Hate Crime Awareness Week 12th-19th October

In preparation for and to kick off: Hate Crime Awareness week, we have shared one person’s story. This is with the aim to highlight the impact that hate crime can have on a person. Many thanks to the brave person who was kind enough to share this with us:

My Child’s Story:

Most of my child’s time at secondary school was dominated by hate, to the point of them leaving the school in Year 10 after constant harassment, bullying, failed attempts at getting the school to do anything and my child suffering from self-harm, depression and suicidal thoughts. 

My child, who I’ll refer to as H, didn’t have a lot of friends as they moved up to secondary school, they were more likely to be involved in small groups of two or three. Those friends changed, but by the time H left, at Easter in Year 10, they didn’t have the support of a single student. They had spent every break and lunchtime for over two years in a teacher’s office, hiding from others, avoiding social contact and the chance of possible conflict and abuse. 

H was a confident child as they moved into Year 7, they sang and danced, starred in plays, which included lead roles. This confidence also meant they dressed a little different, had strong beliefs and they were a little warrior. I was proud, they would stand up for people, but this also meant they didn’t fit in. They weren’t a people pleaser just for the sake of it. 

In the summer holidays between Year 6 and 7 H developed a friendship with a girl at holiday club. They spent all of their time together, both during and after the holiday club sessions. H went on to tell me that they were gay, and I was pleased that they could be so open with me. I didn’t care at all, my child is my child no matter what. The friend went home down south after the holidays, but H and her kept in touch. 

My child was quite open about their sexuality, and I was proud that I’d raised a confident child, who believed in standing up for what they believed in. The other students weren’t so open minded. 

The first big incident was a series of silent phone calls which went on for about 3 weeks until I was present and managed to record the phone call. “Are you a dyke?” “You’re a lesbian!” “Have you a cock?” interspersed by giggling between the two girls on the other end of the phone. The girl who spoke most had a distinctive accent and I was able to take this recording into school. There was a suspect, and their form tutor made a statement that there had been a serious incident and the police would be involved if no one owned up. Later that day, the suspect and her friend went to the college leader in tears and confessed. I’d already involved the police to try and get to the bottom of it, they visited the girls and their parents, and I subsequently received phone calls from the parents stating that it must be the other girl as their own child wouldn’t do such a thing. They were horrified at the language used in the phone calls. The school didn’t take any action as the police had dealt with it, so H had to see those students every day knowing that nothing had been done.

There was general unrest at school, but nothing major. H got some hassle now and again, but was strong enough to fend it off, although they were spending more time in the teacher’s office as they were starting to avoid the other students. H made friends in the office with other students who would pop in. There just seemed to be a problem with bitchy girls who would talk behind each other’s backs or childish boys who thought it was funny to shout ‘lesbian’ or ‘dyke’ at H. 

We sought help from the predecessor to Darlington ARQ who arranged meetings including a hate crime officer and a teacher from school. All the right things were said, but we soon realised that the school wasn’t taking it seriously. There was low level homophobic language used all around school, sometimes directed at H, but the students used it against each other in everyday language. I discovered that H had started to self-harm and was becoming more isolated.

The next serious incident happened when H was followed home from school by boys shouting ‘faggot’. H came home in tears, not for the first time, and I contacted the police immediately. Following the initial meeting with the police to report the incident we didn’t hear anything for months, yet again I thought, nothing is going to be done, this is just to be accepted as kids messing around. After six months or so we got a phone call to say the officer had been on sick leave and a new officer would be following it up. Apparently, the school had traced one boy, but didn’t know if the other still attended the school. It had taken the police months to get information from the school and the boy’s contact details. I was asked if I wanted the investigation to continue, but this was about six months from the date of the incident, so I said there was no point.

The new officer was a hate crime officer who was amazingly supportive. He spent a lot of time with us and made us feel that we were getting help and that the issues in school were going to be taken seriously. He was enthusiastic, but the school were not. He contacted the school but had a lot of difficulty getting access to anyone. It just wasn’t seen as a big problem. ARQ was also trying to get into the school, they offered to help, to provide education, yet often the emails were either passed on or remained unanswered.

H was now getting more withdrawn and wouldn’t leave the house. They spent most of their time in their bedroom, sometimes begging me not to go to school. I believed one day off would lead to another, so I made them go. I thought that if they had support at home, they would be ok.

The next big step was when H told me they were non-binary. I didn’t know a lot about being non-binary, but it didn’t matter, they were still my child. I went into school to discuss this as H wanted to use ‘they’ and ‘them’ pronouns, change their name and live their life as a non-binary person. I had discussed with H what they wanted to do and how they wanted to change things. We agreed that if they were sure, that they would need to tell their father, so that they weren’t living two separate lives. H was dysphoric about their birth name and wanted to get away from being a girl, they told me they didn’t feel like a girl or a boy. 

