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Examining homosexuality helps students to grasp the issues, and helps schools to combat homophobia. By Judith Kneen


Gay rights have generally not fared well in the school environment. Many children feel they receive mixed messages about the issue. This Saturday's Pride London event is a timely reminder that schools need to be able to discuss homosexuality and to heed government advice to take action against homophobia, including through the curriculum.

When it comes to homophobic bullying, Coastkid provides an excellent starting point. This interactive website on bullying presents characters and scenarios for students to explore ( Once they've investigated the site, students can choose one of the characters and write a diary for him or her.

Gay stereotypes

Move on to examine students' perceptions of gay and lesbian people, including what they consider gay people look like. Watch the beginning of the enlightening film Batty Man, available from Teachers' TV ( In it, actor and comedian Stephen K Amos explores homophobia within the black community. Through holding a line-up where young people have to guess who is gay, he establishes that you can't see gayness. Discuss why stereotypes are unhelpful and how damaging they can be.

Swedish scientists appear to have confirmed stereotypes of a different sort in their study of the brains of heterosexual and homosexual men and women. They have found similarities between the brains of gay men and straight women, and those of lesbians and straight men, building on earlier research that indicates that the former seem to be better at some language tasks, while the latter are superior at spatial and navigation skills. Students can sharpen their listening skills by noting the main points of an audio report (

In a word

The secretary of state for children, schools and families, Ed Balls, has said "homophobic insults should be viewed as seriously as racism", yet the word "gay" is one of the most frequently used derogatory terms in the playground. It does not seem to attract the same opprobrium as racist terms, perhaps because in many cases it does not refer to homosexuality, but is used as a general disparaging term. The Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles got into trouble for using the word on the radio in this pejorative sense. Get students to read some Guardian correspondence on the topic ( before debating whether the use of the word gay in this way is offensive and should be deemed unacceptable.

Students can use the Stonewall website to investigate some of the facts and figures behind homophobia ( The information is organised under headings such as bullying, violence and language, so divide them into groups, allocate them an area, and ask them to design a poster that reveals pertinent facts and figures. The same site provides anti-bullying postcards designed to alert a headteacher to homophobic bullying. Discuss the purpose and the design of the card, before asking students to create further postcard designs.

Taking things seriously?

Stonewall has found that nearly two-thirds of young lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) students experience bullying at school. In 1997, it noted that only 6% of schools had policies that dealt with LGB issues. Within the last year, however, the government has reminded schools that they have a legal duty to take steps to tackle homophobic bullying.

Get students to look at your school's anti-bullying policy to see whether it deals specifically with homophobic bullying. If it does, ask them to design and carry out a survey on whether students feel it is prominent and effective. If there is no mention of the issue, challenge them to look at the government's guidance ( and work on suitable additions to present to the headteacher and governors.

Looking beyond school, students can investigate attitudes elsewhere. Notably, the Church of England is involved in much soul-searching after the blessing in church of the partnership of two gay clergy. Watch a news report on the story, before asking students to research and debate whether sexuality is a matter for the church (

Teachers and students will find a complete KS3 lesson pack on gay issues on the Guardian's news site for schools,