A community safety organisation and a gay rights group have joined forces to devise a new training programme that aims to raise awareness around sexual orientation and gender identity issues in Welsh schools.
Safer Wales and the LGBT Excellence Centre Wales believe they have come up with “a Welsh answer to a UK-wide problem,” namely bullying and discrimination against minority groups in education.
They are offering schools training and support to students, teachers, school staff, governors, school counsellors, and parents as part of their “Safe Space” programme.
The “Safe Space” programme uses “game-show style workshops and theatre performances” to raise awareness of sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
The new initiative comes after a recent survey of more than 250 Welsh students revealed that 79% of them felt that their school was not safe for people to be openly gay.
66% felt that their school is not safe for heterosexual students to support their LGBT friends, and 56% felt that their school is not safe for teachers and staff to be openly gay.
“These statistics are astonishing and speak for themselves,” said Federico Podeschi, managing director of the LGBT Excellence Centre Wales.
“Sadly they are also reflective of the reality of most schools in the UK.”
On Monday Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg strongly condemned the impact homophobic bullying has on pupils’ lives.
Speaking at the annual Stonewall Education For All conference, he said:
“Gay pupils have higher levels of truancy, drop-out, mental health problems, panic attacks and eating disorders.
“Worst of all, one survey has shown that half of LGB adults who were bullied at school contemplated self-harm or suicide. And four in ten had attempted it at least once.”
The School Report survey, conducted by Stonewall last year, spoke to children across Britain.
It found that more than two-thirds of young LGBT pupils have experienced homophobic bullying and one-third say that an adult in their school is responsible for the bullying.
“Bullying in schools is no longer tolerated,” said Mark Williams, the Combating Homophobia Coordinator at Safer Wales.
“We should all be protecting the welfare and well-being of all pupils who are victims of name-calling, abuse, harassment and discrimination because of their diversity.”
The Welsh Assembly Government supports an end to bullying in Welsh schools and circulated the “Respecting Others: Anti-Bullying Guidance,” following consultation, in February 2003.
“A way to stop bullying is for all students and staff in schools to make a stand against this commonly accepted abuse,” said Mr Podeschi.
“It’s not just lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people who suffer, but anyone who is different.
“We need to work together to protect our basic human right to be ourselves.
“For the majority of students and teachers this means acting as a buddy, someone who is willing to speak up for the rights of LGBT youths.
“Taking a stand is not easy as we’ve seen in our survey with students fearing for their own safety or buddies fearing being labelled as gay themselves.”
Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the Trade Union Congress, said at a union LGBT conference last week that gay equality being taught as part of the school curriculum was the only way to fight homophobia in schools.
Cardiff County Council has supported the pilot of the “Safe Space” programme and interest has been expressed by Carmarthenshire and Wrexham County Councils.