LGBT in schools – Little Girls (and boys) Bully Tirelessly

We officially have a pre teen. She is amazing: funny (I mean stand up comedy funny), creative (it’s amazing what she uses to try and make slime “Mummmm the toothpaste is on fire!”), Caring (“You’re hurt? Sit down, let me get you a wet flannel”) and talented. She recently landed the lead role in her school play as the youngest in the show. Stage is where she is comfortable. Singing is something she does day and night. We call her Little Miss Leather Lungs.

Then came the Pre Teen bit. This snuck up on us until one day we wondered how we had got to this point. When did it start? The eye rolling, the door slamming, the answer for everything. When did the hatred for hair brushing turn into obsessions over new hair styles, and the roll into uniform in the mornings turn into taking an age to put on some lip gloss and accessorize?

When did shoe styles become a thing?

She started secondary school last September. It has been a rollercoaster as all year 7s friendship groups are fluid in their attempts to find their place. Add in the extra learning, homework and longer days and by the end of first term some were exhibiting flagging behaviours.

Abi has two Mums. I have been a part of her life since she was 14 months old. Together we have doted on her ensuring she has everything she needs, though not everything she wants (she saves for some things). We have brought her up with the magic of nature, wand hunting, foraging, home baking, arts and crafts (she can knit, I can’t!), many beach days, camping. We have always taught her that as long as she is happy, healthy, loved and safe then nothing else matters.

Then the teen thing took a turn. She became rude to us, she wouldn’t sleep, she was emotional. She was not happy going to school and insanely happy coming home. Then bedtime would come and she would not be happy again. School had knocked out one of our four “must haves” – happy. As weeks went by, she drip fed us information. It turns out school had knocked out another of our “must haves” – safe. Abi had been experiencing bulling at school.

One girl – one we had known previously – had gathered other children around her and whispered stories about our daughter. The stories were all the same: “don’t go near her she’s a lesbian freak.” “Her Mum’s are fat scabby lesbians.” “Don’t touch that, Abi has touched it – it’s lesbian infected.” And so it went on with the common thread being “lesbian freak.” We were able to pinpoint children who had taken on board these stories as the common thread was uttered time and time again. One afternoon Abi came out of school dripping with cherry coke. Another afternoon she had Seagull excrement smeared over her. She was often tripped up, often had her hair pulled and often threatened that if she told she would die in an ambulance.

Her distress was increasing as we had email conversations and meetings with school. A couple of incidents had been witnessed but school seemed more concerned with Abi’s behaviour: She is often late to class (she doesn’t want to cross paths with bullies en route so hangs back). She has been seen to be antagonistic in class (the teacher turned after another “lesbian freak” moment so caught the tail end, not the whole story. “These incidents are often reported by us not by her.” She is terrified to talk for fear of repercussion. “90% has not been witnessed.” Yet we are dealing with a different child – a very upset child who has had two ruined school shirts and two ruined coats due to the actions of others.

We took Abi out of lessons – putting her in “base.” A time out area for a week until school dealth with the issues. I felt like one of those parents who is constantly phoning, moaning, emailing. I didn’t want the school to view us negatively because of this but we could not stand by and allow this to continue. She was moved to the other half of the year group. She was given a pass to skip the canteen queue and given bolt holes to go to.

She is doing better in her new classes. She is certainly happier and comes home with tales of lessons and new friends. The issues continue inbetween lessons and at break and lunch but she appears to be handling herself better. She is very sensitive and is not the type of child to retaliate. I just hope this positive spell lasts. We have looked at other schools but if things can be worked out we would rather stay. Her school specialises in an subject dear to her, she has made a couple of good friends and she has bonded with many teachers. We don’t want the actions of one (and her group) to spoil what could be an excellent opportunity for Abi.

No child should EVER suffer in silence or be made to feel they cannot speak due to fear.

We have had a meeting with our local MP who is now requesting updates from the school. Homophobia is not acceptable. We are working very hard to bring our daughter back to the point where she once again feels happy, healthy loved and safe. This blog will be continued as things progress.

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DWP benefit compliance interview day

Today had been a day I had dreaded ever since I got a letter in a little brown envelope telling me to go to a benefit compliance interview. It all seemed very scary but I understood from the outset that this was a generic letter sent to instill fear through terrifying rhetoric. Nevertheless I instantly started wondering what I had done wrong. I lost sleep going through any changes we might have experienced.

My only thought was that, due to fybromyalgia and M.E I had had to reduce my days of work from three to two thus reducing in hours. The wages were so appaling that I took on ad hoc bank work but this didn’t equate to what I had been earning so I figured it would be ok to carry on as per.

Fybro fog is now part of daily life for me. I turned up for this interview last week and was sat for an hour before one of the security guards double checked my letter and informed me that I was a week early! I felt a total numpty and muttered some half hearted joke about not being penalised for being late then!

Today I turned up an hour early, such is my fear of being penalised for being late. I was seen 50 minutes early but a lady suited and booted and carrying a lot of paperwork. I was led into a room with one frosted glass wall. Today has been hot and the office was like a greenhouse. The table was large but I noticed no recording equipment and it was just me and this lady so I hoped this would not result in any kind of warning.

I had with me three months of bank statements, my passport, two bills, a medical letter, a list of income and three months’ wage slips. This was four wage slips due to one month having bank included. I produced them all. I needn’t have though. She only wanted to see my passport and three wage slips.  I explained my condition and also pointed out that next week I lose my job (that will be a different blog).

She clearly and calmly explained that the council had flagged up the bank shifts. She explained I should have declared if my hours had been reduced and then again if I had taken on bank. I explained that I thought (and I genuinely did, though it seems silly now) that I need only inform them if income increases. She was very sympathetic and told me lots of people are of this mind set but the DWP should be informed at every step of income change – whether it is reduction or increase.

At this point I burst into tears. The pressure of this meeting, the looming end of work and having to help my stepdaughter through her turbulant pre teen years through which she is enduring some horrendous bullying all came out right there and then, infront of this stranger, in a formal situation in the form of tears. I was mortified. My strong exterior crumbled. I apologised. I said I had learned from this and it wouldn’t happen again. I apologised for the tears also and explained that losing my job was placing a lot of pressure on me.

She reassured me everything would be OK and I should send a years worth of wage slips in for things to be reassessed and whatever the outcome we will be able to organise something with us rather than against us. She wrote down what I needed to do in case I got “foggy” in the coming days and forgot.

This was not the kind of reaction I expected from a DWP worker. I had the stereotype firmly in my head of hard nosed target driven workers, incapable of sympathy to the plight of us “common folk!”

It was all over and done with in 20 minutes.

All family who had had to calm me in preparation for the meeting were instantly called.

I am hoping this blog will reassure others in the same situation and be instrumental in helping people to avoid the dreaded brown envelope. Please, please inform them of everything – even if it is a drop in wage!