School Visit for “Anti-bullying week”

If ever we needed a demonstration of why we need an anti-bullying week, we got it this week, with the hostile reaction in some quarters to the entirely sensible guidelines issued to church schools by the Church of England.

Yesterday, I made my own contribution against bullying, speaking to students of Lord Wandsworth College, Hampshire. I was originally invited to the school as a Stonewall LGBT role model,  but with a full 50 minute time slot to fill, and as it is anti-bullying week, it made sense to expand the brief.  I began with a simple, brief outline of my personal story, which sets the background to my particular passions, and that led fairly naturally into a discussion of bullying: homophobic, transphobic (which is getting a lot more attention, currently) – and biphobic – which is still too often overlooked.

How did it go? I thought very well – apart from some minor technical glitches. It looked to me like just about all the 250 students stayed attentive right through the full twenty minutes. I was particularly pleased at the end, when two beaming pupils came up to thank me most profusely. The staff member involved seemed satisfied, so I came home feeling I’d had a constructive day.

Here follows a summary of my presentation, together with a selection of the slides used.

(The full presentation, together with the planned  text, will follow).



My story, in brief.

Raised in a Catholic family, and educated in a small Catholic high school, I simply did not have the courage to accept my natural same-sex affectional orientation.  Avoiding the issue, I made the mistake of entering a conventional, opposite-sex marriage, followed quickly by two young baby daughters. Inevitably, a marriage based on extremely flimsy foundations, broke down.

Freed from the restrictions of conventional marriage, in my early 30’s, I finally had the opportunity to come out at gay. When I did so, it felt like “finding my own skin”.

Years later, with my daughters grown to adulthood with their own families, I’m immensely proud of the support they give me, as a gay man. One has gone on the record, in print and on-line, to say about gay parents, “I recommend them.”

There is abundant formal research evidence, that this view is well-founded. It has been established beyond reasonable doubt, that same-sex couples are as good as parents as their opposite-sex counterparts. The only qualification, is that children of same-sex couples may experience greater levels of stress. This is not a result of parents’ affectional orientation, but of societal attitudes of prejudice, discrimination – and bullying.

LGBT Bullying: Who is Affected?

When we talk about “LGBT Bullying”, we may assume that we are referring only to those who are themselves LGBT. In fact, many more are affected. These include:

 

Bullying is real – and affects far more of us, than we realise. UK government statistics assume that 6% of adults are gay or lesbian. Assuming stereotypical nuclear family size of four, then 24% live in families which include someone who is lesbian or gay. In practice, with so many living in blended families with step-parents and step- or half-siblings, the effective “family” size is greater (even before considering more distant family members). It’s likely then, that at least a quarter to a third of families include a lesbian or gay family member.

What “IS” Bullying?

Quite obviously, the most visible form of bullying is physical: pushing, shoving, assault or even murder. (Yes, murder does occur). I’m more interested in the less insidious forms of bullying, where the perpetrator doesn’t even realise what they are doing.

What interests me in this result from the (Stonewall Schools Report 2017), is that one form of harmful “bullying” is entirely passive. Simply excluding people who are “other than you” is a form of bullying. You may have the best intentions, and not be aware of it – but could still be practising a form of bullying.

To these results from Stonewall, I would add two.

First is one that young people know much more than I do – cyber-bullying, on-line, via social media, or by text.

The second is self-bullying, also known as internalised homophobia. When you allow yourself to be ashamed, or feel guilt, for who you are, or hide in some sort of closet refusing to acknowledge your fundamental truth – that’s self-bullying.

Language

Physical violence is the most obviously nasty form of bullying – but not the most important. More people are probably affected by nasty language – sometimes used in simple carelessness, with no intention of causing offence.

For example, consider this response from one respondent quoted in the Stonewall School Report 2017:

What constitutes inappropriate language? I like this quotation (again from the Stonewall School Report 2017, because it references both homophobic and transphobic language.

Biphobic language is another matter entirely, amounting not so much to what is said, but to what is not said – to “bisexual erasure”.

  • Why does this matter?

    The consequences of bullying can be profound:

    What constitutes inappropriate language? I like this quotation (again from the Stonewall School Report 2017, because it references both homophobic and transphobic language.

    If bullying interferes with performance in school, that impacts life chances. For example (again, from the Stonewall Schools Report)

    Destroying a school career can destroy life chances.

    Why does this matter?

    The consequences of bullying can be profound:

    What constitutes inappropriate language? I like this quotation (again from the Stonewall School Report 2017, because it references both homophobic and transphobic language.

    If bullying interferes with performance in school, that impacts life chances. For example (again, from the Stonewall Schools Report)

    Destroying a school career can destroy life chances.

  • It’s Up to You!

  • Perhaps the most important part of this, whether you are yourself LGBT or just want to support your family/friends/classmates, is to talk about it. For those who are LGBT, talking about it (coming out, and more) is simply healing. Too often, people are not able to. Why not?

    If your LGBT friends, family and classmates are unable to speak about it out of fear – make it easier for them. Speak about it yourself, and show yourself to be an ally.

Coming Out

  • For those who are, or think they might be, LGB or T, some observations:

    • Coming out is a process, not an event. You do not do this all at once, and then not again. Take it one step at a time

    • Wait until you are sure. The first step is to come out to yourself If you’re not sure – wait. Adolescence is a confusing time, for everyone. It takes time to work out who you are. Homosexual feelings may well be “just a phase” – or perhaps not. Also, bisexuality is real (probably the most common orientation of all).

    • Come out first with trusted friends – or with an adult you know will be understanding (perhaps at school?). Come out to parents, only when you are ready – or if you know in advance, they will not reject you.

    • Some people find it is helpful, to come our first on-line, in a community of likewise LGBT young people. This can be a useful learning experience – but beware: on-line sites can also be a hotbed of on-line bullying. Take care, in your selection of sites.

    Two closing observations:

From Dorothy Parker, a famous New York columnist with a remarkable pithy, ascerbic wit:

This is not just a clever jibe against people who are not “gay”, It’s a simple statement of statistical fact. That is all that “normal” means.

If LGBT people are not “normal”, all that means is that they are in a statistical minority.  There are many other forms of statistical minorities, some of which have also been subject to discrimination, prejudice or exclusion. Some examples are:

  • people who are left-handed
  • ethnic minorities
  • religious groups
  • people with disabilities, mental or physical
  • those who are too clever – “nerds”
  • people with ginger hair

One way or another, we are all members of a minority group. If we discriminate against or bully LGBT people, we leave ourselves open to other forms of discrimination or bullying, on grounds of our own minority status.

Diversity in all its form, is good. Embrace it – for your own protection, and that of your friends and family.

 

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