The Catholic Education Service (CES), an agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, recently published a guideline for schools detailing how to identify and prevent “homophobic bullying.” But from the beginning, the definitions contained in “Made in God’s Image: Challenging homophobic and biphobic bullying in Catholic Schools” are incredibly broad; for instance:
Homophobic bullying is bullying that is based on prejudice or negative attitudes, beliefs or views about lesbian, gay or bi people.
An example of so-called bullying includes:
…a girl who reports that since she came out as a lesbian, other girls in her class keep moving away from her and giggling every time they’re in the changing rooms.
The guidelines also include a draconian monitoring of conversations and language; “biphobic bullying” includes:
…a bisexual student repeatedly being asked probing or intimidating questions, such as, ‘can’t you make your mind up – do you fancy boys or girls?’ or ‘why can’t you be normal and just pick boys or girls?
In addition, the aims of the guidelines are impossibly wide-ranging:
If we are to create safe communities of learning, of love and of care for each learner, we must eradicate any practice that leaves any individual feeling perplexed or threatened.
As someone who was mercilessly teased in grammar school, my sympathies are entirely with those who have experienced name-calling and intimidation, but in reality, what is upsetting to an individual will often remain particular to a certain individual. In terms of my own life, in hindsight, other boys in my peer-group experienced the near same sort of maltreatment – only they reacted differently than I did. And, that had nothing to do with the nature or severity of the bullying, but was influenced by other traumatic situations happening concurrently in my life. Therefore, in order to “eradicate any practice that leaves any individual feeling perplexed or threatened,” an endless multitude of words, actions, and gestures must be continually scrutinized while the underlying cause of the anxiety go unaddressed. Furthermore, this multiplication of possible offenses is mirrored in the seemingly unlimited number of gender and sexual identities.
Another recommendation from the text:
It is important to remember that there are likely to be LGBT pupils in your class. It is therefore good practice to avoid describing LGBT people as ‘them’ and ‘they’ and non-LGBT people as ‘we’ and ‘us’ as this is likely to alienate LGBT pupils and make them feel very different. Talking about ‘LGBT people’ is more inclusive as it acknowledges that anyone in the class could be LGB or T or know LGBT people.
The guidelines also include a series of model lessons; one of them titled “Homophobic scenarios” (Lesson #5) considers the following to be an example o homophobia:
Jay is gay. He is open and honest about his sexuality and likes to dress in his own special style. In walking down the street a group of lads stand with their back to the wall until he has passed by. Nothing is said.
But the most nefarious is Lesson #7 – “Challenging homophobia.” Here students are told to read a series of case studies; one of them includes a short story about a woman estranged from her “gay” brother. The women’s son watches as his mother reacts to receiving a card from her brother. The brother, who is in a same-sex relationship, is portrayed as the victim of homophobia – simply: “Just because he’s gay.” The outcome of the lesson is for students who experience similar situations to challenge such homophobic attitudes.
The final lesson (Lesson #8) is an exercise in extreme extrapolation; students are told to design a poster “that challenges homophobic bullying that includes one of these sayings” from a list of non-related quotes posted to the Twitter account of Pope Francis.