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TACKLING HATE CRIME  -  PAUL HARTNETT

Writer Paul Hartnett has worked as a Special Needs teacher in a number of schools and has been Head of two Learning Support departments in East London's Bethnal Green. He has also worked with Lancashire Constabulary on Hate Crime initiatives and has given talks to Police re issues relating to homophobia at Preston HQ.

Paul has also worked with School's Out on the subject of homophobic abuse, putting together the essay below.

Paul edited the world's first anthology of fiction by gay teenagers (16+) from all over the world, 'The Next
Wave', published by Gay Times, MPG, following the success of the anthology 'New Century, New Writing'.

Paul Hartnett now offers a informative talks on the history of homophobic abuse, how organisations and individuals can tackle homophobia. Paul also offers creative writing and drama workshops through the agency Top Of The Tree, tackling Hate Crime on a number of levels.

If you would like any more information on Top Of The Tree please call Helen on 01457 820688 or 07803 052047 or email at helen@topofthetree.info

After an introduction, Paul makes a dramatic start to his TACKLING HATE CRIME sessions by donning a police uniform to play the part of a police officer visiting a school where a homophobic incident has been reported, putting over the idea that racist, sexist and homophobic bullying is indeed a crime.

Having endured extreme homophobic bullying alongside Julian Clary when he was a pupil at a school run by Benedictine monks, Paul Hartnett also offers advice for staff about how to tackle racist, sexist and particularly homophobic abuse.

Lest we forget...

Sixty-five per cent of lesbian and gay school pupils have been bullied because of their sexuality, a Stonewall survey recently revealed.

It is believed that fifty per cent of teachers ignore homophobic language when they hear it and that thirty per cent of pupils say adults at their school are responsible for the bullying.

Stonewall say that of the current secondary school pupils, 143,000 pupils have suffered from anti-gay name-calling, 64,000 have been physically attacked and 26,000 have had death-threats. Sexual molestation is often a part of the picture from peers.

Hate Crimes blight the lives of not just LGBT pupils but also those perceived to be LGBT. Too many schools take no action.

Most of the time bullies go undetected, not dealt with appropriately. Seven out of ten 'victims; say that their eductaion has suffered as a consequence of harrassment.

"Teachers often join in on the 'joke'," says Paul Hartnett. "Ears all too ofetn turn deaf, eyes turn blind. There is so much avoidance of this problem. That's a breach of the duty of care."

Many schools struggle with putting policies in place, especially faith schools.

Stonewall's report, based upon interviews with 1,145 young adults.

Paul believes that Britain's schools are simply failing to protect young gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

The Stonewall report can be downloaded here

WHEN EARS TURN DEAF, WHEN EYES TURN BLIND

"Taking legal action against a school that failed you is your right," says Paul Hartnett, who has spoken with three people who recently taught their old schools a lesson.

Homophobic abuse is rife in our schools, establishments in which staff often have conveniently deaf ears and deliberately blind eyes to repeated patterns of homophobic abuse that it should be their professional and personal responsibility to tackle.

Taking action against a school that has blatantly failed you as a lesbian or gay pupil can be a positive step on many levels. Putting your old school in the position of having to grant compensation can be an empowering experience: it symbolises the school's formal admission of its failings and can help to bring about closure for you. It can also mark a decision within you to work for positive changes in your own life.

Legal action against a school can affect this change, break the cycle of abuse and make schools safer places for future students. The provision of compensation to individuals who have experienced homophobic abuse during their schooling is a necessary acknowledgement of a school's neglect of its 'duty of care' or 'health and safety' obligations, the neglect of which can place the school at odds with the law as well as any professional duty.

A homophobic incident occurs both when a person does something or ABSTAINS from doing something, because s/he has some kind of issue with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans) people. When gangs of young individuals are allowed to form and run a consistent campaign of sickening homophobic derision and anti-gay violence, the schools have effectively condoned homophobia and also failed their pupils through negligence of their legal-bound duties.

When a teacher doesn't comment on verbal abuse or ridicule, then it legitimises the name-calling, makes it okay in the eyes of pupils, condones that behaviour, the attitude and hostility behind that behaviour.

The extent and impact of homophobic bullying can bring about a number of adverse effects: alienation, depression, low-esteem and psychological and emotional trauma. Some might develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Immediate symptoms are fear, lack of concentration, lack of sleep, bed-rocking, loss of appetite, nervousness, feelings of isolation, being upset and anxious, inability to engage / participate, lack of self-esteem, depression, suicidal feelings, absenteeism, truancy, limited achievements at school, abandonment of studies, difficulties in forging and maintaining relationships, nervous exhaustion and a range of compulsive obsessive behaviours. Nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance and school avoidance are more salient features of PTSD. For some, school refusal (avoidance of attending school) can become part of the jigsaw, leading to missed educational opportunities, poor performance and academic failures. Severe depression can lead to deliberate self-harm, and fortunately only in very rare cases, to suicides. That is: death. So bullying is a non-trivial threat and assault: it is potentially a life-threatening condition.

