The Rt. Hon. David Blunkett, MP,
Secretary of State for Education and Employment.
25th May, 1999.
Dear Mr. Blunkett,
Promoting Lesbian and Gay Equality of Opportunity in Schools
Following the sickening London bombings in April which targeted minority groups, OutRage! has been encouraged by some of the reported pronouncements by Tony Blair and Jack Straw on the need to promote equality, inclusivity and integration of ethnic groups, lesbians, and gay men, proactively; by your own statement ten days ago on proposals to “help young people develop a full understanding of their duties and responsibilities as citizens in a civilised and mature democracy”; and by the more recent explicit call by Sports Minister Tony Banks for gay football players to “come out”, to help combat homophobia in sport.
Although the Government has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to repealing Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, it is recognised throughout the teaching profession and elsewhere that the continued existence of this deplorable legislation on the Statute Books promotes and maintains an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship, so that lesbian and gay pupils are all too effectively denied any form of support; whilst their heterosexual peers receive no encouragement to accept individuals whose sexuality is different from their own. — The need for this was underlined during the House of Lords debate last month on the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, where it was revealed that the NSPCC, Save the Children, Barnado’s, NCH Action for Children, the BMA, Royal College of Nursing, Family Welfare Association, and the National Union of Teachers all supported equality and integration.
You will be aware of the tragic suicide last autumn of Darren Steele, who, after enduring years of homophobic bullying, committed suicide at the age of 15. You may also be aware of the 1998 GALOP survey of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth, “Telling it like it is”, which found:
- 54% had suffered repeated verbal abuse
- 35% physical abuse in school
- 33% verbal abuse at school
- 9% repeated hate communications
- 8% repeated intimidation
- 7% sexual abuse at school
- 4% hate communications & property damage/theft
A 1992 survey by the Lesbian Youth Support Group and Information Service concluded that, of the young lesbians questioned, a staggering 70% of those who had experienced homophobic abuse had attempted suicide. — Given that many young lesbian, gay and bisexual people feel unable to be open about their sexuality, these statistics must represent just the tip of the iceberg.
On behalf of OutRage!, I am writing to urge you publicly:
- to reaffirm that Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act neither applies to schools, nor restricts the supportive teaching and counselling that schools should offer on lesbian and gay issues;
- to call on schools to take firm action to halt all forms of homophobic bullying, whether directed at pupils or at staff, and regardless of the suspected sexuality of the victims;
- to confirm that being lesbian or gay is no bar to being a teacher;
- to encourage lesbians and gay men throughout the teaching profession to “come out”, and to advise schools and local education authorities that no teacher who does come out should be dismissed or in any other way disadvantaged for being honest and open about their sexuality.
Your leadership on these matters would do much to help support gay pupils and teachers, and would be greatly appreciated.