Pupils are taught about figures from history persecuted for their sexuality, such as wartime code breaker Alan Turing. Photograph: National Portrait Gallery London
A north London school which has developed lessons on gay historical figures who suffered persecution claims to have succeeded in "more or less eliminating homophobic bullying" in its classrooms and playgrounds over the last five years.
The life story of the wartime code-breaker Alan Turing is among those being used to tackle homophobia. Authors Oscar Wilde and James Baldwin and artist Andy Warhol also feature.
Now Stoke Newington secondary plans to share the lessons with hundreds of primary and secondary school teachers. By the summer, it will have trained more than a hundred teachers in how to "educate and celebrate" being gay.
Turing, a mathematician who cracked German codes in the second world war, was prosecuted in 1952 for his homosexuality, which was then a crime. He was forced to decide between prison and taking female hormones to reduce his libido, and chose the latter. An inquest into his death – two years after his prosecution – returned a verdict of suicide.
Last year, Gordon Brown offered a posthumous government apology for the way Turing had been treated for being gay.
Elly Barnes, a music teacher, devised the lesson plans and training course with the help of colleagues. Her concern began when she heard a pupil say their "pen was so gay" when it snapped in two. Barnes's aim is to "eradicate homophobia from all schools" by giving staff the confidence and resources required to tackle the prejudice.
Earlier this month, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission published a report, How Fair is Britain?, which found two-thirds of lesbian, gay and transgender students had suffered homophobic bullying, and 17% had received death threats.
Nearly half of secondary school teachers in England believe homophobic bullying is common. Only one in six believes their school is active in promoting the rights of gay pupils, the commission found.
"Many schools haven't even begun to deal with homophobia," Barnes said. "Some still think being gay is illegal in parts of the country."
She believes one problem is that teachers dread taking lessons on homosexuality. "Many are scared of celebrating LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] as they are worried pupils will judge them and will assume they are gay. In fact, to them, we are just a blob giving them information. Over the five years, I've only had three pupils ask whether I am gay."
A week ago, a group of 10 and 11 year olds trooped into Barnes's classroom and she played them a clip from the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which is about three drag queens travelling across the Australian outback. The pupils appeared happy to discuss transvestites and transsexuals.
"There is a man at my auntie's work who wears a skirt and has really hairy legs," said one. "Criss-cross is where you like both men and women," offered another.
Florence, aged 12, told the class about the first wedding she went to. "It was a gay wedding and they were called Andrew and Eric, and I wanted to be a bridesmaid, but I had only known them for two years."
Josiah, aged 11, said: "The pope opposes homosexuality, but I don't know why, as I think everyone should have free will."
Occasionally, the lessons do not go to plan. One of Barnes's colleagues, Anna Gluckstein, was teaching about Turing when a boy at the back of the class got up and chanted "batty man, batty man" – a Jamaican term for a gay man.
A poll of 1,145 pupils in 2007 by the charity Stonewall found 65% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students had experienced homophobic bullying. Some 98% said the word "gay" was used as a synonym for "rubbish".
"By looking at famous LGBT people in history, we've changed opinions and we have had a number of pupils come out," Barnes said. "We have also changed the language used in the school. I used to hear the word gay used all the time as a derogatory term. Now we hardly hear it."