Individuals who have suffered homophobic abuse in educational environments have definite rights to seek compensation when a breach of the duty of care can be established if such breach was extensive, prolonged and damaging.

When an individual becomes subject to a tirade of constant, intolerable, unrelenting bullying and homophobic abuse, abuse that is verbal, psychological or physical, that individual suffers. If this pattern of bullying is witnessed by peers, acknowledged by some staff and parents, logged in any shape or form, a case can be taken against the school that has failed the pupil in terms of providing a safe learning environment in which to develop. Such accounts can be reconstructed from memory, but need to be as accurate as possible. When the police and solicitors get involved it's all about evidence.

For many lesbian and gay people, school was and continues to be an unsafe, inappropriate and ineffectual learning environment. Abuse that occurs on a regular basis, often many times each day, without any intervention of school staff, damages. When the abuse is regularly witnessed by teachers, both during and outside class with no being action being taken, it is - as Julian Clary puts in his recent autobiography - a 'green light' for the abuse to continue. By witnessing and ignoring such incidents, school staff support, legitimise and encourage a proliferation of this behaviour which could easily have been 'nipped in the bud' by competent, caring professionals as we assume teachers to be.

Incidents of bullying and abuse often take place during lessons, between periods when classrooms are left unattended, in the library, in corridors, in the gym, locker rooms, toilets, playground and playing fields - all areas which should be subject to effective and continued monitoring.

Many lesbian and gay survivors of homophobic abuse feel that school staff were, for the most part, inept, negligent, complacent and colluding with the daily incidents of bullying. As a result of the unsafe environment in which many lesbian and gay pupils are effectively 'trapped', some suffer severe psychological trauma, which impact on their academic ability, their relationships with friends, parents and other family members and can result in the onset of severe depression, mood swings and obsessive/compulsive behaviour.

CATHERINE, 26, RICHMOND, LONDON

Catherine, 26, attended a school run by Catholic nuns. She was recently awarded an out of court settlement for the homophobic bullying she allegedly experienced due to her 'butch' appearance.

"Gay teenagers find it difficult to disclose about homophobic attacks, as disclosure means exposure, disclosure also means reliving the anxiety over again," says Catherine. "My constant attackers knew that. The culture of the Catholic school I attended was against me, from day one."

"It is my belief that the perpetual abuse suffered can result in an inability to form close or loving relationships and can initiate an involvement with self-destructive lifestyles, low self esteem, as well as the formation of many other dysfunctional behaviour patterns. That has been the case with me, and it all stems from the negligence of the nuns who ran the convent school I attended from twelve to eighteen."

"Fear inhibited participation," says Catherine. "Fear inhibited concentration. Fear kept me away from the tuck shop queue. Fear kept me away from the coffee machine. Fear sometimes meant avoiding the lunch hall: going without a meal. When you have experienced other girls spitting at your plate and splattering you with a jug of water you tend to plan each step with great vigilance."

"Fear made me withdrawn, isolation was safer. That said, isolation made the bullying worse. Isolated, I was so very much an easy target. Gangs of girls made life hell along badly supervised and poorly-lit corridors, in PE changing rooms. School was a nightmare."

"If only staff had recognised their obligations to me," say Catherine. "Addressing the institutional homophobia was hard for so many, evidently. Religion was, perhaps, an institutional barrier in all this. Even some teachers and nuns received verbal abuse, being called 'lesbo' and 'dyke', but homophobic harassment and bullying that staff experienced was quite possibly not talked about: too embarrassing to admit to, and so easy to overlook. Based on my experience and the experiences of other young women who have emerged from similar situations, contacted via Friends Reunited, faith schools often discriminate against lesbian and gay pupils AND staff who are also targets for homophobic abuse."

In October 2000, Trafford LEA was ordered to pay a Greater Manchester pupil compensation because a
grammar school had failed to prevent him being bullied around his sexual orientation. Judge Richard Holman said that the school was in breach of its duty of care and when a school is in clear breach of this duty it can be and should be acted against.

ANDY, 33, POOLE, DORSET

Andy is 33. He recently took legal action against the private school he left aged sixteen, feeling unable to do the A Level course because of the bullying he alleges he experienced since joining the school aged twelve years.

