Homophobia remains a pervasive and persistent problem in Northern Ireland schools, according to a Coleraine teacher.
Jacquie Reid from the town – a former teacher a Millburn Primary and now an officer with the Ulster Teacher’s Union (NI’s biggest locally-based teaching union), was speaking following the launch this week of an app which aims to provide information and guidance for young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“This launch, backed by the Education Minister, brings these issues into the public domain. They are not easy issues to tackle in a conservative society but we must face them as a society and as schools lie at their heart of our society they must be supported in this pivotal role,” she said.
“Homophobia is arguably the toughest issue within the gamut of anti equality bullying. Tackle it and there is evidence to show that teachers can feel empowered to deal with other prejudice based bullying.
“I was shocked by the last report on the issue from gay rights organisation Stonewall which revealed that over half of young people aged between 11 and 18 surveyed had experienced homophobic bullying at school
“Of course, the usage of the term ‘gay’ has changed in recent decades - it is now being used as a general term of abuse, regardless of the undermining effect that this is bound to have on the Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, whether among pupils or staff.
“You have to ask what would be done if a racist term, for instance, had entered into such everyday parlance as a general term of abuse.
“Homophobic bullying does not just affect people who identify as LGBT. In schools, it can directly affect any young person whose life choices, interests or needs do not conform to accepted gender norms, as well as adult members of the school community who are LGBT, and anyone who may have friends or relatives who are LGBT.
“Homophobia remains a pervasive and persistent problem in Northern Ireland classroom, and I am aware of a growing tide of sexist language being used. Yet because teachers are over-stretched and because of the perceived contentious nature of the issue by some people, it is an issue which too often is brushed aside – whether it is the child or the member of staff on the receiving end.”