The Blog

Homophobic Bullying and the Responsibilities of Children's Television

Still missing is regular, usualised (to use Sue Sanders word) portrayals of LGBT pupils, parents and role models who are happy, successful and kind human beings- just going about their lives. Such portrayals send a vitalmessage to the emergent young LGBT souls out there.

I was born in 1968.

By 1972 I already knew I was different; by different I mean gay (if you are wondering how I knew then just ask it back to yourself-how did you know who you were?)

What I lacked was the vocabulary, the words 'gay' or 'homosexual,' but I knew that I liked men, (especially those with beards) and that sometimes on the television people used a specific word 'queer' which I knew instinctively had something to do with me.

I noticed these 'queers' when they appeared on the TV shows that my parents watched; they tended to be sad, or were figures of extreme mockery. They would be very camp and often their stories ended in tears, murder, suicide or imprisonment. My reactions to some of Dick Emery's characters, John Inman and John Hurt as Quentin Crisp were confused; on one hand I could feel a part of myself projecting from the flickering black and white screen onto my face, whilst on the other, I could sense a shameful future I must reject. These stereotypes made me try pro-actively to change the way I spoke, walked and sat as child; such was my fear of rejection.

Children's TV though was a safe haven, here I could mostly forget the dark clouds amassing over my identity. BBC's The Changes, Blue Peter and Grange Hill all spoke to me, often giving me an insight into other forms of prejudice (The Changes) making me see that others were worse off than me (Blue Peter) and leading me to an awkward attempt to reach out to a teacher (Grange Hill.)

Although seemingly insignificant, these moments I still carry within me as I approach the age of 50. Occasionally on children's TV I felt kinship with a character not presented stereotypically or as a victim, as the actor's aura itself was enough to assure me that onscreen was someone like me (the late Michael Staniforth in Rentaghost being a prime example).

How I longed to see another TV character sharing my journey of fancying boys, or friend's Dads, or male film and pop stars. Just to see the forward thinking positive representation of Sikhs attempted in 'The Changes' on an LGBT level would have meant the world to me in terms of making me feel valued, included and worthwhile. Full, authentic inclusion undoubtedly leads to better outcomes and less bullying, thus enabling young people to take pride in their identity from the outset. Greater clarity and belief in young people's sense of self may make them feel less inclined to adopt the identities of less positive role models or youth movements.

Ultimately my role model would become Dr Who, his qualities as an outsider and his (then) lack of interest in girls was the closest thing I could find to a role model. Around me I was hearing negative comments about gay people from my parents, friends, teachers, friend's parents, some politicians on TV and some people of faith. Newspapers were even worse, linking gays to blackmail, paedophilia, disease and abuse.

At times this tide of negativity threatened to consume me, resulting in self-harm and suicidal thoughts; yet I often returned to the comforting haven of children's TV for solace, despite the fact that I did not see myself reflected in the programming or hear messages that made me feel less alien and inhuman. In school I saw no images, books or role models which said that I deserved my place on earth. I was presented with an immersive heterosexual world view and yet despite this, my gay identity stayed with me into the present.

Things and people change and in 2014 I am happy to laugh along with camp comedians. It also brings me great joy to see a range of role models being taken into schools, to see books and posters representing a diverse range of family groups (we counted 35 types of family groups in just one school recently). To be successful children must feel welcome, represented and included. Openly LGBT staff, books about LGBT role models and images featuring same sex parents are all vital to ensure the young LGBT pupils in our schools feel validated and human; straight children and parents also get to know us as authentic people as a result.

Children's TV too has come on a journey, with the addition of channels of children's programming and shows such as The Sarah Jane Adventures refusing to talk down to children. Still missing is regular, usualised (to use Sue Sanders word) portrayals of LGBT pupils, parents and role models who are happy, successful and kind human beings- just going about their lives. Such portrayals send a vital life-changing message to the emergent young LGBT souls out there.

CBBC have two programmes of note scheduled; one called 'My Life-I am Leo' concerning a transgender child airs on Monday November 17th This is highly positive step forward and I hope that schools will use the resulting discussion strategically. Transgender teaching and learning has an awful long way to go.

On Wednesday 19th November my own Inclusion For All anti-homophobia work features as part of CBBC's 'Our School.' I was invited by Two-Four productions to tell my story in a filmed Year 7 assembly, lead staff training and write follow up lessons on the word 'gay' as a negative. This airs at 17:55.

Having been on my journey, I can't begin to describe how hopeful I felt standing in front of several hundred young people and three television cameras at Conyers School in Yarms knowing these messages would be beamed out at tea-time on children's TV. This surely shows a growing yet long overdue confidence in children's programmers in terms of representing our diverse lives?

I hope that somewhere out there, a young person already feeling shameful about their LGBT identity, might just happen across the successful, openly gay school leader (who once felt the same shame) talking openly on national children's telly and think 'maybe I am ok after all'.

Thank you CBBC for taking these steps forward; others please take note.

We have a hell of a lot of catching up to do; with 44% of young LGBT people considering self-harm or suicide we must harness the power of children's television to save lives.

Lights, camera, action...