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This article was contributed by Stonewall

Stonewall work to let all lesbian, gay, bi and trans people know they're not alone, to support and campaign for their rights by raising awareness and fighting for LGBTQ+ equality and lobby to change laws that do not ensure equality for LGBT people.

 

 

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Tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying at school

Image: Jeremy Segrott

90% of students said they had used the word 'gay' to mean 'useless' or 'rubbish' at least once. Stonewall, the UK’s leading LGBT rights organisation, explains why this is hurtful and can inflict long-term damage

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

  • Nearly half (45%) of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans young people have experienced homophobic, biphobic or transphobic (HBT) bullying.
  • 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.
  • 40% of LGBT young people have been the target of homophobic, biphobic or transphobic abuse online, and 97% see HBT content online.

Despite the scale of the problem, not enough schools are challenging homophobic, biphobic and transphobic prejudice. Only half of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils report that their schools say homophobic bullying is wrong.

Stonewall campaigns and lobbies for LGBT rights and has been tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools through an anti-HBT bullying training programme.

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

Remind children how hurtful homophobic, biphobic or transphobic language can be. It’s important to tackle derogatory terms used to describe LGBT people, but casual comments, such as describing a negative situation as ‘gay’, are also damaging. 90% of students have used the word ‘gay’ in a negative context. Homophobic language is strongly linked to bullying. In schools where students frequently hear homophobic language, 68% of LGBT pupils are bullied, as opposed to 37% in schools where homophobic language is rarely or never heard.

‘If you hear children use this kind of language, challenge it’

Often children don’t realise how offensive this kind of talk can be. They may argue that it’s so commonplace that its meaning has changed so LGBT people shouldn’t take it personally. But throwaway comments can seriously undermine LGBT pupils’ self-esteem, with more than 4 out of 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: telling someone to ‘man up’, ‘grow a pair’ or ‘be more ladylike’ can also be upsetting, especially when directed at someone trans. Challenge the use of this sort of language – many 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, biphobic or transphobic language, they should challenge it if they can.  NoHomophobes.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 less common in schools that explicitly state that it’s wrong. Check your school’s policy takes 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. 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 HBT bullying can really interfere with children’s future choices: some bullied LGBT children have decided against university out of fear that they’ll be treated badly 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 doesn’t reflect wider society and other communities. Universities in particular take pride in welcoming all types of people and actively encourage diversity through policies and societies that support their LGBT students. 

Further reading

There are plenty of online resources for young victims of HBT bullying. Online forums can be particularly helpful as they allow people to talk to others in a supportive environment. But make sure your child knows the risks of talking to people online and understands how to keep themselves safe.

Parent Zone's LGBTQ+ Hub

Stonewall

Young Stonewall 

Find a support group in your area here 

Rucomingout.com is a forum where LGBTQ+ people can share their coming out stories.

Support for young trans people

Gendered Intelligence 

Mermaids 

LGBTQ+ articles and information

The Parent Zone LGBTQ+ hub

Help if your child is being bullied for being LGBTQ+

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

First published: September 2015
Updated: ​May 2018

 


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

[ii] The Teacher’s Report, 2014, Stonewall https://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/get-involved/get-involved-education/secondary-schools/tackling-homophobic-biphobic-and-transphobic

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