Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, is aware of homophobia and wants to do something about it, according to a response he gave at an education conference.
He told the Stonewall Education Conference, which is held every year to support lesbians, gays and bisexuals in education, that: “It is outrageous and medieval to think that the use of the word ‘gay’ as an insult is somehow acceptable.
“Whether it is Chris Moyles or anyone else it is wrong and it should be called out,” added Gove, referring to the former Radio 1 DJ who declared ring-tone ‘gay’ in 2006 and has long since left his post.
Mr Gove said he would be holding discussions to determine whether the existing law outlawing incitement of hatred was being “properly policed” – and that he would be prepared to consider strengthening it if necessary.
Schools OUT Co-chair Sue Sanders said: “I suspect that this is beyond his brief as Education Secretary, but he could instruct schools and teacher training institutions to train teachers to promote equality and diversity in their INSET training and PGCE courses, in order to enable them to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying at source.
“That would prevent a lot of the homophobia and transphobia in our schools from happening in the first place so it would be a step in the right direction.”
Mr Gove made his ‘pledge’ after being challenged by music artist Will Young, who was attending the conference to crack down on the problem.
Will Young said homophobic bullying – particularly through the use of discriminatory language was “almost on crisis level” that one in four young LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people had made an attempt on their life or self-harmed. He singled out the use of the word “gay” as a term of abuse as a particular problem.
Earlier student Catherine Hennigan had told the conference how she had been afraid to come out at her top girls’ grammar school even though she had known she was gay from the age of 11 – because the girls commonly used insults like “that’s so gay” or “you’re such a lesbian”.
“It is absolutely essential that all our young teachers are trained to tackle homophobic bullying – not just in secondary schools but primary, too,” she added.
Mr Gove said it was wrong that “someone struggling with their sexuality should be made to feel marginalised and worthless”.
Sue added, “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a teacher feels unable to come out, the school is not a safe place for the children, the parents, the staff or anyone else within the community, It’s 2013 and we are telling our communities at their most vulnerable age to keep their heads under the parapet. It’s a disgrace in a nation that claims to pioneer equal opportunities and human rights.”
Gove claimed that he would take every opportunity of a public platform to affirm that “every child is of equal value and equal worth”. He said that all children should feel that “any aspect of how they live their life or how they wish to love others should be celebrated as part of who they are and how wonderful they are as well”.
Tony Fenwick, co-chair of LGBT History Month added: “This Government began its tenure in 2010 with a clear, unqualified statement that prejudice based bullying against lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people in our schools (and sports) will be eradicated. Their words; not ours. We welcome this belated statement by the Secretary of State for Education and we hope that – three years later – the words will be translated into actions”.
The Department of Education was advised to introduce a number of new policies in the light of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry in 1998. It began to implement some of them in 2007 – nine years later. To date not one of them has been put into effect.