"Bullying functioned on two levels for me," says Andy. There was the constant 'low level' abuse, on average name calling happened at least five times a day, to 'high level' incidents, physical aggression two to
three times a week. The name calling was endemic in the system. The harassment was constant, it persisted each term, each new year. Hurtful, pernicious, and seemingly beyond the control of each new Head of Year in whose care I was placed."

"As pupils, we were not encouraged to raise our questions about our rights and entitlements within the school due to poor pastoral care, poor implementation of any school policies with regards to bullying," says Andy.

"Though I was both visibly and audibly tormented on a regular basis, I was not identified and supported by
any member of staff, ever. Not once. It was as if this poof' just didn't matter. There seemed no consideration for my obvious difficulties, my obvious needs. I went through my teens feeling either undervalued by staff or unvalued - lacking any respect. I suffered in silence whilst my parents continued to pay the fees in blind good faith to priests who were more pious than helpful."

MATTHEW, 48, SKIPTON, YORKSHIRE

Matthew, 48, attended a boarding school in the North of England.

"School was a mentally and emotionally unhealthy and unsafe place for boys such as myself. Homophobia was a knife to the psyche. Homophobia was a deep cut, deep cut each day. Homophobia put me at daily physical risk, 24/7, constant 'low-level' injury. School was a heteronormative culture. Gay boys like me didn't fit in, that was made clear through the negligence, the avoidance of dealing with the anti-gay behaviour which so many experienced. We were virtually abandoned. Tortured? Most certainly. The problem was compounded when derogatory terms about homosexuality were used in everyday language within the school and that use was ignored by staff. When problems such as these arose, staff should have had sufficient guidance on the interpretation of school values and what constitutes unacceptable language and behaviour. Gay boys like me would be called 'poof', 'pansy', 'bumboy', 'pervert', 'dirty fuckin' queer' ... and nothing would happen. Nothing, ever!"

"Latent aggression often became actual physical aggression in unstaffed classrooms, unstaffed areas of the playground, high risk areas of the school site," Matthew alleges. "Despite attending one of the supposedly finest public schools in the country, I was underachieving on so many levels, all because the school was not caring for my situation, wasn't 'policing' the site with appropriate supervision. What care there was didn't add up to much. Care was inconsistent."

"Teachers heard the abuse, saw the abuse, but dismissed it at best. Nothing was logged. Despite that, I recently took action against the school, representing myself, and was awarded damages. Not a massive amount, but I wasn't in it for that, my aim was to receive an written apology from the trustees and for the school to overhaul their policies."

If YOU wish to take legal action against your former school then expect from them a passionate denial. "Expect to be challenged for what you say, further denied and discredited," the Head of a Lancashire Hate
Crime Department once told me. "Victims of homophobia often experience a closing of ranks and collective amnesia during the foggy strategy of a so called 'investigation'." Solicitors representing the schools or local education authorities will often take a very aggressive approach as schools and authorities have much to lose.

To conclude, if you are thinking about taking action against your former school because it was in clear breach of the duty of care or health and safety regulations, both of which put the school at odds with the law, then consider which of the following may apply:

The culture of secrecy needs to be broken. So many people, known and unknown, have been damaged by regular breaches in the duty of care. Legal action shines light on this dark area. Shine that light! The truth needs to hit the fan. Just remember, you will often be asked to sign an agreement not to whisper a word of any settlement you receive or the case you have just won.

Taking action against the school that failed you can be very therapeutic, but it's a dangerous gamble as feelings get stirred, and visions that had become blurred can gain a horrifying sharp focus once again. It can also give you immense satisfaction and change your former school environment for the better.

If you feel unwilling to take the path of legal action you may wish to consider at least writing to your old school, the Headteacher and Chair of Governors, describing the time you had there and its ongoing effect upon your life. They deserve to know.

(c) Paul Hartnett, 2007

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PAUL HARTNETT - BIOG

Paul Hartnett was born to Irish parents in West London in 1958. He was educated by Benedictine monks at a private Catholic school in Ealing. Paul says little of his time whilst in the care of the Benedictine Order.

As a teacher, Paul has worked and continues to work with children who have Special Educational Needs, particularly young individuals with emotional and behavioural concerns, teenagers who have been subjected to systematic homophobic bullying.

Over recent years Paul has given a number of talks to Police at a Lancashire Police training unit on the subject of homophobic abuse.

Paul Hartnett is the author of four novels and a book of short stories, written under the name of P-P Hartnett. He has also edited three anthologies of LGBT writing.

Paul's street and club photography have been published on an international basis and exhibited in London and New York. Over the last thirty years he has contributed to publications as diverse as Attitude, AXM, Gay Times, Pink Paper, Diva, Dazed & Confused, The Independent Magazine, Tetu and i-D.

Paul Hartnett lives in Colne, East Lancashire.

For further information see www.paulhartnett.com

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