Gok Wan Joins Activists To Deliver Emotional Advice For Bullied LGBT Pupils

It really does get better.

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“School was a really difficult place for me. It was a breeding ground for lots of bullying, for lots of different reasons,” said Gok Wan, fashion consultant and TV presenter.

“I was a fat, Chinese, gay boy. You can just imagine when I walked into the playground it was like ‘Yeah, c’mon! This is like free food.’ It was a psychological war ground,” Wan continued.

The 41-year-old spoke to The Huffington Post UK at Stonewall’s ‘Education For All’ conference, held to promote better legislation and awareness of LGBT bullying.

Joining campaigners, Wan shared his advice for youngsters facing transphobic, biphobic and homophobic discrimination within school.

<strong>Gok Wan attends Stonewall's Education For All conference</strong>
Gok Wan attends Stonewall's Education For All conference

“For any of you out there who might be gay, bi, trans, whatever - there are so many letters now for being gay - but if you are any one of those letters, I would say try and find your safe place.

“Now, that’s probably going to be a person. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your parents - because I know that all parents are different and I know that some parents really struggle with sexuality - but you’ve got to try and find someone that you trust. Somebody that makes you feel safe. Somebody that allows you to be exactly who you are,” Wan told HuffPost UK.

Mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin was also at the event.

“I went to a Jewish school and homosexuality was just not talked about, it was such a taboo,” he told HuffPost UK.

“I thought I’d never ever be capable to come out and tell people that I was gay, I thought that was impossible.

“I think everyone was just scared. Everyone was just scared of talking about it.”

The experiences of Benjamin and Wan were echoed by the other activists.

Muslim drag queen Asif Quraishi discussed the deep feeling of shame that came with not being out at school or at home.

<strong>Muslim drag queen Asif Quraishi tells HuffPost UK about being beaten up on the playground. </strong>
Muslim drag queen Asif Quraishi tells HuffPost UK about being beaten up on the playground.

“Between the ages of 13 and 16 I was heavily bullied and I was beaten up, I was called all of the names under the sun,” Quraishi said.

“At the time that I was being bullied Section 28 was still in place, so there wasn’t a lot that the teachers could do.”

Introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s government, Section 28 stated councils should not “intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” in schools or other areas of their work.

The clause of the Local Government Act 1988 was enacted on 24 May 1988 and repealed on 21 June 2000 in Scotland, and on 18 November 2003 in the rest of the UK.

“I also didn’t want [teachers] telling my parents because you know - I come from a Muslim background and I wasn’t ready to come out at that time,” Quraishi continued.

“The advice I would give is go to your teacher first of all. Get some help, get some support from getting out of the bullying and then cross that bridge when you come to it, about telling your parents.”

“At the time that I was being bullied Section 28 was still in place, so there wasn’t a lot that the teachers could do” - Asif Quraishi

The Stonewall conference aims to reach into communities and institutions in order to improve the lives of young LGBT people at school.

“As Stonewall’s work continues and we reach deeper into communities, it has become more apparent than ever before that lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people come in all shapes and sizes and that it’s vital that we understand how identities inform unique lived experiences,” said Stonewall CEO Ruth Hunt.

“The ongoing support of local authorities, schools, teaching professionals and young people, who continue to support your LGBT colleagues, students, friends and families is vital.”

Students who are currently suffering from LGBT hate attacks also attended the event and spoke out about their story.

Leo Waddell, 15, said: “Yeah I’ve had discrimination, my headteacher didn’t accept me and made all the teachers call me ‘Lily’ and she wasn’t nice.”

But he added: “Stay strong and it will get better. Promise.”

<strong>Leo Waddell, 15, has faced transphobic bullying at school.</strong>
Leo Waddell, 15, has faced transphobic bullying at school.

Wan, Benjamin and Quraishi all admitted there is lots of work still to be done for LGBT pupils.

“Do I think it’s different now for gay kids?,” Wan asked.

“No, if I’m really honest, I don’t think it’s different.

“I think being gay and the prejudices against the gay community are still very rife and actually at the moment - especially at the moment - we’re seeing so much homophobic hate all around the world.

“So when you watch it on the news in a weird way it makes it alright - I’m sure to a lot of people - they think that they can behave that way.”

Benjamin added: “I get messages all the time through things like YouTube and Twitter from young people who are really struggling with their sexuality. So not much has changed, there’s so much work to do.”

<strong>Mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin told HuffPost UK about growing up gay and attending a Jewish school.</strong>
Mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin told HuffPost UK about growing up gay and attending a Jewish school.

Stonewall spokesperson Catherine Somerville spoke about the future for teachers and how education can improve.

“The vast majority of teachers have been supportive of our work and want to learn how they can support their LGBT pupils better.

“But unfortunately far too many teachers haven’t received the sort of training that they need.

“Only 16% of teachers in Scotland have had any sort of formal training on LGBT equality issues. And that’s frankly not good enough.

“That’s why we’re calling for inclusive education to be absolutely front and centre in teacher training. And calling for inclusive sex and relationships education compulsory in our schools,” she told HuffPost UK.

Stonewall released its sixth annual Education Equality Index at the Education for All Conference on Friday 8 July 2016.

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