As Eddie Redmayne movie highlights transgender issue, Larne teacher welcomes support for LGBT pupils

Ulster Teachers' Union officer Audrey Stewart.  INLT 03-680-CON
Ulster Teachers' Union officer Audrey Stewart. INLT 03-680-CON

A Larne teacher has welcomed the Education Minister’s commitment to support for transgender pupils in Northern Ireland.

Ulster Teachers’ Union officer Audrey Stewart, former head of Olderfleet Primary School , was speaking in the wake of John O’Dowd’s recent meeting with SAIL (Support, Acceptance, Information and Learning), the local support group for the families of gender variant or transgender people of any age.

“We welcome this support at a time when Eddie Redmayne’s latest movie The Danish Girl highlights the transgender issue,” she said.

“However, homophobia remains a pervasive and persistent problem in Northern Ireland schools.

“They are not easy issues to tackle in a conservative society but we must face them and as schools lie at their heart of our society they must be supported in this pivotal role.

“Homophobia is arguably the toughest issue within the gamut of anti equality bullying. Tackle it and there is evidence to show that teachers can feel empowered to deal with other prejudice based bullying.

“I was shocked by a report on the issue from gay rights organisation Stonewall, which revealed that over half of young people aged between 11 and 18 surveyed had experienced homophobic bullying at school

“Of course, the usage of the term ‘gay’ has changed in recent decades - it is now being used as a pejorative term, regardless of the undermining effect that this is bound to have on the Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, whether among pupils or staff.

“You have to ask what would be done if a racist term, for instance, had entered into such everyday parlance as a general term of abuse.

“Homophobic bullying does not just affect people who identify as LGBT. In schools, it can directly affect any young person whose life choices, interests or needs do not conform to accepted gender norms, as well as adult members of the school community who are LGBT, and anyone who may have friends or relatives who are LGBT.

“Homophobia remains a pervasive and persistent problem in Northern Ireland classroom, and I am aware of a growing tide of sexist language being used. Yet because teachers are over-stretched and because of the perceived contentious nature of the issue by some people, it is an issue which too often is brushed aside – whether it is the child or the member of staff on the receiving end.”