Dear Justin Welby

Firstly, thank you for your speech the other night. Oh, I know it wasn’t directed at me, it was for the General Synod of the Church of England. But you knew that lots of us around the communion would be listening in.

In that speech, you said:

The majority of the population rightly detests homophobic behaviour or anything that looks like it. And sometimes they look at us and see what they don’t like. I don’t like saying that. I’ve resisted that thought. But in  [the recent House of Lords debate] I heard it, and I could not walk away from it. We all know that it is utterly horrifying. to hear, as we did this week, of gay people executed in Iran for being gay, or equivalents elsewhere. With nearly a million children educated in our schools we not only must demonstrate a profound commitment to stamp out such stereotyping and bullying; but we must also take action. We are therefore developing a programme for use in our schools, taking the best advice we can find anywhere, that specifically targets such bullying.

Allow me, if I may, to start offering some of that advice that you’re looking for.

Firstly, well done for naming the problem. It is good to stand up and say something unexpected to get people’s attention. Associating homophobia with bullying is really important. Lots of kids have a miserable life because of homophobic bullying and you’ve recognised that and said so more clearly than any other Archbishop of Canterbury. A resounding two cheers for you for doing so.

Two cheers? Ah, well yes. You see, you missed one particular detail. You said you’d heard Lord Alli in the House of Lords saying that 97% of gay teenagers in this country report homophobic bullying and that in the USA suicide as a result of such bullying is the principle cause of death of gay adolescents.  So far, so good. What you missed out on reporting to Synod is that Stonewall’s research shows that such bullying is worse in faith schools and is not tackled as well in faith schools as it is in other schools. That makes the problem one that is sitting right at your door, with those million children in C of E care. Naming that this is a particular problem for the church is something you still need to do. But you’ve come a long way fairly quickly so we’ll just presume that you catch this detail and speak about it fairly soon, shall we?

Now, the real headache is what to do next. I guess the temptation is to set up a committee. However, let me save you some time. Committees always take forever, and I can probably give you some starting points.

Firstly, you’ve said  that you will take the best advice from wherever it comes. Goody! Get on the phone to School’s Out and Stonewall as soon as you are done with synod in York. They’ll be expecting your call. They’ll give you some leads as to who you need to speak to.

What? Did you think I meant that you just needed to talk to those organisations? Oh no, life isn’t that easy. What they’ll help you do is listen to the gay kids themselves. (Start by reading Stonewall’s latest education report if you like, but make sure that is only a start).

My hunch is that those kids will give you plenty to think about and plenty to get on with very quickly.

Whenever I listen to such voices, I tend to hear them talking about role models, challenging bad behaviour and building a culture where homophobic abuse is unthinkable. (“Not cool” is what they sometimes call it. You and I call it “Sin”, don’t we?).

So, when it comes to role models, you’re going to start celebrating some good gay role models and talking about them in public, yes? That will be good role models in the world as well as in the church, won’t it? Ian McKellern can’t get around every school in the country on his own. We need to help him out. A few senior gay clergy making an It Gets Better video would be a start. (You couldn’t find a budget line for that could you, just to make sure it is done well?)

If you’ve a moment, you could check out some It Gets Better videos on youtube. They’ll give you clues as to which other organisations you need to be picking up the phone to, in order to learn how organisations get over homophobia. Start with the military and the police if you like, but make a start somewhere.

Now, we are going to need some guidelines on appointments, are we not? I guess there will need to be a committee somewhere to produce them, but it can’t be hard. Just acknowledge that you want to stop homophobic bullying and so from now on, no appointment of teachers, particularly head teachers in church schools, unless they can demonstrate that they are supportive of gay kids, kids in gay families and gay teachers. Worried about people saying that you are discriminating against good teachers because they don’t like gay people? Face them down Father Justin, face them down. Look them in the eye and say, “You Bet We Are Discriminating!”. And then go on to say that we discriminate against racists (we do don’t we?) and what of it? You’ll win the argument and you’ll make the world a better place.

Don’t forget those gay teachers. We’re building a culture where they can come out, aren’t we? You know, when they can talk as freely about being with their other half as a straight teacher can talk about his or her spouse? Where the kids get to send them cards if they get married (oops, nearly running away with myself) partnered or whatever you want us to call it. Where teachers are not frightened of expressing their love outside the school for fear of what might happen within it.

And yes, we do need some good age appropriate resources for tackling this problem. (We might need some better sex-ed class material too, but why not take that up with your pal Mr Gove when you see him).

