Quest Partners With Stonewall to Counter Bullying in Catholic Schools

Catholic teaching is clear, on the importance of opposition to homophobia, in any form:

It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs.  (CDF)

It is deeply regrettable though, that even this sentiment is so clearly expressed, this condemnation has rarely been evident from the bishops of the Catholic Church. Homophobia kills: directly, as seen in homophobic hate crimes, and indirectly, in the much higher incidence of LGBT teen suicides that result from bullying, or from internalized homophobia.

It is for this reason that Quest has entered a partnership with Stonewall to counter homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in English Catholic schools. Early last year, Quest representatives met with Stonewall for a day of interfaith dialogue, on ways to improve faith/lgbt co-operation. Also last year, a number of Quest members joined the Stonewall LGBT role models programme, in which openly LGBT people speak to young people in school assemblies, on their experience of living as openly gay, lesbian, or trans people. For Quest participants, this has involved going into Catholic schools specifically, demonstrating that contrary to popular belief, it is perfectly possible to be both Catholic, and openly gay, lesbian or trans.

This year, 2017, this partnership with Stonewall has stepped up a gear, moving beyond simply talking to pupils in school assemblies, to directly training school staff on their obligation to actively counter HBT bullying. For several years now, Stonewall have conducted such training with their designated “champion” schools, showing how they are obliged, both by equality legislation and by Ofsted standards, to protect LGBT pupils from HBT bullying or discrimination, wherever it occurs.

Some Catholic schools however, have been slow to implement these government guidelines, believing that they are somehow in conflict with Catholic teaching on homosexuality. The guidelines apply though to all schools, including faith schools. Stonewall now have government funding to extend the training to all faith schools – Catholic, Church of England, Jewish and Muslim alike. Quest have formally partnered with Stonewall to undertake this training in Catholic schools.

Eight Quest members recently spent two days with Stonewall, in London and in Manchester respectively, being trained in the Stonewall programme, which in time they will take to Catholic schools across the country. In phase one of the program, we will be training what Stonewall classifies as “lead” schools, speaking first to the school leadership team and later to the full school teams. In phase two, we will be expanding the programme to a “train the trainers” model, in which we will train just one or two people from each school, who will later go away to train their own school teams. Later, in phase three, we may participate in working together with Stonewall, to rewrite their published material on combatting BHT bullying in faith schools.

Some conservative Catholic groups will object that any attempt to defend “homosexuals” is somehow contrary to Catholic teaching. This is flatly contradicted by the English bishops, who have effectively, although indirectly, given their approval to this Stonewall initiative. The Catholic Herald has reported that the Catholic Bishops Conference for England and Wales have arranged for every Catholic school to receive at least one hard copy of a document on countering homophobia, “In God’s Image”. The actual content of this document draws heavily on material either published by Stonewall, or included in the training materials we will be using.

This is an important and valuable project for Quest to be involved in – but should not be seen in isolation. Last year, the Quest committee took a clear decision to refocus ourselves and our activities from a primarily self-help support group, which in practice it has been historically, to the outward-looking charity that is implied by its formal charitable status. Quest members should bear this in mind when the time comes to renew membership. The pertinent question is not simply, “What do I get from my membership?”, but “How does my membership contribute to the greater goal of improving LGBT inclusion and acceptance – in the Church, and in the world?”

Terry Weldon