Earlier this month I was lucky enough to be part of a Scottish Delegation at the ‘Breaking the Walls of Silence’ Conference in Slovenia. The main aim of this event was:
• To explore current situations and trends regarding homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in education / schools in the EU countries,
• to provide a platform for key individuals to meet and facilitate sharing of experience, knowledge, strategies and materials on how to best support teachers / NGOs attempting to open up the topic within a school environment,
• to get insight of good practice in preventing homophobia and including LGBT issues in teaching at both classroom and institutional levels and
• to conclude the Breaking the Walls of Silence project, present and disseminate the results, challenges, effects and its local and national influence
I attended with colleagues from LGBT Youth Scotland, who was a partner in the organising of this conference, Education Scotland and Glasgow City Council.
The conference took place in the beautiful city of Ljubljana, beautiful and very cold for the most part! Our role was to share how each of the Scottish delegation had worked in partnership to help improve and ensure the inclusion of LGBT young people in schools and how we contributed to challenging homophobia and transphobia.
I enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on how having an equalities focus in our anti-bullying work supports the work and values of LGBT Youth Scotland and helps mainstream, in a policy sense to begin with the issues of homophobia and transphobia. The service ensures that schools in particular do not just have say, an anti-homophobic bullying policy and an anti-racist bullying policy but instead having am inclusive and robust anti-bullying policy.
It is not good enough to say, ‘all types of bullying are unacceptable here’. Our approach to policy and training ensures we are more prescriptive about what these behaviours are and that they reflect the equality strands and the realities of the bullying young people face. At times the statement ‘all bullying is unacceptable’ has allowed stakeholders to ‘body-swerve’ their responsibility to include homophobic bullying in particular. Research has shown that having an explicit policy commitment to addressing issues such as homophobia can lead to a better outcomes and experiences in school.
What was evident too was the marked difference in the last 8 years or so that colleagues in other parts of Europe are and have experienced. Countries such as Slovenia, Poland and Romania are in relative terms still behind Scotland in terms of LGBT young people’s inclusion. The fact we have a national approach to anti-bullying in Scotland that is equalities focussed, Government commitment to the agenda, a legislative framework, School Inspectors and Local Authorities who are accountable to this, gives us at the very least a more positive environment and framework to improve the experiences of LGBT young People.
We were keen not to paint an overly rosy picture of what is happening in Scotland as many challenges remain and young people still experience homophobia and transphobia every single day. Our colleagues from across Europe did recognise that there is a much more joined up approach in Scotland than they currently experience and this is something they would like to be able to emulate and is something they can learn from.
What was very evident was the passion and commitment of delegates from all over Europe who are committed to change and to challenging the prejudice experienced by LGBT young people on a daily basis.
They will make a difference.