Sir Ian McKellen, co-founder of Stonewall, visited two Bristol schools and a youth group today as part of his work to support the charity.
Stonewall is a charity that works to achieve equality and justice for lesbians, gay men and bisexual people.
The tour is a benefit to all members of Stonewall’s Education Champions Programme, which supports local authorities in helping their local schools to prevent and tackle homophobic bullying.
Today he visited the City Academy and Fairfield High School, where he took part in school assembly and chatted to staff, pupils and governors. He also met a group of young people from ‘Freedom Youth’, a youth group for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender young people, to chat about their experiences.
Sir Ian McKellen said: “Until I visited secondary schools recently, I hadn’t realised how much anti-gay bullying goes on, throughout the education system. By talking frankly about my own life as a gay man and listening to the concerns of staff and students, parents and governors, I hope the visits arranged by Stonewall may make a difference in the classroom and the playground and also give confidence to gay students about their lives in the future.”
Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, Cllr Clare Campion-Smith, said: “Sir Ian has delivered some very important messages for young people and schools in Bristol today. We are working hard to equip our schools with resources to tackle homophobic bullying and I hope that Sir Ian’s visit has helped students and staff recognise that they have the right to learn and work in a safe and inclusive environment.”
Head teacher at Fairfield High School, Catriona Mangham, said: ” We are delighted that Sir Ian is visiting after some of our citizenship students wrote to him requesting he come and talk to the school. The school prides itself on being a very strong community, in which all are treated as individuals. The students and staff here believe that everyone should listen and understand others’ views and no one should be persecuted for their individuality. We believe this visit will underpin that ethos within the school.”
Gill Kelly, Principal of the City Academy, said: “Sir Ian’s visit has had a great effect on the Academy community in raising awareness of homophobic bullying and the impact it can have on individuals. It was a great privilege to welcome him to our school.”
Ollie Crook, from Freedom Youth, said: “This is an incredible opportunity to meet such a famous role model who is actively campaigning to tackle homophobic bullying in our schools in Bristol.”
As part of its commitment to promote lesbian, gay and bisexual equalities in schools, the city council signed up to Stonewall’s Education Champions programme in March this year. It also has a working group, including head teachers and governors, to consult on priorities and take forward best practice to tackle homophobia and homophobic bullying.
National research shows that almost two thirds of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils in secondary schools experience homophobic bullying. And homophobic bullying doesn’t only affect lesbian, gay and bisexual young people: 9 in 10 teachers say young people perceived as ‘different’ or who have gay friends and family may also experience homophobic bullying.
ln schools that have said homophobic bullying is wrong, gay young people are 60 per cent less likely to have been bullied.