A charity for young people and adults affected by homophobia launched its newly refurbished website and online reporting service yesterday with an appeal for funds.
EACH runs a national free Actionline, provides training to many organisations and helps the victims of homophobic or transphobic incidents.
Yesterday’s launch event at the Houses of Parliament was hosted by Bristol West MP Stephen Williams.
The Lib Dem spokesman on Innovation, Universities and Skills, he has been a strong supporter of EACH, which is based in his constituency.
The first Commons investigation into bullying by the Education Select Committee was instigated in 2006 at the request of Mr Williams.
The committee heard evidence that between 30-50% of young people in secondary schools attracted to people of the same sex will have directly experienced homophobic bullying compared to the 10-20% of young people who have experienced general bullying.
The government later issued its first ever guidance for schools on homophobic bullying and next year it will introduce similar guidelines on gender and gender identity.
“With computer ownership and usage so extensive today, expanding our service into online reporting was a logical development for EACH’s Homophobic Incident Reporting Service,” said EACH executive director Jonathan Charlesworth.
“A target of homophobia is more likely to report an incident to EACH than a housing officer, social worker or council caseworker.
“It is no coincidence that our profile in the west of England and our organisation’s presence adds to people’s sense of safety.
“We want to build on that confidence by encouraging gay and heterosexual people to adopt a zero tolerance of homophobic incidents by clicking into our online reporting or calling our freephone Actionline, to report them, whenever they’re witnessed.”
Mr Williams, who is gay, spoke about his own experiences of homophobic bullying when he was at school in Wales and praised the work that EACH does in giving children a safe space to talk about the prejudice they are subjected to.
Trevor Phillips, the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said that he has the job of “tackling blights on the UK,” namely discrimination in all its forms.
“Across the entire equalities and human rights agenda, homophobic bullying has emerged as one of the strongest themes for us,” he said.
“We know it’s spreading across our schools and workplaces. When my colleagues gave me the numbers it was staggering.
“Stonewall’s Living Together survey reported that 17 million adults witnessed homophobic bullying at school, millions of people have witnessed homophobic bullying at work.
“Those figures make the new online reporting facility that Jon talked about vital.
“I’m especially concerned because I come from a community where homophobia is very much alive in consecutive generations.
“It takes a brave Afro-Caribbean person to come out to family and friends.
“Another point is that one of the striking things I heard from a youth group in Edinburgh is that a single incident can colour your life. you’ll never get over it.
“Homophobic bullying has very serious long-term consequences. In the short-term, victims suffer anxiety, depression and the stress of having to negotiate a rat-run of harassment.
“One study showed that one in five bullied gay teenagers show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“But the point I want to make here is that sometimes the victims of bullying never recover from the assault on their self-confidence.
“It never leaves them. Sometimes, as we have seen in the recent suicides of Shaun Dykes in Derby and Laura Rhodes in Wales, the misery it causes can be so acute that young people feel there is actually no way out and no point living.
“That is why EACH’s free specialist helpline for young people suffering homophobic bullying is so important, why it needs support, and why the work EACH does on a daily basis with schools – still suffering from confusion after Section 28 – and businesses, is critical.”
Mr Phillips said that EACH “is too polite to say but they need your money. I hope everyone here tonight will do what I am and pledge £100 from their own pocket for the helpline.
“I’d like to reinforce that people still don’t consider the long-term implications. Gay teenagers who skip school or drop out as a result of bullying don’t then reach their full employment potential.
“Once in work, what we know is that they try to keep under the radar and make themselves, and their sexual orientation, invisible.
“That has all sorts of consequences for promotion and reaching positions of leadership.
“We know anecdotally that people’s sexual orientation and the experiences they have had in the past does affect where they choose to work, so some sectors will be chronically under-representative of the wider community. We lose a whole pool of talent.”
Nationally, EACH delivers consultancy and training for the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Children and Young People’s Services, Local Education Authorities, the Criminal Justice System, local government, Health, Libraries, Youth, Housing and Social Services, registrars, the trade unions and the third sector.
Their national, freephone Actionline for young people affected by homophobic bullying is available 10am to 4pm weekdays. It gives callers the opportunity to receive confidential help and support.
EACH’s freephone 0808 1000 143 number also provides a confidential homophobic incident reporting service for everyone who lives, works or travels across the West of England.
EACH offers a casework service covering the Bristol and South Gloucestershire area providing one-to-one support to individuals who have been, or continue to be, the target of homophobic incidents or crime.