The task of combating homophobia in the classrooms and playgrounds of NSW is a difficult one. This is the mission being undertaken by a number of government and community groups in the hope of making schools a safer and more supportive place for gay and lesbian kids.

The Anti-Homophobia Interagency is made up of groups such as the Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project, the NSW Department of Education and Training, and FPA Health. Their working group was formed to help fight homophobia in schools by educating and assisting people who work with children.

Last week the Interagency held its first roundtable discussion for educators, counsellors and parents interested in reducing homophobic bullying in schools. The roundtable focused on the way gender construction impacts on homophobia, and was funded by the NSW Attorney-General’s Department.

Brad Gray, ACON’s acting education manager, said the whole culture of homophobia is based on gender construction.

When you hear homophobic language, it’s usually couched in terms like, -˜he acts like a girl’, Gray said. If we want to deal with homophobia, we have to look at the rules of how boys are supposed to act, and the rules of how girls are supposed to act.

The first roundtable was a mix of lectures, discussions and activities to give practical advice to education workers on fighting homophobic bullying.

The event achieved a fantastic turnout, Gray said, comprising teachers, parents, youth workers, academics, child-care workers and counsellors.

Dean Johnston, the Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project’s acting coordinator, said a major feature of the discussions was the need to continually promote the anti-homophobia message in schools.

I think the big lesson was not just to say -˜let’s have an anti-homophobia day today’, and then it’s forgotten, but to try to implement it across all lessons and across all subjects; to normalise the concept of homosexuality, he said.

Gray said that compulsory anti-homophobia education in schools is something that needs to be developed.

They have to make it something that every school has to do, and they don’t currently do that, he said. We were years ahead, now we’re years behind.

Another roundtable is planned for November, which seeks to give some practical tips on making a school a more supportive environment for gay and lesbian kids. According to Gray, it is a question that needs to be urgently addressed.

In the Anti-Violence Project we get reports from students who are suffering homophobia and it can be pretty chronic. It involves bashings, violence, verbal abuse, humiliation, all that sort of stuff, and it can be really traumatic, he said.

Lesbian and gay students are more likely to leave school at a younger age compared with their straight classmates, Gray said. With children coming out at younger ages, a supportive school environment is vital for the self-esteem and safety of gay and lesbian students.

People are coming out younger, and suffer that homophobia even more unless a whole school approach deals with it, Gray said.

The Anti-Homophobia Interagency also hopes to hold other events in the future specifically for school counsellors, principals and teachers in regional areas.

For details on upcoming events organised by the Anti-Homophobia Interagency, call ACON’s Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project on (02) 9206 2066 or email avp@acon.org.au.

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