We had a meeting at school about how to handle the transition. One teacher was fantastic and very supportive, but everything got diluted in the follow through. H would use the disabled toilet and they would also use a disabled toilet to change for PE. PE produced many problems, the language of teachers was upsetting to H in a segregated lesson, “Come along girls” or “Over here ladies”, which might not seem a big deal, but to someone who wasn’t female, this was uncomfortable and also humiliating as the other students would look at H when these things were said. H was getting more and more withdrawn so wouldn’t question the authority and felt very self-conscious. 

H had their new name as their chosen name on registers, but this wasn’t updated on the school system, so I would still receive messages using their deadname. When cover teachers stood in for lessons, they would us H’s deadname which was uncomfortable and embarrassing for H. This would lead to other students using the deadname, which was bad enough done by accident, but for other students to get a kick out of this was soul destroying for H. Particular students would ask H if they were a boy or a girl, “Oh you’re still a girl as you’ve got breasts”, “Have you got a cock?”, “There’s no such thing as non-binary, look at the science” or “You’re not H legally, so we’ll call you ‘deadname’”.

A few weeks after coming out as non-binary H was followed home from school by a group of boys asking awkward questions. H told them to leave them alone, but they continued. Someone else caught this on video, but the school’s policy regarding H’s new identity was to discuss it with students rather than to punish. The school believed they could educate the students, when in fact the students were making H’s life hell with no comeback.

H would receive insults daily, there would be words shouted in the corridor, sly comments or intimidating questions. They would also hear homophobic and transphobic language used around school, and as they had become so sensitive, they found this upsetting. Students would call each other gay, or faggot, and the school did the very minimum. It was as if teachers ignored this language for an easy life, it didn’t matter to them, but inside H was crumbling. The self-harm was continuing in many different forms and I’d found notes in H’s room that were extremely disturbing to me. They’d transformed from a proud confident person to a child who didn’t want to be here anymore.  When I had to leave the house, I would desperately wait for text replies from H just to know that they were ok. At home I felt helpless and my mental health was going downhill. I couldn’t make this go away and I couldn’t make it better for H, as a mother I should have been able to protect them against the world. I put on a brave front, but there were occasions when we would cry together. Some days H would come home from school, collapse on the floor and cry. Every day I would wonder what the abuse had been today and what I would come home to. I kept thinking school will do something, they couldn’t let this constant bullying continue, but every time I emailed, there was an excuse for a reply, H is twisting the story, H got it wrong, the person didn’t mean it like that, and I felt I was being an overprotective mother. The school continued to have the opinion that talking and explaining to the students was better than punishing them, so there was no deterrent. The students saw it as funny banter, yet to H it was happening in almost every lesson and throughout the day, over and over again. Death by a thousand cuts.

In March 2019 the final incident happened in registration. The form tutor had never been supportive, even referring to herself as a ‘tranny’ on a dress up day. On this morning a boy was being loud and using the word dyke. Another student told him he shouldn’t use that word. “Why not?” he asked, “H is allowed to use it”, although I have never heard them use that word. This unwanted attention in an unruly form class was the last straw, H collapsed on the desk in tears. They were escorted from the class and never went to another lesson. The reaction from the safeguarding lead was “Oh, it’s going to be another one of those days”. H was messaging me from the toilet, crying and hiding, desperate for me to collect them. I went straight into school and brought them home. 

The school arranged for H to go in on reduced hours, to avoid walking to school with the other students and would work in a separate room with a teacher. I had to get them out of there. I emailed a specialist school in town who deal with children who have problems in mainstream school, either health or mental health but they needed a referral letter. Our GP, who H had been seeing for over a year with depression wrote a letter, but the school couldn’t accept that, they wanted a referral from CAMHHs, which would take at least 6 months. H could not go through endless months at the old school, educated in isolation, bumping into students who wanted to know what was going on. Although H had been receiving counselling at Darlington ARQ who had been supporting us in many ways, the new school couldn’t accept a referral letter from them according to their guidelines. Following phone calls from the principal of the old school, the new school accepted ARQ’s recommendation and we have never looked back. Within two weeks H’s face was bright, the permanent look of sadness had gone. Of course, they were nervous about a new school as their confidence so low, and I was too, but we had made the right decision. One term at the new school and H was gaining confidence, starting to dress more extravagantly again, wearing make-up and colouring their hair. They started volunteering, something I had never dreamed of, and they were going out and meeting friends from the new school. 

There was an isolated incident at the new school, and the head teacher acted promptly, taking it very seriously. Both myself and H thought ‘here we go again’, and the feeling of dread came back. To our relief the new school reacted promptly with appropriate punishment and have made us feel safe, that they have zero tolerance to any abuse. This is how it should be.

I have spoken in public about our story and people are shocked that this could happen. Speaking about it is upsetting and I still can’t believe what we went through and had to accept as our normal life, but if think people need to know. The hate has to stop.

We can’t thank Darlington ARQ enough for their support in so many ways throughout this experience, counselling, peer support, support in meetings and countless correspondence.