Analysis: Homophobia rampant in British schools
Homophobic bullying plagues the majority of UK schools and shocking levels of bullying are meted out to school pupils and teachers who either are gay or perceived to be gay.
That is the conclusion of a wide-ranging study carried by gay equality organisation Stonewall.
Nearly two thirds of LGB students reported instances of such harassment.
That figure jumps to 75% of young gay people attending faith schools.
The survey, of more than 1,100 young people, found that only 23% of all UK schools explicitly condemn homophobic bullying.
Today the new Minister for Children pledged to stamp out all forms of bullying in schools and said new guidance on homophobic physical, mental and verbal abuse would be issued.
Homophobic mistreatment spans verbal and psychological abuse.
92% of gay, lesbian and bisexual pupils have experienced verbal abuse, 41% physical bullying and 17% have been subject to death threats.
30% of pupils reported that adults have been responsible for incidents of homophobic bullying in their schools.
Nearly every interviewed student had heard phrases like, ‘You’re so gay’, and remarks like ‘poof’ and ‘dyke’ in UK schools.
The resulting social exclusion has made victims feel unaccepted and isolated, more so in the case of girls (65 per cent) than boys (53 per cent).
The abusers on the other hand, are known to be both fellow students, adults, as well as younger pupils.
Although both male and female victims have had verbal abuse hurled at them, boys are reportedly more likely to be attacked physically.
Lesbians have reported cases of fellow female students covering their low cut tops and refusing to change in the same room during PE classes to be commonplace.
Findings include the deliberate ignorance and silence prevalent in schools, which is to be blamed for this widespread misery.
Instances of bullying and physical attacks, when reported, are often ignored by school authorities, while gay and lesbian issues go un-discussed in classrooms.
However, nearly 60 per cent of cases of abuse go unreported as gay and lesbian students feel disenfranchised and subsequently alone.
In faith schools, religious disapproval and thoughtless disregard for LGB issues, compounds the tendencies of bullies to target gay and lesbian students even more.
Stonewall says that this exclusion causes permanent damage to its victims.
Victims’ experiences have adversely affected their school performance and the majority interviewed, say that they have been forced to stay home to escape the bullying.
However, the anonymity of ‘cyber-bullying’ means that even at home, pupils are often unable to escape this teasing.
With socialising websites like Facebook and Myspace being largely unregulated, gay and lesbian pupils feel they have no refuge even in their homes, with the inevitability of bullies posting insults on message boards.
Many abusive messages are also sent by text.
The survey found three in five pupils fail to intervene when they see their fellow students being bullied and that a measly seven per cent of teachers ever take action.
Three quarters of victims say that they have never seen gay and lesbian issues addressed in the classroom.
In other findings, teachers have admitted that it is more difficult to report homophobic bullying as the word ‘gay’ is often used as a generic word of insult.
Students report staff telling them that it was ‘their fault’ for coming out and even though they would not stand racism, homophobic bullying was, “completely different”.
This kind of ignorance, the report implies, should be addressed. Teachers do not perceive homophobic bullying as serious.
Sixty two per cent of gay and lesbian students have said that no action was taken against their bully.
A third of gay and lesbian students are unhappy in school.
Commenting, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson, Stephen Williams MP said:
“This is a landmark report for gay pupils and students. As it surveys the views of over a thousand young people it cannot be easily dismissed by anyone who denies that homophobic bullying is a serious problem.
“Whether a young person is gay, seen as being gay or has gay parents, homophobic bullying can make their life a misery.
“I remember myself what a lonely and isolating experience school was when I was bullied for my sexuality. The Stonewall survey shows that half of lesbian and gay pupils don’t feel able to be themselves when at school.
“Homophobic bullying can snatch away a child’s identity. If it also leads to staying away from school then children will not achieve their potential.
“No school should be allowed to turn a blind eye to bullying of any kind. All schools, including religious schools, should have anti-bullying policies that specifically address homophobic bullying.”
Mr Williams was responsible for education select committee report into bullying in schools.
The Stonewall report reveals that if guidance is provided to students who are attracted to members of the same sex, and if LGBT issues are openly addressed by teachers in an informed manner in the classroom, the pupils are 70 per cent more likely to feel welcome and comfortable.
They need to be made aware of the resources and information available to them in the school, community and the internet should they feel the need for such information.
They are also likely to feel more empowered if they have an adult to speak to.
Other recommendations in the report include:
Acknowledging the problem, developing rules and policies to tell young people about gay and lesbian issues which will help promote a social environment where being LGBT is embraced, accepted and understood better.
More from PinkNews
Staff should be properly trained to be able to understand and respond better to difficulties faced by gay and lesbian students.
Sexual orientation should be included as part of the regular curriculum, which will moderate the ‘shock’ factor which breeds gossip and leads to the pointless exclusion of young people attracted to people of the same sex.
Schools should tell young people to use local gay and lesbian support and youth groups where they meet like-minded people which will help them feel more confident about facing life and participating in the broader community.
Schools that have good anti-homophobic bullying practices are encouraged to pass on their knowledge and experience to encourage and help other schools achieve a more accepting social environment for its LGBT students.
The Stonewall report aims to pressurise schools into acknowledging this persecution which impinges on gay and lesbian students achieving their full potential, and also indeed emphasises that the students who are attracted to members of their own sex, have the right to a stress-free environment both in the classroom and the playground.
The survey of 1,145 young people was conducted by the Schools Health Education Unit for Stonewall.