Don's diary: protecting gay youth

May 24, 2002

After my lecture last week in Liverpool on lesbian and gay youth development and how it affects families and schools, I spend the morning playing catch-up with correspondence. I am a little disappointed that I have had no feedback from my talk. Often I feel that organisations are just paying lip-service to an issue such as lesbian and gay youth safety, which they feel doesn't really affect them.

Lunchtime is split between attending a preparatory examination board and a tutorial with a student experiencing personal difficulties, followed rapidly by a chat with one of my research assistants about the results from our longitudinal study of growing up and living as lesbian, gay and bisexual in the UK. We are looking at the experiences of post-traumatic stress following sexual abuse among 46 per cent of our sample.

The day begins at a conference hosted by the City of York Local Education Authority and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children on initiatives to tackle school bullying. One of my PhD supervisors is giving the keynote address. I am told, however, that my workshop has been cancelled as few delegates are interested in homophobic bullying. This is no surprise really. Again, it seems as if only lip-service is ever paid to an issue that is literally taking the lives of young people in school today.

I leave the conference early and return to college to meet with my research assistants and, in the role of mentor, with a new colleague who has just experienced her first day of teaching. The teaching session has gone well and she feels confident.

The morning is spent preparing the presentation I am giving in Malta on Friday. A colleague drops in to discuss the possibility of collaborative work, using interviews I have gathered on the lives of lesbians and gay men, but we are soon interrupted by the arrival of another new research student bearing her project on bisexuality and dual identities. By 6pm I am on my way home to pack and by 11:45pm safely ensconced in my Heathrow Airport hotel.

Arriving in Malta, we are met at the airport by the organisers of the conference. A short car journey later, I join my colleague and his partner for a drink in the hotel bar before we are taken to the walled city of Mdina, former capital of Malta.

Over dinner, the president of the Malta Union of Professional Psychologists tries to provide us with a sense of how lesbians and gay men fare in a country where issues such as divorce are only now being debated. Malta is just coming to terms with the idea that there are other forms of family that co-exist alongside marriage. It will be interesting to see how the minister of education addresses the issue tomorrow.

My colleague opens the conference with his paper "Psychotherapy and sexuality: A new era". He is followed by a brief presentation from the minister of education, who is coy about the government's stance on the issue of homosexuality while making a number of positive remarks about protecting lesbian and gay youth, which seem to meet with the general agreement of the audience.

I have already decided to structure my address around a number of slides rather than prepare a text. I focus on the differences between previous research on bullying at school and the nature of homophobic bullying, using case notes and data gathered from a study I undertook some years ago. There are general murmurings of agreement, but the question-and-answer session is disappointing - the will may be there, but the "fire" definitely is not.

During a newspaper interview, I am slightly angered by being described as an advocate, and I stress that I am a researcher first and foremost. I believe that research findings can inform politics but not vice versa. Once again, a brief allusion is made to my sexual orientation. I always find it irksome, but it seems to go with territory.

Ian Rivers is reader in psychology at the School of Sports Science and psychology, York St John College.

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