Homophobia is defined as hostility towards or fear of gay people. In practically all areas of life, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are confronted with negative feelings or attitudes towards non-heterosexual behavior, identity, relationships and community. In some countries it is possible to lead an openly gay lifestyle, however, even in the Netherlands, a nation that prides itself on its traditional tolerance, gay couples are sometimes harassed and even physically assaulted.
Negative attitudes towards homosexuality are common, and in some European countries hate crimes toward LGBT individuals continue to occur. Strong religious traditions in many places severely threaten equality and some European governments are failing to fully enforce the protection of LGBT individuals. That is why it is so important that all over the world, educators, teachers and other people who are active in their respective communities are starting to challenge homophobia by beginning at the roots: in our schools. Homophobia is fueled by lack of awareness, and educating young people about LGBT issues is fundamental. A recent survey of 37 European countries found that over half of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people experience bullying in school. And it is not just LGBT people; all young people who do not act in line with gender stereotypes are potential victims.
Schools have an important part to play in challenging homophobia. When schools respond strongly to homophobic bullying, LGBT students are more likely to 'come out'; more likely to feel part of the school community and less likely to be lonely, shunned and depressed. There are various ways in which schools can ensure that students of all sexualities feel included and valued. Teacher training and the integration of sexual orientation into the curriculum are important for building knowledge and understanding. Providing information and support for LGBT students and taking assertive action against homophobic bullying are also vital for creating an environment where all students are supported. One very good example of what people can accomplish is Elly Barnes. She has been a music teacher in London for 12 years and has opened her school as a Diversity Training Centre for teachers. She became actively involved in 2005 by coordinating LGBT History Month. From very small beginnings of an assembly and a year 7 LGBT music scheme the project has grown into a national strategy called ''Educate and Celebrate''. This is a one-day program Elly Barnes has devised for educators to give practical advice, confidence, resources, policies and lesson plans to make schools LGBT friendly.
In her own words: ''The idea is not to confront students with LGBT issues but to seep LGBT people into their consciousness through inclusive lesson plans, along with simply giving young people the facts. The reason students laugh and giggle and use words in a derogatory manner is because they don't know what they mean. And it is up to us as educators to inform them. If there's nothing in the curriculum that represents LGBT people then what role models are there for those young LGBT people in our school? Our curriculum must reflect our community - the same goes for all the equality strands.''