Do Scots Pupils Really Need Lessons in Homosexuality?; YES Says Wendy Alexander

Article excerpt

WHEN I was growing up in the 1970s, one of my best friends was struggling with whether he was gay or not.

We all got used to the endless taunts about poofs and perverts.

I think any playground jibes about dykes went over my head at 13.

But as my friend and I grew up together, went to school dances together, even went to the local Labour Party together, I saw him struggling to face up to what lay ahead, the prejudice and the injustice.

There is a lot of evidence that bullying in Scottish schools is just as bad today as it was then.

Last year more than 7500 Scottish children called Childline about bullying. More than 500 called with worries directly about their sexuality.

But perhaps as worrying is the number of children calling about bullying and citing the comments that were being made about their sexuality.

The consequences of school bullying can be tragic and we are determined to give teachers every weapon they need to defeat this menace.

We are therefore calling for the scrapping of the vindictive Tory law that singles out gay relationships for condemnation.

The consequences have been that committed teachers and carers still have fears about their ability to protect our young people from bullying based on their sexuality.

Next month the Scottish Anti-Bullying Network holds its annual conference and is running a workshop on "gay-bashing" - or, as it is more politely known - homophobic bullying.

We are determined that these committed professionals should not fear possible legal consequences for tackling this menace head-on.

That is why the Executive is calling for the repeal of the Tories' so-called "Section 28" legislation. It was wrong when the Tories introduced it and it is wrong now.

For 13 long years its existence has served to legitimise intolerance and prejudice. It has stopped local authorities developing best practice in sex education and bullying.

Of course, teaching about homosexuality is difficult, as is teaching about other sensitive subjects such as drugs and abortion.

But we need to help teachers develop programmes that deal with homosexuality and a consultation paper will be issued for them shortly.

To those who argue that teachers could now wield inappropriate influence over our children, I respond that we will have in place the sort of child protection systems which can deal with any such risks in just the same way as they deal with all the other risks of inappropriate behaviour.

Tomorrow, after I give my speech, the first phone call I will make will be to that school friend to tell him what Scotland's Government is doing to ensure that 20 years on, kids at that same school in Renfrewshire will have a better chance of growing up at ease with themselves and the world around them.There's no point in confusing mixed-up teenagers any moreNOsays Joan BurnieNO-ONE doubts that bullying is and has been a persistent problem in our schools for far too long and blights far too many young lives.

It is equally true that until fairly recently the education establishment and head teachers preferred not to know about it and left their pupils to sort out their differences among themselves. …