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Stamp Out Homophobia: 7th December, 2005

A 270 foot, long petition of double sheets bearing thousands of footprints with the message “Stamp Out Homophobia in Our Schools” wound its way round Westminster yesterday afternoon.

Students from Birmingham University’s LGBT group, members of The Metro, Mosaic and Staying Out LGBT youth groups plus representatives from Schools Out and other passionate people from the LGBT community carried the traffic-stopping document to the DfES, on Great Smith Street.

Jacqui Smith, Minister for Schools, received the petition from Claire Anderson pf Birmingham University, who spearheaded the campaign through countless Pride festivals this summer. She was supported in the presentation by members of Staying Out and Sue Sanders of Schools Out.

The largest petition in the world ever?

The Minister was impressed and asked the young people about their motives and purposes in gathering this petition. Nathan of Staying OUT described his experiences of being bullied with homophobic abuse, attacks and violence in his school. He explained the crucial role played by the LGBT Youth Group in giving him support, understanding and a ‘safe’ space at a time when he felt so isolated at school.

Claire described her experiences at the ‘Gay Pride’ festivals, up and down the country, where people were so keen to place their feet in paint and stamp their footprints and write messages to the DfES, with, in some cases, a brief account their own stories on the sheets.

Petitioners wanted to send the message that homophobia and bullying in schools must stop. She heard many moving stories from people, young and old, who had had their own terrible experiences at school. They said that they want future generations to be and feel safe in our schools.

Sue Sanders of Schools Out explained how crucial it is that the DfES ensure that all LGBT staff in schools feel safe to be ‘out’ there. “If the adults are not safe being ‘out’ at their workplace, how can young LGBT people feel safe in school?” When the DfES acknowledges the vital work that LGBT staff do in schools and give them the support and encouragement to be ‘out’ to their pupils, they will put an end to the lie that everyone in schools is heterosexual.

Eli Bar-On of Staying Out responded to the Minister’s question about how welcome the staff of LGBT Youth Groups are in schools by recounting her experience of her local schools.

“They seem confused about the appropriateness of inviting us in, so they don’t.”

Sue thanked the Minister for her support for both the Lambeth ‘Tackling Homophobia, Creating Safer Spaces’ project and LGBT History Month (February). Jacqui Smith received a selection of the new LGBT History Month badges.

We hope to see her at an LGBT History Month event next February.

Our meeting with Jacqui Smith was accompanied by the following letter:

Dear Jacqui Smith

Equality does not come through legislation and regulation alone nor does bullying disappear because it is recorded and responded to after it happens. It also requires a change of culture – the culture of our society and, more particularly, the culture and curriculum of our schools and colleges. The "Five Outcomes" ( Aims and Outcomes Every Child Matters: Change for Children.) state that every child, whatever their background or their circumstances, should have the support they need to:

Be healthy;

Stay safe;

Enjoy and achieve;

Make a positive contribution;

Achieve economic well-being.

Surely these must apply to those young people who are LGBT as much as to other children. Such an aim makes cultural change imperative. NUS Birmingham and Schools OUT seeks to address issues of equality and wish to challenge the bullying, prejudice and discrimination that all children may face whatever their sexuality or gender identity. We are certain that you share these aims and can work with us to make all children’s lives healthier, safer, more positive and more productive.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people have been routinely excluded from school and college curricula. Our lives and achievements are either ignored or distorted into a false image of who we were/are. From this comes the ignorance that allows for the stereotyping on which prejudice and negative discrimination depend.

Homophobic bullying is a direct consequence of this carefully engineered ignorance.

All young people believe they “know” some things about LGBT people. This “truth” is mainly derived from the stereotyping that abounds in our society and the tittle-tattle of the playground. For those young people who have to relate to the reality of LGBT people’s lives – those that are LGBT, are questioning their sexuality/gender identity, are presumed by others to be LGBT or have LGBT family or friends – such stereotyping and distortion is particularly harmful and may have dire consequences. However this ignorance diminishes the knowledge and therefore the understanding of ALL students.

We therefore seek:

 
 
         
 
 
         

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Photos by Scott Nunn/Pink Paper