Last night we attended an SYP seminar at the O Bar in Soho to listen to a talk from Luke Try, a representative from Stonewall, a charity focussed on eradicating homophobia and sexual orientation-based discrimination in Britain’s schools.
In 2005 Stonewall launched Education for All, a school campaign to address homophobic bullying in schools; they found that two thirds of gay young people were being bullied in schools because they were gay, and not only that but this wasn’t being challenged by schools.
A huge part of what Stonewall are trying to do is to represent both gay and straight people in schools, learning and peer groups; after direct attacks and bullying they want to ensure that schools are putting gay issues on the curriculum and books are forming a huge part of this.
The Education for All project initially began with secondary schools and then launched into primary schools in 2010; one of the big issues they see is that young children are mainly reading books that deal with straight sex couples and some children don’t see their lives being reflected in these books. 19,000 children are growing up in same sex families and the big push for Stonewall is to ensure that schools offer the opportunity for children to read books that do reflect different families and 21st century Britain without posing homosexuality as a problem. A great example of this is ‘And Tango Makes Three’ published by Simon and Schuster in 2005 based on a true story of two male penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo.
Since this, there have been several great examples of children’s books, particularly in secondary schools which is actively improving with a move away from books where being gay is the main issue and into books where gay characters are part of a much wider plot, like in Boys Don’t Cry.
It’s not just publishing that isn’t focusing its products to the gay, young individual; the media as a whole is still orientated around straight sex characters which is something Stonewall is trying to change. The lack of representation of homosexuality within books, TV & film means that young people don’t have a role model; the absence of this means that young people are going out and seeking unsuitable role models in unsuitable places, putting young people at risk.
It is of course a controversial subject but Stonewall are finally getting there, they do have books they can promote to schools and they also have schools that are actively coming forwards to ask what should they have in schools and what they should be doing. It is something that schools actively want but they do have a long way to go in terms of getting more books published and getting more young people to recognise what a diverse community we do live in.
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