Anti-bullying week gives us all an opportunity to reflect upon young people and their well-being; it may give some of us the chance to remember a time when perhaps we, ourselves, were bullied - something a lot of us have unfortunately endured. But this year, moreso, a lot of us will be thinking about young gay people, particularly due to the significance of the tenth anniversary of section 28 being abolished this week.
Section 28 was a piece of legislation that essentially gave bullies and tormentors the green light to pursue homophobic action against other people- especially on the school playground, and the effect of this was day after day of suffering for thousands of young boys and girls, often leading to tragic conclusions.
Ten years on from the death of section 28, its shadow still lingers. This has been underlined this week by Stonewall launching a new campaign, backed by stars such as Will young, to attack this remaining hangover, with the view of ending the casual use of homophobic language in our schools once and for all.
You don't have to spend too long on google to find real, heartbreaking case studies of the terrible effects of homophobic bullying in our recent past. I'm particularly saddened to consider the tragic story of Dominic Crouch who ended his own life after relentless anti-gay teasing in school which further led to the equally tragic suicide of his father, Roger. Those young individuals would have had, I'm sure, absolutely no clue just what their actions would lead to, but this doesn't take anything away from what those actions did actually lead to: the ending of two lives. Is this an isolated case? No, I'm afraid not.
There are organisations like Stonewall, like MyDentity in Kent, like Schools Out, who are tirelessly working to prevent another teen tragedy, but schools have to do more, too.
Over the course of the past three years, I have visited schools to talk about homophobia and the dangers of it and have been moved to tears countless times to hear first hand about the work young people are doing for fellow young people. Young people who have experienced bullying and are committed to putting a right something that is wrong, planning and seeing through, effective projects designed specifically to eradicating bulling in their communities. Student led action. Schools should be taking a leaf out of these passionate young people's books and grabbing the bull by the horns and getting this problem under control, themselves.
Yes, we should look back over the past ten years and be pleased about the movement forward with Lesbian and Gay equality in general; but there is an area where progress has been slow to non-existent, and that area is within the school environment, the place where our most vulnerable are to be found. Governors, head teachers and school staff at all levels have to account for their lack of action since the days of section 28 and now have the chance to do so: Schools should be made to include an anti-homophobia policy in their schooling mission statement; head teachers should overtly make statements in school assemblies underlining the out ruling of homophobic language and the consequences of it, and gay kids, yes GAY KIDS, need to be told that they are NORMAL and should not be made to feel like they still live under the draconian shadow of Section 28. Thatcher is dead- but the stench of her most evil policy lingers on. I hope there's an MP out there who will table this in Parliament.
James Wharton's book, 'Out in the Army: My Life as a Gay Soldier' is out now