We can be hugely proud of our record on LGBT rights – we’ve got more to do

19th July, 2014 3:00 pm

The National Policy Forum have got a full plate today as they begin their final weekend of deliberations before signing off Labour’s policy documents ahead of the manifesto being agreed at national conference.

Headline issues like rail renationalisation have dominated the coverage going into this weekend, but there are other less flashy areas where we have some important work to do to finish the job we started in Government.

We can be hugely proud of our record on LGBT rights, for me the proudest achievement of 13 years of a Labour government – transforming not just the legal landscape for LGBT people but also society itself – but we’ve got more to do.

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An early (although not early enough, coming in 2003) achievement of the last Labour government was to remove the stain of Section 28 from the statute books. Unfortunately its effects are still felt in our education system today. Stonewall’s 2014 Teachers’ Report surveyed 2,000 primary and secondary school teachers across Britain and its findings are quite startling:

  • More than half of primary school teachers reported not addressing different families in the classroom and a third of secondary school teachers say they haven’t addressed sexual orientation.
  • Nine out of ten secondary school teachers and almost half of primary school teachers say that pupils in their school have experienced homophobic bullying.
  • Only 8% of primary and 17% of secondary school teachers report having specific training on tackling homophobic bullying.

Perhaps most worrying is that a third of primary and secondary teachers have heard homophobic language from other staff and there has been little improvement in the number who believe that their head teacher or governing body demonstrate leadership and take homophobic bullying seriously.

Let’s not forget last year’s scandal when the British Humanist Association revealed over 40 schools which still had ‘Section 28-style policies’ in place around the teaching of homosexuality, many of them from Gove’s misguided academies programme.

These figures are a cause for concern and we must be committed to doing all we can to wipe out homophobia and transphobia in our schools.

Delegates at the National Policy Forum in Milton Keynes this weekend should back LGBT Labour’s amendment which calls for a statutory entitlement for comprehensive and inclusive sex and relationship education (SRE) for all children in all school – including independent, free schools and academies. The ability of parents to remove their children from SRE classes should be limited and we should commit to quickly issuing new statutory guidance to educate children about safety online, gender identity and celebration of diverse families.

Yvette Cooper and Tristram Hunt are making the right noises about SRE, but despite talking it up there is as yet no commitment in the policy documents to give it a statutory footing.

The Labour Party should go further than this. We should make it a requirement of all teacher training qualifications to include compulsory training on how to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying in the classroom and urge the teaching unions to introduce an annual training programme and monitoring.

We should also provide support to local authorities for mandatory training of all school governors on dealing with bullying and using homophobic and transphobic language – of and by both pupils and teachers – and ask schools to appoint a bullying tsar from the governing body to oversee the implementation and delivery of effective strategies to wipe out all forms of bullying in schools.

So much of the values and principles our children grow up with are developed at school age, making sure that all children have comprehensive and inclusive sex and relationship education in a safe, tolerant and respectful environment is absolutely vital to wiping out homophobia and transphobia in society for good.

Kevin Peel is a former member of LGBT Labour’s national committee and a Manchester city councillor

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  • MikeHomfray

    I too think we have a very good record.

    But the issue now is implementation. As the legislation is in place, the local authorities no longer have the people who were tasked with ensuring equality actually happened. The EHRC, never much use in terms of LGB&T issues, is effectively eviscerated and has no teeth at all. Organisations in the voluntary and community sectors who did so much of the inspirational early work have either closed down or lost so many staff that their ability to innovate has gone entirely

    How are we going to ensure that the legislation is implemented properly when the resources for doing so are no longer there?

  • MonkeyBot5000

    “Only 8% of primary and 17% of secondary school teachers report having specific training on tackling homophobic bullying.”

    They shouldn’t need specific training. Bullying a kid because they are gay is no different to bullying them because they are poor.

    • MikeHomfray

      I don’t actually agree.
      On one level, bullying is bullying, but bullying based on things which should be an integral and positive part of one’s identity can be particularly damaging. You can escape poverty one day and being bullied because you are poor might even make that a stronger determination (not that I am advocating it). But bullying for being gay can cause significant problems of low self-esteem and internalised homophobia. This can lead to mental health problems later in life if not dealt with.

      • MonkeyBot5000

        Kids bully each other because they are vying for dominance. It doesn’t matter which particular feature they choose to pick on.

        • MikeHomfray

          Not the experience of young gay people – have a look at the research or go and talk to them. Broader social homophobia is a reality

  • Ben Cobley

    This sort of stuff is Labour and the wider left’s Achilles Heel, like as with here, only bothering about bullying in the playground when it is ‘homophobic’. This is another example of how our policy prescriptions far too often track the interests of our interest groups rather than any general interest. So rather than working out ways to reduce bullying (something you’ll never eliminate in a playground), we only bother with it in a certain form. This makes no sense at all, but it’s one of our prevailing practices unfortunately.

    http://afreeleftblog.blogspot.co.uk/

    • MikeHomfray

      Since when has other sorts of bullying not been considered?

      Of course, it has, and is – but clearly groups within the party are going to specify areas which they recognise as needing specific action. Such as this one. Because homophobic bullying is one aspect of tackling not just bullying – but broader societal homophobia too. That is why it needs some specific attention – because homophobia continues to exist, and the Labour party is concerned to help challenge this.

      Funny how there is still this undercurrent of resentment towards minority groups in the party…..always hidden under some other precept

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