Groups call for end to homophobic bullying

Groups call for end to homophobic bullying

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Observer staff reporter

Friday, May 18, 2012

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REPRESENTATIVES of several local and International organisations met in Kingston yesterday in observance of International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) to discuss matters related to homophobic bullying in schools.

Under the theme 'Right the Wrong: Encouraging Respect for Safer Schools and Better Learning Environments', the forum called for urgent actions to address homophobia in educational institutions.

The discussion forum — which was organised by Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) with the support of the British High Commission — had among its participants, representatives from the United States and Brazil embassies; Canadian and South African high commissions; European Union; several United Nations bodies; education, and youth and culture ministries.

Rob Fuderich, representative of the United Nations Children's Fund, said bullying violates a child's right to education and that sexual bullying should be a reportable offence under the law. He argued that homophobic bullying makes the victim eight times more likely to commit suicide, especially if they do not have the support of families.

Fuderich said homophobic bullying is worth special attention because of the homophobic nature of the Jamaican society.

"Being labelled homosexual is still one of the greatest insults you can inflict on men in this country," he said. "Those who are brave enough to be open with their sexuality are targeted and so there is a security issue," he said.

Education Minister Ronald Thwaites, who was keynote speaker, said we stand as a society guided by our religious and Christian heritage that speaks to loving thy neighbour as thyself.

"Persons, whatever their sexual orientation, whatever their race, religion or class must be treated as if made in the image and likeness of the creator," the minister said.

He said persons must be treated equally despite their sexual orientation, class or colour; each person must be treated equally.

"If there is a wrong to be righted — and I believe there is — then the educational ministry must take the lead in this regard," Thwaites told the gathering. "The policy of the ministry of education is to provide a safe place for all to be educated. I wish to state clearly that the position put forward is consistent with the statement in the recent throne speech, I prefer to call it the people's speech, where commitment was given to improve the way we treat each other," Thwaites said. "It is also consistent with the posture of compassion and the position to end discrimination spoken of by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller not many months ago."

"We stand for policies of fairness and of modesty. We say that exhibitionism, sexual posturing and grooming are inappropriate and should have no place in schools," the minister said. "Our instruction to all schools is that they must provide a safe environment for persons of all sorts, of all different positions in life. And that the historic discrimination that has taken place over the centuries must find no place in our educational environment," he said.

But speaking after Thwaites, Carol Narcisse — chairperson of Jamaica Civil Society Coalition — said the ministers' statements were ambivalent and that such ambivalence allows persons to dance around the issue without taking a position. She said the training of teachers was necessary to end homophobic bullying in schools.

Meantime, Kwame Boafo, UNESCO representative to Jamaica, said the organisation's stance was based on a commitment to education for all. "We are committed to combating violence in schools and addressing gender-based issues," Boafo said.

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