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EDUCATION: We must stamp out homophobic bullying; A new initiative to tackle homophobic bullying in schools is to be showcased at the launch of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Excellence Centre Wales next month. Today, managing director Federico Podeschi explains the work, aims and achievements of its Safe Space programme.

Byline: Federico Podeschi

BULLYING is more and more on the radar for many people, whether because they have children, are involved in education and youth services or simply because they remember what it was like to be ridiculed and insulted by other children.

Yet, despite guidance from government and a lot of effort from all authorities and many agencies in the voluntary sector, bullying still exists. And for some people, bullying is much worse than for the average child.

Things get a little tougher if you come from a black or Asian background, but the likelihood is that most people around you would have heard that racism is not acceptable and most authorities would know exactly how to intervene or at least what to say.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said if someone was being bullied because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The legislation that makes it illegal for service providers to discriminate against gay people is still very new compared with the race relations and gender equality laws, so it is likely there is still a long way to go before gay people can expect the same respect and education as their fellow students.

Even with the best of intentions, do we really think that everyone involved in education has the right skills to deal with bullying? And how many actually have the skills to deal with sexual orientation or gender identity issues?

That's why it is so important to offer education on these topics to everyone, not just children, so that we are all better equipped and more at ease with talking about and expressing our needs, fears, feelings and wishes.

Education is the key to break down barriers and open up opportunities to access the information and support that everyone needs, especially in the early years when conflicting messages, hormones and society can really confuse young people.

The LGBT Excellence Centre Wales has put together a programme to raise awareness and equip young people with the information and skills to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying. Safe Space is a programme that aims not only to raise awareness of sexual orientation and gender identity issues, but also to put in place a strategy for tackling bullying and promoting general equality, diversity and human rights in schools.

The work to develop this programme was triggered by a case in which a gay teacher in Cardiff received ongoing homophobic bullying by pupils.

The local authority intervened and took a number of steps to devise a strategy for dealing with the issues, by engaging various agencies and professionals through different approaches.

One key element of this strategy was to raise awareness within the school about the impact that the bullying was having on this particular teacher and the LEA supported the development of this programme as a pilot.

The programme consists of a main workshop delivered to students (eg a whole year at a time) in a game show format that includes various delivery methods - videos, live theatre performances, readings, pair work, group discussions and presentations.

We have also engaged celebrities like QBoy (one of the few rappers in the world openly out as gay) and Nigel Owens (international rugby referee, who came out last year) to make sure that students not only have a chance to understand that sexual orientation is not a barrier, but also to have some positive role models for those who might feel alone and isolated.

This workshop has a multi-agency steering group and is integrated with further workshops provided by the LGBT Excellence Centre and other partner organisations like Safer Wales, which also include training for teachers, governors, school counsellors, parents and all staff.

All homophobic bullying in the initial school has come to a stop. Students have been sending us messages and feedback to tell us how much they enjoyed the morning and how much they learned. Many told us they would like to help us. A few students have found the courage to come out to their friends and seek the support they need.

Teachers have told us that they now feel more at ease when questions about sexual orientation or gender identity come up or when derogatory language is being used. Schools that have used Safe Space have already booked more sessions.

Our human rights are violated when we are bullied. A school is not a healthy school where there is bullying. Bullying is a barrier to community cohesion.

Everyone deserves a Safe Space.

Everyone should be respected for who he or she is.

Wales' unique LGBT organisation is being officially launched by Welsh Minister for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills, Jane Hutt, at the Senedd, National Assembly for Wales on February 6

CAPTION(S):

RAISING AWARENESS: Gay rugby referee Nigel Owens and Federico Podeschi in a group discussion with students and Head of Year Nine, Rhiannon Roberts, at Coedcae High in Llanelli
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 15, 2009
Words:814
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