Memorandum submitted by David Mason (E 65)

 

 

Equality Bill - Pernicious problem of homophobic bullying.

I am writing as an advocate of equality and diversity, but with a particular concern to eradicate the problem of homophobic bullying in schools and in the workplace. To this end I welcome the Equality Bill, but feel that to be effective provisions to promote equality on the ground of sexual orientation should be implemented to the fullest possible extent. All publicly funded or supported organisations should be obliged to comply.

Homophobic bullying

Homophobic bullying is believed to be the second most common form of bullying in school, after bullying about being fat. In fact the Equalities Review Interim Report (March 2006 - pdf file 470k) at page 40 stated "one issue has come through very clearly in the responses to our call for evidence. This concerns the seriousness and impact of homophobic bullying at school."

In a speech made on 27th November 2008, Trevor Phillips said "Across the entire equalities and human rights agenda, homophobic bullying has emerged as one of the strongest themes for us. We know it's spreading across our schools and workplaces. When my colleagues gave me the numbers it was staggering..."

But despite the seriousness of the problem, school teachers are by no means united in condemning homophobia, and some have even been known to participate in the bullying.

Solution

What is needed to stamp out homophobic bullying for good? Like racism, it will be very difficult to stamp it out completely. Nevertheless, a zero-tolerance approach to racism in society has been a significant factor in reducing racist bullying to a fraction of the levels which existed in the 1970's and 1980's.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission told me on 6th February: ".... our work in the lead up to the single equality duty will have a strong focus on ensuring the forthcoming positive duty on sexual orientation can be implemented effectively by public authorities, including schools in order to ensure a holistic approach is taken to tackle the endemic problem of homophobic bullying."


Role of broadcasting organisations.

The media is vital in setting society's norms for promoting inclusiveness and diversity. It is worrying that some broadcasters have reportedly asked to be excluded from the proposed duty to promote equality, and also from the non-discrimination provisions. 

Although Channel 4 has behaved by and large in a responsible way in respect of LGBT representation, the same has not been true of the BBC. Regarding Jonathan Ross's comments on Radio 2 (9th May 2009) the EHRC, in an email to me dated 2nd June 2009 said " ... I would agree with you that the BBC should recognise the hurt that the kind of statement made by Mr. Ross could cause to gay and lesbian people." The BBC however continues to defend Ross's statement.


Late last year the Corporation closed down some of its children's message boards intended for kids to provide each other with peer support. Kids were very unhappy with the board closures and expressed their dismay on one of the remaining message boards. The CBBC Bullying message board, was one of the boards closed down. A previously conducted study of the board messages had indicated strong evidence that messages about homophobic bullying had been filtered out. In fact I examined all messages posted on that board between July 2006 and July 2008, and found none relating to the issue.

 

Scares about quotas

 

The Guardian reported on 29th April 2009 that broadcasters fear the new bill would force them to include 'quotas' of ethnic minority actors in shows.

 

According to The Guardian "Both broadcasters have made their fears known to the government, while the Conservatives's culture spokesman, Jeremy Hunt, has also intervened, writing to the culture secretary, Andy Burnham, for clarification. ... Today, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said it was in discussions with the broadcasters about the legislation, which could see them added to the list of exempted organisations."

 

These are, in my opinion disingenuous politically motivated scare tactics instigated by those opposed to the concept of a duty to promote equality. There have been, as far as I know, no problems with the currently existing duties to promote equality in the fields of race, gender and disability.

 

Recommendation


Television and broadcasters generally are vital in promoting a tolerant society, and I very much hope that, like other public authorities, they will also be required to adhere to the proposed duty in the Bill to promote equality.

July 2009