Gay Deputy Headteacher Shaun Dellenty On Tackling Homophobic Bullying In Schools

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Shaun Dellenty says it is a struggle to educate staff about homophobic bullying
Shaun Dellenty says it is a struggle to educate staff about homophobic bullying

A deputy headteacher has spoken of the difficulties he faces in training teachers to face up to homophobic bullying.

Shaun Dellenty, who is one of the only gay school leaders in the whole of England, was even asked by one member of staff at his primary school if he was a child abuser.

Dellenty, who set up the Inclusion For All programme, "came out" during an assembly at Alfred Salter Primary School in Southwark two years ago. Despite being known for its inclusive ethos, the school struggled to deal with homophobic bullying, Dellenty explains.

"75% of children were hearing the word 'gay' banded around as an insult. But, more disturbingly, 65% of staff did not think this was an issue," he told The Huffington Post UK.

"It's the word no-one wants to deal with. A lot of people don't see any problem with using the word 'gay' as an insult. But we should treat homophobia in the same way we treat racism."

As he is the only gay member of staff at the school, "everyone used to automatically assume I should deal with it".

"Our staff had not had any training - they were trying to sort it out but making it worse," he adds.

"We were dealing with all the other complex issues, but not the gay one. We were just avoiding it. I never wanted to be a 'gay teacher', I always just wanted to be a teacher…who happened to be gay."

alfred salter school
Alfred Salter Primary School, where Dellenty is deputy head

"I didn't want to be seen as having an agenda", Dellenty explains. "But I realised I had no choice. However uncomfortable this might be for us we have got to tackle the issue."

Dellenty believes some teachers are shying away from the problem because they think primary school children are too young to understand.

"I knew I was different at the age of four and I couldn't see anybody like me. All it would've taken was to know one of my teachers was gay and it would've made a huge difference."

Contrary to what many critics believe, Dellenty adds it is "not about promoting LGBT issues, it is about educating and informing".

"There are a lot of people out there scaremongering. They think we're telling young children to be gay or exposing them to some sordid world. But all we're doing is saying, 'There are people like this in the world, who are different from you, and you should accept them for who they are'."

Dellenty says the school does not talk about sexual orientation in classes about LGBT issues and instead, "we talk about individuality".

And it is not the children who have a problem with homosexuality.

"Some members of staff actually thought I had the potential to be a child abuser. They thought, because I was gay, it meant I was more likely to be a paedophile."

Dellenty says he took the staff - from the cleaners and dinner ladies to heads of departments - and spent a day discussing the issue.

"Everyone said it was a relief to get everything out in the open."

But far from wanting to force his views on others, he says it's "no-one's fault".

"I 'get' the fear, I lived with it myself. My parents tried to send me to electroconvulsive therapy, so I understand all about people who disagree with homosexuality. But our fears and beliefs aren't relevant. It's got to be about the children. They are the ones getting hurt."

At the training day, he told staff they could ask him anything.

"I've heard it all before - so I wouldn't judge them for it.

"No-one is being asked to change their religious or personal views about homosexuality. It's okay to have a different viewpoint. All we're asking for is acceptance people are different."

But Dellenty admits it does help having someone at the school who has experienced homophobic bullying.

"I can empathise with children who know they're different. It feels like you are living on the wrong planet. The biggest barrier is people saying 'children are too young to know'. That's rubbish. I knew I was different from the age of four."

Dellenty's commitment is inspiring - "I am not going to rest until every child in the country can be who they want to be without judgement" - particularly considering the barriers he has come up against.

"I have met heads who have said they would not even employ gay teachers and that makes my skin crawl."

But things are changing; Dellenty recently spoke at the National College for School Leadership conference - the first time homophobic bullying had ever been on the agenda.

Even then, however, Dellenty says it is a struggle to reach the people who matter.

"It was a really easy crowd. No heckling, no objections, nothing. They were all there because they wanted to hear what I had to say and it's those who don't like what I'm saying who are the ones I need to speak to.

"How do you get to the people who keep shutting the door? There will be children in those schools where they are being bullied. Particularly in village schools - who do those children turn to if they are being bullied?"

SEE ALSO:

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Elly Barnes On How To Integrate LGBT Issues In Schools