Tackling LGBT bullying at school

Image: Jeremy Segrott

School should be a safe place for every student, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. But many LGBT students face an alarming amount of bullying and harassment. Recent research by Stonewall shows that:

  • 55% of LGBT students report having experienced homophobic, biphobic or transphobic (HBT) bullying.[i]
     
  • 9 in 10 secondary school teachers say that pupils in their schools have been subject to homophobic bullying. In primary schools, 45% of teachers report homophobic bullying among pupils.[ii]
     
  • Almost one in four lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils experience cyberbullying and almost one in ten are bullied by text message.

Despite the scale of the problem, not enough schools are challenging LGBT prejudice. Only half of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils report that their schools say homophobic bullying is wrong, and even fewer in faith schools, at 37%. Stonewall is a charity that specialises in campaigning for LGBT rights and has been working towards eliminating homophobic, biphobic and recently also transphobic (HBT) bullying in schools through an anti-HBT bullying training programme.[iii] As a parent, you play an important role in helping reduce HBT bullying in schools, whether you have a child that identifies as LGBT or not. Here’s their advice on how you can help.

Language

One of the key things is to remind children how hurtful homophobic, biphobic or transphobic language can be. It’s obviously important to tackle derogatory terms used to describe gay, bisexual or transgender people, but casual comments said in passing, such as describing a negative situation as ‘gay’, can also be damaging. This is incredibly widespread – 90% of students have, at least once, used the word ‘gay’ in a negative context. The presence of homophobic language is strongly linked to bullying - in schools where students frequently hear homophobic language, 68% of gay pupils are bullied, as opposed to 37% in schools where homophobic language is rarely or never heard.

Often children may not have realised how offensive this kind of talk can be. They may argue that the word has become so commonplace in this context that its meaning has changed and that gay people should understand this and not take it personally. But throwaway comments can seriously undermine gay pupils’ self-esteem, with more than 4:5 gay students reporting they feel distressed when they hear the word 'gay' used in this way.

If you hear children use this kind of language, challenge it. Ask them why they chose to describe a situation like this and not by using another word, such as ‘annoying’ or ‘bad’. This can make them realise how inappropriate the word is in this context. If they don’t have a problem with gay people, why would they associate the word gay with such negative connotations?

There are other ways that language can be hurtful, including words that are suggestive of gender stereotypes, such as telling someone to ‘man up’ or ‘grow a pair’ can also be upsetting, especially when directed at someone transgender. Again, challenge the use of this sort of language – lots of children have never thought about how it might be hurtful.

Other things you can do

  • Teach your child that if they hear someone else using homophobic language, they should also challenge it if they canNoHomophobes.com measures use of homophobic language on social media. It’s shocking how often offensive language is used in an offhand way. Actively challenging it is a small, powerful step against LGBT prejudice. 
  • Homophobic bullying is lower in schools that explicitly state that it is wrong. Check that your school’s policy includes this view.

  • Young children are naturally accepting of others, as they’re free of any prejudice learned from society. Be careful of how you act around them and what you say - even in jest - as children are very impressionable and can misinterpret a throwaway comment as a belief they should adopt.  

  • Teach them to celebrate differences while emphasising the importance of tolerance, open-mindedness and compassion. If a child knows they should behave kindly towards someone else, regardless of differences, they’re very unlikely to engage in any HBT bullying, or allow it to go on unchallenged at school.

  • Research has shown that homophobic bullying can really interfere with children’s future choices: some bullied LGBT children have decided against university in the fear that they will receive the same bad treatment there. Don’t let them base an important decision on the way they’re feeling right now.  Remind them that school is very much a bubble and it in no way reflects wider society and other communities. In fact, universities in particular take a pride in being welcoming to all types of people; they actively encourage diversity and have policies and societies in place to support their LGBT community. 

Resources

There are plenty of online resources for LGBTQ+ young people who have been victims of HBT bullying. Online forums where young people can feel safe and can talk to others in a supportive environment can be particularly helpful and empowering.

Stonewall

Transgender support

 

[i] All statistics, unless otherwise specified, have been taken from Stonewall’s The School Report, 2012. http://www.stonewall.org.uk/resources/school-report-2012

[ii] The Teacher’s Report, 2014, Stonewall http://www.stonewall.org.uk/our-work/education-resources  

[iii] Stonewall’s HBT training programme is helping reduce HBT bullying in schools. Their 'train the trainer' courses have already reached 700 schools and they are currently expanding the programme by taking on 60 training partners. For more information, go to www.stonewall.org.uk/teachertraining

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