Ottery St Mary PCSO Jack aims to promote positive message about sexuality

PCSO Jack Stannard

PCSO Jack Stannard - Credit: Archant

Combatting hate crime and homophobia in East Devon’s communities

An Ottery-based police officer has drawn on his own experiences to spread a positive message about sexuality among young people in East Devon.

Usually to be found fighting crime in Cranbrook and surrounding areas, PCSO Jack Stannard stepped up as a role model when he joined post-16 students as part of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (their sexuality) (LGBTQ+) support group.

As an openly homosexual man and member of Devon and Cornwall’s Gay Police Association, PCSO Stannard spoke out about the rise in hate crime and the force’s ongoing work to increase reporting of it and combat homophobia.

The group was formed this year within an East Devon sixth form at the request of the school counsellor, who felt there was an overwhelming need to link like-minded, but possibly isolated young people – it is one of the only groups of its kind in Devon.

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PCSO Stannard said: “I think most young LGBTQ+ people would benefit massively from a gay role model who has been through the same issues, especially when they are first discovering their sexuality and coming out to family and friends.

“It is a difficult time in people’s lives when they are trying to understand their feelings and how they fit into the world and especially hard trying to figure out how friends and family would react.”

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Hate crime is any offence or incident committed against a person or property which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offenders’ bias against a sexual orientation, gender identity, race, colour, religion, disability or ethnicity.

PCSO Stannard said: “National figures from 2014/15 show a rise in the number of recorded LGBT hate crimes, however it has been publicised that only one in four offences are reported to police.

“The issue of under-reporting of offences, particularly in rural areas, is something that Devon and Cornwall’s Diverse Community Team are fully aware of and striving to address.”

The East Devon counsellor - who prefers not to disclose the school’s name – said: “My work as a therapeutic counsellor has shown me the LGBTQ+ community still faces daily abuse and intolerance, though significant steps to a more accepting attitude have been taken.

“Attitudes change slowly, especially inter-generationally, and while advances on the equality front have been made, students can still face negative reactions and attitudes when they are both at school and at home with their family.

“Home, the one place where you would hope a student feels safe and accepted, may in fact be a hostile environment where the young person strives to hide their true feelings and identity for fear of causing upset and possibly being rejected.

“While my role as counsellor does not provide me with the opportunity to help change family attitudes, I can begin to address attitudes at school.”

He explained the group format is to allow general, topical or personal discussions and disclosures.

The basic premise is to give the students a chance to experience a gay friendly zone - perhaps their first experience of such.

On PCSO Stannard’s visit, he said:

“Jack represented the real world to the students, being a gay adult in society and also part of established authority.

“He showed the students you can be gay and fit into the world.

“I personally feel such groups are not only a necessity for LGBTQ+ students, but also a right. The students are now in the process of starting up a termly newsletter they hope to send out to all Devon sixth forms. It seems a very natural desire for them to find one another and help support those among them who need to know they are not the only one.”

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