Young gay men are made more vulnerable to HIV due to the failure of schools to address homophobia and provide relevant sexual health information, according to the National AIDs Trust (NAT).

To mark the second International Day against Homophobia, today, the NAT is highlighting the failure of many schools to either tackle homophobia or provide sex and relationships education (SRE) that addresses sexual orientation and HIV risk.

The group claims many schools fail to address sexual orientation and there is a lack of information, coupled with high levels of homophobic bullying, creating an atmosphere of fear that is a disincentive for lesbian, gay or bisexual young people to get sexual health advice.

The majority of young gay pupils are leaving school with inadequate knowledge of HIV, yet HIV levels are now higher than they have ever been among gay men, the NAT claim.

In 2004, 2240 gay men were newly diagnosed with HIV compared to 1375 in 1998.

They also highlighted a 2002 Ofsted report which identified a lack of support and guidance in schools for addressing homophobic attitudes and language, yet compared to the move to address racism in schools, little progress has been made in eliminating homophobic behaviour.

Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust said: “Increasing rates of HIV among gay men, high levels of homophobic bullying in schools and inadequate sex and relationships education are leaving young gay men more vulnerable than ever to HIV infection.

“We need schools to not only have policies of zero-tolerance to homophobic language and behaviour, but also to address sexual orientation and HIV in the curriculum. Homophobia should be as unacceptable in schools as racism.”

A Department for Education and Skills spokesman told PinkNews.co.uk: “No child should suffer the misery of bullying, regardless of race, sex or anything else – every parent agrees with this.

“We are working to ensure that schools provide a clear focus on responding to homophobic bullying in anti-bullying training and materials for schools and teachers.

“We also support Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender History month in schools to help young people understand the significant contribution made by all communities to the diversity and success of this country.”

In response to the National Aids Trust report on homophobic bullying, David Willetts, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, told PinkNews.co.uk: “Bullying of any sort is unacceptable, and homophobic bullying is particularly pernicious. Schools and local education authorities need to ensure they have proper measures in place to tackle it when it does occur, as many of them already do. The Conservative Council in Barnet, for example, has made it a priority to fight homophobia in schools and the workplace. It is equally right that all children receive the pastoral care and sex education appropriate to their needs.”