Positive role models at school could help end homophobic bullying

Consider this: 44pc of gay, lesbian and bisexual young people in the UK have thought about killing themselves.

This is not a figure from the closeted days of the 1950s, but one cited by Public Health England last March, in the more tolerant era of equal marriage.

There are other worrying figures cited by charities that must concern anyone who cares about our young people: more than half of LGBT young people suffer homophobic bullying; among homeless young people, a quarter may identify as LGBT.

February is LGBT history month, and it is important to recognise just how much attitudes have changed in a short time.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, few children had real-life gay role models. Instead, children picked up their cues from the national media: it was the era of Section 28, and Don’t Die of Ignorance. Lesbians were seen as militants chaining themselves to the set of the Six O’Clock News, and gay men were subject to tabloid fury over a kiss in EastEnders.

The world has moved on, but not everywhere has changed at the same pace. Like the Premier League, schools can still be a tough place to be gay – for young people, and for teachers who could be real-life role models.

In last year’s Norfolk Schools Anti-Bullying survey, of children who had been bullied at school over the past 12 months, more than 10pc suffered homophobic bullying. According to Stonewall, seven out of 10 students who have experienced such bullying said it had an impact on their school work, and half said they had avoided school because of bullies.

The good news is that the issue is being taken increasingly seriously at the highest levels, including the government and Ofsted. But the biggest part of the answer is surely local and cultural, and showing the diversity of human sexuality is simply part of normal, everyday life. And this is where teachers can help make a huge difference, simply by being who they are.

A person’s private life is just that – their private life. But the more gay teachers who feel able to simply be themselves, and acknowledge their identity in the same way as their colleagues, the more young people will have positive role models relevant to their lives.

Coming out at school may seem intimidating, but others have done it before, and the websiteOutTeacher.org tells some of their stories.

For those teachers, it was the right thing for them, and the right thing for their students.

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