Extremist Christians protested outside a conference on tackling homophobia in schools, accusing organizers Stonewall of trying to ‘indoctrinate’ pupils through the education system.
The demonstration by the Core Issues Trust, which advocates ‘gay cure therapy’, was laughed off by Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill during his opening speech at the event in London’s British Library today (5 July).
Joking, he thanked them for highlighting the need for the LGBT group’s work.
He added that even though the obstacles may seem ‘insurmountable’, men and women can achieve ‘remarkable things’ when they work together.
The conference saw the official launch of Stonewall’s latest School Report, which showed that more than half of gay pupils aged between 11 and 18 are bullied at school because of their sexuality.
Gay MP and shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said despite ‘remarkable progress’ in LGBT rights, the challenge of tackling homophobic bullying in UK schools is ‘enormous’.
Speaking at the Education for All conference, Twigg said: ‘Every school and every college should be a safe environment for all of those both learning and working in those schools and colleges – spaces for young people to develop as individuals and places where we can celebrate diversity and different cultures both here and around the world.
‘We know that that vision is not one that is fulfilled for all young people and children. This report highlights it very powerfully and in real detail.’
The survey of more than 1,600 pupils also showed that 56% of lesbian, gay or bisexual students have tried to deliberately harm themselves, including cutting and burning themselves.
Two in five gay youngsters bullied at school have attempted or thought about suicide as a result.
Twigg called the figure ‘very, very shocking’.
He said: ‘I remember back in the 80s a similar piece of work was conducted and the statistic on young people considering suicide was exactly the same then.
‘I think it is a sobering reminder that the challenge is still enormous.’
However, Twigg celebrated the ‘real progress’ made since he was a pupil in the 1980s, saying youngsters are now much more able to be out at school.
As well as praising the work of gay rights groups such as Stonewall, he pointed to the influence of the media, calling it a ‘powerful beacon’ for exposing discrimination.
BBC director general Mark Thompson, who will be stepping down from the post in September, told the conference that the broadcaster had a ‘duty’ to portray lesbian, gay and bisexuals with ‘fairness and conviction’.
He said: ‘We have an obligation to serve every section of society fairly and impartially. When we fail to do so, the public quite rightly holds us to account. In the case of gays and lesbians, that certainly means pressure from groups like Stonewall.’
He added: ‘A broader sense of justice and fairness is more prevalent today in the UK than ever before.
‘In the context of education, that this broader sense of justice is particularly true of younger audiences.
‘I’m not suggesting that issues of homophobia, of bullying or ignorance about sexuality does not exist amongst the young, they certainly do to a troubling extent, but when we talk to youngsters the majority are particularly sensitive to anything which looks like less than fair and equal treatment of any minority.’
He assures the audience that the BBC will continue this mission in the future, but admitted it was still a ‘work in progress’.
He said: ‘We need to go further if we are to reflect the lives, attitudes and talents of the UK’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
‘At the end of 2012 we will take a systematic approach to see how much progress we have made.’