A new report from Essex County, England has both UK politicians and LGBT advocates up in arms, as students reveal teachers urged those targeted by bullies to act less gay to stop being tormented.
According to The London Evening Standard, a recent report found anecdotal evidence of teachers urging students to suppress their individually and act more heteronormatively in order to combat bullying. Students [were] being told to act less gay or wear their hair differently, the report said, as teachers felt they were making themselves a target for bullies.
The news breaks on the same day that international pop star Lady Gaga has announced the formation of the Born This Way Foundation, meant to help bullied teens. It also comes in a media cycle that seems to portray new stories of gay teen bullying and suicide every day, including the recent brutal murder of Stuart Walker, likely the result of a gay hate crime.
Jordan Newell, chairman of the Colchester Labour Party and a member of the Labour Campaign for LGBT Rights, said he was incredibly shocked by the report's findings.
I think the report shows a complete lack of understanding of the issue and on how to tackle bullies, Newell, 27, told The Advocate. It is incredibly stark and paints a picture that teachers are holding up their hands and not trying to defend pupils who are expressing their differences.
According to the UK Equalities and Human Rights Commission, two thirds of lesbian, gay and transgender students have suffered long-term bullying, and 17 percent of LGBT youth reported receiving death threats.
Julie Keating, Essex County Council's principle officer for anti-bullying, compiled the Anti-Bullying Work report over the last month, including working with the Young Essex Assembly to hold open meetings to discuss bullying in school.
An official spokesman for the Essex County Council said it took these revelations very seriously, would reach out to instructors on how to give sensible advice to bullied students. The council is developing an anti-bulling information packet to give to trainee teachers in this region of the UK, and hopes that word will spread.
Keating places most of the blame on lack of information and preparedness. Teachers received very little training at college around bullying, Keating said, and most would welcome additional support and guidance.
In some cases, this statement is likely to be true. Almost no teachers receive training in how to deal with bullying, much less those who target LGBT youth, and some may view tactics like those described above as helping these children get through the day.
Additional details in the report, however, point to a less common but far more alarming pattern of victim-blaming. Students who contributed the report often noted indifference on the part of instructors, with some acting markedly insensitive or unsympathetically towards their gay (or simply rumored to be gay) pupils.
A conference hosted by Youth Essex Assembly Nov. 1 attracted some 250 teachers and students, expressing an overriding feeling that our current practcies are having minimal effect. In the meantime, teachers across the Essex, UK school district are being told to monitor their own and other instructors' advice to thsoe vulnerable to teen bullying. Such monitoring, it appears, is sorely needed.