from promoting lesbian and gay relationships as “pretended family relationships” the government itself has already recognised same sex partnerships in allowing adoption by same sex couples and moving to recognise civil partnerships.

Conference recognises that this brings to a head a year in which significant progress has been made in parliament and by government; with the repeal of clause 28 alongside the new employment legislation that should protect lesbian and gay workers including teachers who often face open homophobia in the classroom; the consultation on civil partnerships and the new rights for lesbian and gay adoption; but that none of this will have real effect until and unless policies and practices change in the light of the new legislative framework.

With Section 28 finally repealed Conference recognises the urgent need for schools and local authorities to address the issues of homophobic bullying and providing a supportive learning environment for all students. The repeal of Section 28 is the beginning not the end of the campaign for schools to be safe places for L&G students. Conference urges UNISON in its branches, regions, and nationally to remain vigilant and to work at all levels to call for schools and local education authorities to begin to redress the vacuum of positive publicity, lack of training and the invisibility of the positive recognition of lesbian and gay relationships and lifestyles.

Conference would like to take this opportunity to recognise the role that the Labour Link has played in working alongside the National Lesbian and Gay Committee and alongside other trade unions, including those of teachers who do not affiliate to the Labour Party, within the wider trade union movement in actively pursuing the government and the Labour Party to deliver their manifesto commitments for lesbian and gay equality.

Conference therefore calls on the National Lesbian and Gay Committee to continue to work for an end to homophobic bullying in schools by raising these issues with the government, working with other unions as appropriate, highlighting the following issues:

1.the need for a rigorous anti-bullying strategy for every school and local authority with explicit recognition of the need to end homophobic bullying;

2.the need for the inclusion of L&G issues across all areas of the curriculum (“gay” issues must not be confined to the ghetto of sex education and PSE (Personal and Social Education) classes) as well as the need to address homophobic practice and heterosexist stereotyping which occurs in many disciplines;

3.the need for all those working in schools to receive training on issues of sexuality including initial teacher training as well as for local authorities to provide training courses and materials to support staff in addressing L&G issues in the classroom as well as establishing themes such as equality, non-discrimination and respect for others and diversity;

4.the need to address homophobic bullying and isolation of L&G students within “faith” schools, where L&G staff may not enjoy the right to legal protection from dismissal due to the last minute alterations to the employment equality regulations allowing discrimination by religious bodies.

Conference further calls on the NLGC to renew and refresh our joint work with the Labour Link in pursuing not just the legislative agenda for equality but in now also seeking to ensure that the positive changes introduced this year with the employment directive and the repeal of clause 28 are followed up by changes in policy, practice and equal treatment in all of our workplaces and in the planning and delivery of all of our public services.