Gay teenager Harry came out at the tender age of 13. But his bravery was rewarded not with congratulatory applause and cheers but with bullying taunts.
The 16-year-old from Solihull in England is one of thousands of lesbian, gay and bisexual youngsters whose lives are a ‘daily nightmare’ because of homophobic bullying in the UK’s secondary schools.
According to The School Report by gay rights organization Stonewall, 55% of British youngsters aged between 11 and 18 experience homophobic bullying at school.
While 95% say they anti-gay words such as ‘poof’ or ‘lezza used and 99% claim to hear the phrases ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’.
Harry, who is now training to be a hairdresser, told Gay Star News that while he was never physically attacked the words hurt just as much as the sticks and stones.
‘It made me feel so angry that I couldn’t even react properly,’ he said.
‘I was boiling up inside and holding it all in because I used to feel powerless to it. If I ever did say anything back, they would always have a response.’
He adds that most of the abuse came from pupils with religious backgrounds, particularly Muslims, who called him ‘unnatural’ and ‘sinful’.
‘If I decided to set up a religion that didn’t allow people to be black that wouldn’t be allowed,’ he said.
‘And yet there are religions which are allowed to discriminate against gay people.
‘While people are very cautious about what people say about race and religion, people are allowed to say whatever they like about sexuality and I don’t think that’s right.’
Harry says there was a lack of clarity in school policy about its stance on homophobia and, although sometimes discussed in lessons, was never condemned by teachers.
His story rings true with the experiences of many LGB pupils.
Stonewall’s report claims that many schools simply lack the policies and resources to tackle the problem, with only half of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils saying that their schools teach that homophobic bullying is wrong and even fewer in faith schools – 37%.
In comparison, 95% of schools say bullying because of ethnicity is wrong and 90% say bullying because of disability is wrong.
Harry bemoaned: ‘I don’t think people have the same attitude towards homophobia as they do race and religion. I think it should be there in black and white so people won’t be discriminated against based on their sexuality.’
The consequences of bullying include self-harm, suicide and depression, but Stonewall’s report, which was published in full yesterday (5 July) shows that pupils in schools which do have a progressive policy towards homophobic bullying are more likely to achieve academically and take part in activities such as team sports.
Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill said: ‘It’s unacceptable that over half of gay young people face a daily nightmare of homophobic bullying, and deeply worrying that many schools and teachers still fail to challenge it effectively.
‘Thankfully Stonewall’s years of work with thousands of schools and local authorities has reduced the overall level of homophobic bullying significantly.
‘But we won’t rest until every single gay young person in this country can walk through their school gates every morning without fear of being bullied just because of the way they were born.’
The School Report 2012 can be downloaded here.