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Did someone mention gay penguins in the classroom?

How teachers (including my mum) are tackling homophobia in schools

Jess Banham

Thu, 20 Dec 2012 12:44:10 GMT | Updated 4 years today

It's safe to say that when I entered middle school, the most widely used and common insult was calling someone 'gay'. I remember I fell victim to saying it as well, which I will always regret, but at the time I genuinely didn't believe my words were homophobic.


Even after I came out to my family and friends a couple of years ago, my straight friends would say to me "I'm glad you're not overly sensitive when I call things gay, because you know I'm not using it to mean homosexuality, just stuff that's annoying", and they would justify their decision by stating that "it's only a joke". I didn't take much notice of this before because I was very aware that I would be perceived as thin-skinned.  Now, I question it, and ask myself, "Why should I perpetuate and reinforce the word gay in a negative light?" My sexual identity is certainly not a joke.


I explained this to my mum who is a primary school teacher of 6-7 years olds, and she told me that Stonewall, the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity, had sent her an information pack that provides teachers tips for effective ways to confront homophobic bullying in the classroom. To quote my mum: "I read the Teacher's Report on homophobic bullying in Britain's schools, and I was totally unaware of the scale of it. I had no idea how to tackle the use of expressions such as 'you're so gay'."


According to Stonewall's findings, "nine in ten secondary school teachers and more than two in five primary school teachers say children and young people, regardless of their sexual orientation, currently experience homophobic bullying, name calling or harassment in their schools", and in addition "two in five primary school teachers report hearing insulting homophobic remarks such as 'poof', 'dyke', queer', and 'faggot'."


After looking through the Stonewall resource, which has fun and colourful age-appropriate posters, materials and lesson plans, Mum said: "I feel I am so much more aware of the extent of the problem."


Incredibly, only one in ten teachers and non-teaching staff members in primary and secondary schools have received any specific training on how to prevent and respond to homophobic bullying. My mum says the Stonewall pack is "an excellent resource, which I recommend all teachers read. It is full of ideas on how to challenge children's thinking, and change their behaviour which is so important in primary".


Because of course, we don't want the kids to be simply told to stop using homosexual-related words, as this would instantly reinforce the notion that 'gay' is an insult, and that it is indeed a bad word. Children should instead be taught the concept that different families equal the same love, and learn that whether you live with two dads, or just your mum, it is all just as perfectly normal as a child is with both a mum and dad.


There are a great selection of young children's books which can be added to school's libraries, such as the wonderful King & King book by authors Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, is based on the true story of two male penguins in New York's Central Park Zoo. After the pair coupled up, keepers gave them an egg to raise. A true story about gay penguins, people! If that doesn't change perceptions in the playground, I don't know what will.




How would you like to see homophobia tackled in primary schools? Comment below.



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