Stonewall’s School Report 2012 has just been published and it reveals that homophobic bullying is still a daily nightmare in many British schools. Pioneering new research carried out by the University of Cambridge on Stonewall’s behalf found that ‘55 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils in Britain’s secondary schools experience homophobic bullying. The research, based on a national survey of 1,614 young people, also found that nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of gay young people have attempted to take their own life, and more than half (56 per cent) deliberately harm themselves.’
It also reveals ‘that 99 per cent of gay young people hear homophobic language – like “that’s so gay” and “you’re so gay”. However, a quarter of gay young people – rising to over a third in faith schools – report that teachers never challenge homophobic language. In schools where teaching staff never challenge homophobic remarks, the rate of homophobic bullying is far higher than in schools where such language is always challenged (71 per cent compared to 43 per cent).’
In response to the Report, Schools Minister Nick Gibb is quoted as saying: ‘Homophobic bullying, of any kind and of any child, is completely unacceptable. No child should have to suffer fear, victimisation or disruption as a result of bullying, either on or off school premises. Tackling poor behaviour and bullying are top priorities for the Coalition Government. Working with Stonewall and other groups, we are supporting schools to take a zero tolerance approach to all forms of bullying. We are also clear that homophobic language should become as unacceptable as racial slurs.’
Meanwhile Patrick Ness, winner of this year’s Carnegie Medal (among several other literary awards) for A Monster Calls, in an article in The Guardian* recalled his own teenage years as ‘the gay, preppy, deeply anxious son of American fundamentalist Christians’. He adds, ‘I felt that nobody understood what I was going through – not in a self-pitying way but literally, in that I had no contrary experience to tell me otherwise. Why do you think teenagers read books so voraciously? They’re looking for that very understanding.’
Stonewall is an organisation that works with hundreds of schools and this work has demonstrated that it really does make a difference when schools challenge homophobic attitudes. One way to provide the kind of understanding that (as Patrick Ness so passionately reminds us) young gay long for, is to introduce them to some of the excellent teen novels now available which reflect the very complexities and challenges they are encountering both emotionally and socially. In this issue of Books for Keeps Ju Gosling chooses her ‘Ten of the Best: Teenage novels with gay or lesbian characters’ and it is a hopeful sign of the times that there was a reasonably good range of titles for her to choose from.
Ju Gosling’s choices are novels of contemporary society so I take this opportunity to squeeze in Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles as an unofficial eleventh title. An Orange prize winner, this historical novel (our reviewer Geoff Fox gave it a resounding five stars in our January issue) has also been published for teenage readers and it is a moving treatment of the love between the Greek warrior Achilles and his friend Patroclus before and during the Trojan War.