UK School’s Anti-Bullying Education Not Spurred by "Gay Shoes"

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Wednesday May 15, 2013

A May 15 article in The Telegraph made waves by reporting that the head teacher at a London Catholic School called in gay rights group Stonewall to educate on the need to avoid homophobic bullying after a five-year-old boy called another student's shoes "gay." Now it turns out that the incident never happened.

According to the article, a five-year-old boy called another student's shoes "gay" on the playground of St. Mary's Catholic Primary School in Wimbledon, southwest London. The Telegraph reported that a supervisor informed head teacher Sarah Crouch, who decided it constituted homophobic abuse, and called upon Stonewall to help train staff "on how to tackle homophobic language and bullying."

Crouch admitted that the training took place, but denied it was motivated by any individual student's action, saying, "That incident did not happen. We log all incidents of homophobic language use and that is not in there. We contacted a variety of people who give advice on who to use to provide training."

Luke Tryl, Stonewall's Education Officer, confirmed this version of events, telling Gay Star News that the school approached them to provide the school with support.
"It wasn't in response to the shoes at all," he said. "This was helping staff talk to pupils about language like 'that's so gay.' It was general."

As part of their "Different Families, Same Love," program, Stonewall provided the teachers with education at a training day last September. The education teaches that same-sex couple households are equal to heterosexual households. Children are advised not to use the word "gay" in a negative way, as it might upset kids with gay parents.

The authorities of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark and all but one of the governors approved the event. Now, St. Mary's stands as the first and only Catholic primary school to be listed as a Stonewall "Primary School of Champion" of gay equality.

"As a school, and as Catholics, we are opposed to prejudice of any kind and felt it was important to tackle the issue of homophobic language and bullying," said Crouch.

Although a recent poll indicated that 93 percent of parents believe homophobic bullying should be tackled at school, not all parents were pleased to learn that a gay group had been called in to talk to their children. Safe at School National Coordinator Antonia Tully said that some parents felt a gay rights group was not the appropriate source to address inappropriate playground language.

"If a primary school takes on Stonewall’s agenda, young children will be exposed to homosexual issues which they are too young to understand properly," said Tully. "Parents expect a school to provide an education, not subject their children to gay propaganda."

On The Telegraph website, many people weighed in both for and against the training, with comments such as, "there is no need to bring this topic up in a primary school...where children’s innocence needs to be protected. This head-teacher is a disgrace."

This vocal responder, who went by the handle "la catholic state," said, "You are accusing them of homophobia...little children. What a disgusting mindset. They probably don’t even know the meaning of the word gay...and don’t want to know either. Our society seems obsessed with all things homosexual, and now want to make sure Catholic schools are."

Some made jibes at "political correctness," but many others applauded the school’s efforts to recognize there was a potential problem, and do something constructive by training teachers how to deal with it.

"Catholic children are also supposed to be taught that gay people should be treated with respect, not prejudice," wrote web commenter Tom Robbins. "To quote the catechism [ed note: the Catholic Education Service], ’They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’ So why is being prepared to address issues surrounding homophobia a bad thing?"

Other commenters, like "ethical atheist," pointed the finger at the parents, writing, "When children say something is gay they mean it to be derogatory and insulting. They probably learn it at home and at Mass where they are taught that being gay is intrinsically disordered and that all homosexual expressions of sexual love are sinful (wrong, bad, disgusting, and lead to hell). Kind of difficult not to create little homophobes when they are surrounded by big ones."

But Crouch defended her decision to implement the education, saying, "The training was very successful and we feel confident that if any incidents of this kind of language occur, our staff have the means to address them appropriately."

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.