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Anti-Bullying Week: We Are Failing Young LGBT People

18/11/2016 18:05
Stuart Dee via Getty Images

Almost 50 years ago, we decriminalised homosexuality between consenting adults in the UK. It was a landmark moment. Since then we have made huge strides in ensuring that young LGBT people can grow up knowing they can openly celebrate their sexuality without fear of facing stigma in society or the workplace. In government Labour included homophobia in the definition of hate crimes and produced and implemented the Gender Recognition Act, which allowed trans people to have their true gender recognised in law. In 2004, Civil Partnerships were introduced by the Labour government, and since 2013, gay couples have been able to marry.

This week is Anti-Bullying Week. We pride ourselves in the UK on being a tolerant and open society, and on teaching our children values of respect and inclusivity. But sadly, discrimination continues to exist around young LGBT children.

Recent research by Stonewall shows over half of secondary school pupils have witnessed homophobic bullying in schools - with nine out of ten teachers saying students have been bullied, harassed or called names for being LGBT.

The idea of any child being bullied because of their sexuality is abhorrent. That we're still having to talk about this in 2016 is a tragedy - but one I believe can be resolved through education.

Earlier this month, I launched my Dare2Care National Action Plan for Preventing Child Abuse and Violence in Teenage Relationships. One of the key recommendations I made in the Plan was the introduction of compulsory resilience and relationships education for all children from Key Stage One.

This means teaching children key values about tolerance and inclusivity, respecting themselves and others. Under my recommendations, teachers would be equipped with the knowledge and resources to deliver this kind of training - including how to spot if a child is being bullied or abused due to their sexuality, perceived or otherwise.

The way bullying takes place in 2016 is far more insidious than it has been in previous decades. Young people have access to communication tools online that allow them to talk to each other 24/7. This sadly means that for many children, bullying does not end when they walk out of the school-gates. They can be tormented from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep.

We can't police children's activity online all the time - to do so would be impossible. But we can ensure children are educated on how to combat online bullying. It is ridiculous that the official government guidelines on relationship education haven't been updated since 2000 - before Facebook, Snapchat and indeed social media had taken hold.

Too often, we hear terrible stories of young people driven to suicide by bullies. Too often we see that despite a façade of tolerance, hatred still exists. Let's not fail them any longer. Let's ensure that all young people receive the education and skills to identify and prevent abuse. Let's ensure that every child - regardless of their sexuality - can grow up without fear of bullying.

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