However, you’ll be aware that it isn’t just resources that are needed, aren’t you. After all, simply providing a set of resources rather than going for a whole “revolution” in the way these things are dealt with in schools might almost make someone think that you thought that the problem was simply one of the children’s attitudes and that the world (the school?) around them was not partly to blame.

And blaming the kids would never do, would it? It would be like passing the buck on child abuse and blaming the victims themselves. We’d never do that now, would we?

Oh, wait a minute…..

Comments

  1. What a wonderful blog post 🙂

    I’m an out lesbian teacher and I could certainly give ++Justin some starters for ten..The first one would be to have real out and working LGBT teachers and kids on his committee.

    My room was always a safe haven for LGBT identifying kids at my school. I think they appreciated the fact that I was openly out and made a point of facing down ANY homophobic behaviour from staff,pupils, or visitors (Our school chaplaincy team was a case in point!)

    I wrote about this myself back in 2003 in the papers.
    http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=382008

  2. http://Stephen%20Peters says

    Another excellent post. And while the CofE is discussing homosexual bullying, they might like to reflect in particular on the case of Jeffrey John (not the Bishop of Reading) and more generally on the case of all LGBT Christians who are discriminated against and not listened to by the Church. You can bless a ship, you can even bless a grave, but you can’t bless a gay couple who have committed to one another in love in a civil partnership (or soon, God Blessing, in an equal marriage). =How to make some good Christians feel less worth than you, straight and controlling synod members and Bishops of the Church…..though of course, some of the Bishops are gay – but too frightened to stand up and say so – frightened of being bullied by the rest. And NO, we won’t be quiet.

  3. Lovely post, Kelvin. I’d say put the ideas in a letter and send it, but I suppose it’s neither your business nor mine. I truly do not understand Justin’s archbishopspeak any more than I understood Rowan’s. For example, in his speech at GS about what he heard in the House of Lords:

    “I am not proposing new policy, but what I feel then and feel now, is that some of what was said by those supporting the Bill was uncomfortably close to the bone.”

    Close to the bone, but not close enough to consider a change in policy? He speaks often about reconciliation, but how is such a statement a step forward toward reconciliation with LGTB persons? Are we to ignore the disclaimer at the very beginning of the statement, or should we ignore the entire statement because of the disclaimer? It makes me a little crazy, because I begin to think, “Is it me? Am I dim and just don’t get it?”

  4. Thank you so very much for this.

  5. Brilliant! with a necessary and informed *cutting edge*. The problem with the Church of England General Synod is that not enough of her members understand the sense of urgency required on these issues. I fear many Bishops and their Synods will continue to pass the buck to *secularism* – this so called terrible evil at work in our society. During my parish ministry I encountered some understandable hostility from school authorities who had in the past been subject to bizarre interpretations of scripture. As far as I am aware Creationists in the Church of England seem to be allowed to barge into any educational establishment with their damaging theology. This problem needs to be addressed and regulated. In one school I got round the problem by turning up for domestic science classes and we baked bread together! Interesting – the youngsters seemed quite happy to talk about faith and their often complex relationships. Pity the priest before me had scuppered our assembly input. More interestingly – the young people had remembered what he had told them and certain phrases stuck in their minds and they were content with my responses and began to tell me their bereavement stories and their concern about whether their loved ones were saved or not. One teenager saw me privately to discuss his sexual orientation. I am recalling what was apparent fifteen years ago when I was thought of as dangerous! Perhaps I am but I’ll take my chances on this one. I am in absolutely no doubt that some of the servants and members of our General Synod remain in ignorance and are dangerous with their theology.

    I am also convinced that the Holy Spirit is challenging The Church of England so strongly that she is rather overwhelmed with truth at present. There is much more support for comprehensive equality in the pews and on the streets than some of our leaders suppose. I do hope and pray that Archbishop Justin will listen to and respond to those who are speaking their mind in love. Your observations are very important to us Kelvin, most especially because we are in great need of prophets. For the moment I would comment that Archbishop Justin seems open to wider discussions – and Yes a meeting with Stonewall representatives should be high on his agenda.

  6. http://Pam says

    I sincerely hope Justin takes your advice Kelvin. Much reform needs to take place. And the issue of “Women & Power (in the church and elsewhere)” could do with an airing as well!

  7. Brill post, Kelvin. G’aun yersel, son! (or rather, G’aun yersel, faither…)

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