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  • Speech by Minister for Youth Affairs at the Launch of the Stop Homophobic Bullying Campaign

    Nov
    09

    November 2006

     

    Minister Sile De Velera launches Making Your School Safe, collaborative undertaking between the BeLonG To Youth Project and the Equality Authority

    It gives me great pleasure to be here this lunchtime at the National Library to launch this very important initiative. Making Your School Safe is a collaborative undertaking between the BeLonG To Youth Project and the Equality Authority and I am very pleased to add my Department's support to it. The initiative is being taken as a direct response to the issue of homophobic bullying in schools. It aims to raise awareness of the issue and to support second-level schools in preventing and, where necessary, addressing this form of bullying. Resource materials have been produced including the posters and leaflets we see here today which are aimed at young people as well as information booklets for school principals.

    The project highlights the necessity for schools, parents and the wider community to tackle bullying, peer aggression and violence directed at young people based on their sexual orientation - imputed or actual.

    I consider it highly significant that the impetus for this initiative came directly from young people in response to their own experiences of bullying in school. The need for the initiative was also underlined by the outcomes of research led by James Norman at the School of Education in Dublin City University, which included a survey of SPHE teachers on levels of homophobic bullying in Irish Second-Level Schools. The survey's finding that 79% of respondents were aware of instances of verbal bullying where homophobic terms were used, highlights the importance of taking effective measures to address this issue.

    A partnership approach will be vital to the achievement of a successful outcome to the project and, in this regard, I want to reiterate the support of the Department of Education and Science, which funded the research undertaken by James Norman and also provides grant-aid for two youth workers for BeLonG To under my Department's Special Projects for Youth Scheme. The Department's Guidelines on Countering Bullying Behaviour define bullying as "repeated aggression, verbal, psychological or physical conducted by an individual or group against others". Bullies can pick on anything that makes a person exceptional from the norm such as colour, creed, race, disability or sexuality. Occasional jibes, so called jokes and instances of hostility can quickly lead to repeated verbal, psychological or physical aggression. Nowadays mobile phones, email, texting and even internet blogging can and do offer even more bullying opportunities. Worse still, the phenomenon of anonymous or virtual bullying can make it difficult to catch the perpetrators, who may themselves need support to learn other ways of meeting their needs without violating the rights of others.

    In the case of homophobic bullying, young people who are already part of a minority in society, and who are often experiencing a complex array of problems in their young lives, are readily targeted either individually or collectively as they are seen as "soft" targets. Such young people may already be experiencing isolation, fear, marginalisation and lack of acceptance from their peers and others as a result of their sexuality. There may be uncertainty regarding where to go and how to report the situation in which they find themselves. In short, they are in a weakened position to defend themselves.

    It is important, therefore, that the message is conveyed to all young people through confidence building, and positive interventions that all citizens are equal and that positive social change is helped by an intolerance to unwanted homophobic remarks, jokes, name calling or general harassment - all preludes to bullying. Young people should learn how to recognise bullying behaviour and know that they should never tolerate it.

    Every school is required to have in place a policy which includes specific measures to deal with bullying behavior. This policy should be developed within the framework of an overall school Code of Behaviour and Discipline.

    I strongly support the view that such a code, properly devised and implemented, can be the most influential measure in countering bullying behaviour in schools, including bullying on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. A school's anti-bullying policy can, however, only work where the entire school community, including school management authorities, staff, students and parents all sign up and adhere to it. In view of the increasing demands which have been placed on schools as a result of statutory obligations and the requirement for policies in a range of areas, the Department has been working to ensure greater availability of guidelines and template policies to assist schools. In August of this year, Minister Hanafin announced the publication on the Department's website of policy templates for second-level schools in five key areas, including anti-bullying, as part of our ongoing efforts in this regard.

    While the anti-bullying policy template is based primarily on the Department's 1993 Guidelines on Countering Bullying Behaviour, it does take account of more recent legislative and regulatory changes, and refers to the need to tackle issues of contemporary concern such as text bullying, cyber-bullying and homophobic bullying.

    The National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) is at present developing updated guidelines for schools on Codes of Behaviour, as provided for under Section 23 of the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000. Once the NEWB Guidelines are in place, the Department will commence the process of revising and fully updating the 1993 Guidelines on Countering Bullying Behaviour. The issue of homophobic bullying will be further addressed as part of this process.

    At primary and post-primary level, a number of programmes and guidelines address diversity and equality from different perspectives, including sexual orientation. These include Civic Social and Political Education (CSPE) and Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), incorporating Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE). The education of students in both primary and second-level schools in relation to anti-bullying behaviour is a central part of the SPHE curriculum, which is a mandatory part of the Junior Cycle since September, 2003. The SPHE Senior Cycle curriculum currently being developed by the NCCA will also deal with issues related to bullying, including understanding the effects of homophobic bullying.

    In-service training programmes have been provided to teachers to support the delivery of the SPHE programmes. In this regard I want to acknowledge the positive input made by both the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) and BelonG To Youth Project to the development of the existing in-service course on sexual orientation and homophobic bullying.

    Making Your School Safe complements other important initiatives such as the educational resource pack on bullying developed by the TCD Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre, which was recently launched by Minister Hanafin. The resource pack, entitled Silent Witnesses, consists of a DVD and workbook for second-level schools and includes three video modules designed to be used in the classroom. I am also aware that the Children's Research Centre in TCD recently hosted, in association with BeLonG To, a seminar entitled "Addressing Homophobic Bullying in Schools" which also played a valuable role in highlighting the issue.

    I am delighted that the City of Dublin Youth Services Board and both the Youth Affairs Section and the Gender Equality Unit of the Department of Education and Science have been in a position to support the work of BeLonG To and the research on homophobic bullying undertaken in DCU and I believe the resources being launched today will help counteract this reprehensible form of bullying.

    My thanks are due to Niall Crowley for inviting me to launch this initiative. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Niall and his team in the Equality Authority and the BeLonG To Youth Project, led by National Development co-ordinator, Michael Barron, for their work in developing the project. Continued success to you all in your future endeavours.

    Go Raibh Míle Mhaith Agaibh.