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Welby launches anti-homophobia schools guide

12 May 2014


Welcome: Archbishop Welby speaks to members of the music group who performed during his visit to Trinity school, Lewisham

Welcome: Archbishop Welby speaks to members of the music group who performed during his visit to Trinity school, Lewisham

CHURCH OF ENGLAND schools must adopt a "zero-tolerance approach" to homophobic bullying, the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Monday.

Launching new guidance - Valuing All God's Children: Guidance for Church of England schools on challenging homophobic bullying - the Archbishop acknowledged the "complexity of combating homophobic bullying while still teaching the traditional Anglican view of marriage".

Writing in the i newspaper, he said: "Professor Trevor Cooling's metaphor of a Bedouin 'tent of meeting', quoted in the schools guidance, is an inspiring model for church schools. . . The point is that there is room for everyone in the tent, but there is no room for behaviours which cause harm to others."

The guidance was launched at Trinity, a Church of England secondary school in Lewisham. During the morning, the Archbishop discussed bullying with prefects at the school, who explained how it is tackled by pupils and staff.

Ruby Tarrant, a 15-year-old pupil described being bullied "horribly" after coming out in Year Eight.

"It was really hard for me to tell anyone because it was such a sensitive issue," she said. 

She added, however, that "the school has come a long way, and has changed quite a lot." After confiding in a teacher, she was given a mentor "who really helped me a lot with my confidence". Assemblies and workshops have since been held to tackle homophobic bullying.

"One of the most important things is to talk openly and to not see it as a sensitive thing that should not be talked about, because that is really dangerous," she said.

The Archbishop wanted to know how pupils handled the fact that people disagreed on issues such as sexuality.

"When I came out, a lot of people said 'you will go to hell' and things like that," said Ruby. "Of course you should be able to express your belief, but you have to make sure you are not offending anyone. You can say 'I do not believe you should be homosexual but I still respect you.'"

She then spoke about one of her best friends, who had helped her to set up the Hate Homophobia In Schools Campaign. "He believes that homosexuality is wrong, but he disagrees more with homophobia because it is not about the person being gay but about the fact that a person, regardless of sexuality, is being victimised."

After the round-table discussion, the Archbishop was asked whether the Church had contributed to homophobia through its teaching on relationships.

"No sense of something being right or wrong justifies another wrong," he said. "So there is never a point at which - because you say a particular form of behaviour. . . is wrong - that that justifies you saying that it is OK to bully someone."

He added: "The Church of England's statement on this issue is absolutely clear in its canons, and has been for centuries."

When asked why the issue of homophobic bullying was important to him, he said: "Seeing it happen and being appalled by that." He had seen it happen "in all sorts of different places, including at school, seeing other people bullied."

The plan to produce the guidance was formulated last year. In July the Archbishop told the General Synod: "The majority of the population rightly detests homophobic behaviour or anything that looks like it, and sometimes they look at us and see what they don't like. With nearly a million children educated in our schools we not only must demonstrate a profound commitment to stamp out such stereotyping and bullying but we must also take action ( News, 5 July)."

In October last year, a short survey completed by 48 Church schools suggested that about 30 per cent did not have guidance on tackling homophobic bullying. A 2012 report by Stonewall suggested that, while half of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils reported that their schools said that homophobic bullying was wrong, this fell to 37 per cent of those in faith schools.

The new guidance was compiled by Katy Staples, schools adviser in the Diocese of Bristol, with the help of other diocesan advisers. It sets out ten recommendations for church schools, including training staff in how to recognise and challenge homophobic bullying, and making it clear that  "there can be no justification for this negative behaviour based on the Christian faith or the Bible".

It notes that: "It can be, and has been, perceived that to hold the view that 'God, through nature, has indicated that heterosexual sexuality is the divinely ordained norm' is to be discriminatory against same-sex orientated people.

"Yet thinking, believing or verbally expressing that belief is not in itself discriminatory. Church of England schools need to ensure that, whilst clearly working to be inclusive spaces where homophobic language, actions and behaviours are unacceptable, those pupils, parents and staff who believe that homosexual acts are 'less than God's ideal' are given the safe space to express those views without being subject to another form of discrimination.

"It is also equally important to communicate clearly to pupils and families that holding traditional faith perspectives on sexuality is not counter to the school's aims and ethos, but that expressing hatred, negativity and hostility to another is unacceptable."

On Monday, Luke Tryl, head of education at Stonewall, said: "This is a hugely welcome step forward by the Church of England, and an important recognition that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are an important part of the fabric of modern Britain. We look forward to working with church schools to help them implement the new guidance and eradicate the blight of homophobic bullying from all of our schools."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers said: "We welcome any move to stop homophobic bullying in our schools. Many in church schools will welcome this unambiguous guidance that will show all children are valued equally in all schools."

The chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, the Revd Sharon Ferguson, said: "The document talks about the acceptance of difference but it's very difficult to feel accepted, when those around you believe you fall short of the ideal."

Read the guidance here

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