Image: George Paulwels
Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (or HBT) bullying is a significant problem in UK schools, with more than half of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people saying they’ve been bullied because of their sexual orientation. Have a look at our article on tackling HBT bullying in schools for more information on how you can prevent this type of bullying. Feelings of embarrassment about the bullying and fear of what others might think often prevent many bullied gay pupils from seeking help. Three in five bullied gay pupils never tell anyone because they are too embarrassed. So, if your child confides in you, be proud that they trust you and were brave enough to seek help.
- Some parents find out their child is LGBT for the first time when they’re made aware of a bullying incident. This can be very upsetting, but try not to take it personally that they hadn't already come out to you. People come out at different times and for different reasons, many of which have nothing to do with anyone else. It might be helpful for you to look at our article on what to do when you think your child may be gay.
- It’s also useful to remember that not everyone who experiences HBT bullying is actually LGBT. Young people who act in ways that their peers think are unusual for their gender might also be targeted – for instance, boys who don’t take an interest in sport.
- Parents should react to HBT bullying in the same way they’d react to any type of bullying – have a look at our article on what to do if your child is being bullied.
- There are also some resources specifically for LGBT young people and their families. Stonewall, one of the nation’s leading LGBT organisations, can help with contacting schools and local authorities about a bullying problem if parents get in touch.
What if your child is the bully?
If you’ve made an effort to raise a child who is tolerant and accepting of others, it can be saddening and shocking to discover that your child is involved in homophobic bullying.
- Often this kind of behaviour stems from ignorance and a lack of awareness of how much unkind words and actions may affect somebody else. Some young people see words like 'gay' as casual insults and may not realise their impact. Make sure they know the long-term effects this kind of bullying can have. Ask them to imagine how they’d feel if someone started picking on them because of who they are.
- It’s likely your child picked up this behaviour from a peer group – encourage them to spend time with other friends that don’t treat people like this, and ask them if these values are consistent with what kind of person they want to be.
- There’s no excuse for intolerance but, regardless of what your child thinks about LGBT people, they should know that HBT bullying is very serious. Within school, you are in somewhat a protected bubble – HBT bullying is a cause for concern and may involve some consequences – but outside of a school environment it could be deemed homophobic harassment. At work, this could mean losing your job, or if more severe, becoming a police issue. Looking at it from this perspective can help them to better understand the severity of their behaviour.
- Although your initial reaction to learning that your child has been bullying one of their peers will probably be anger or disappointment, bear in mind that picking on other people can be a sign of deeper personal issues related to self-esteem. If so, it may be helpful to seek additional support.
If you need further support or advice about HBT bullying, there are various organisations that can help.
- Young Stonewall http://www.youngstonewall.org.uk/
- Find a support group in your area here http://www.youngstonewall.org.uk/help-advice/whats-my-area
- Rucomingout.com - forum where LGBTQ+ people can share their coming out stories
- E-mentoring scheme run by the University of Bath designed for young people aged 14+ who want to email a group of trained students about various issues around sexuality and gender identity http://people.bath.ac.uk/su4lgbs/e-mentoring/
 The School Report, 2012, Stonewall http://www.stonewall.org.uk/resources/school-report-2012