This article was originally published in OUT Bristol magazine Issue 9
Homophobic bullying is rife in schools across England and Wales. A study by Stonewall found that almost two-thirds of LGBT pupils suffered from homophobic bullying at school. Of those bullied, the report stated that 41% had been physically attacked while 17% had received death threats.
This problem is not evenly distributed across all schools. The problem is concentrated in schools who fail to actively tackle the problem. There are active positive steps that can be taken to reduce the risk LGBT pupils face.
For example a school could brief teachers to tackle the use of the word gay as a play ground insult. They could actively advertise confidential spaces for children to go to discuss their sexuality. They could actively train counselling and support staff about the impacts that homophobic bullying can have. They can put greater emphasis within the national curriculum on the diversity of people’s sexuality and gender identities. Sadly, these very basic steps are too often not being taken.
The Stonewall report found that half of teachers fail to respond to homophobic language when they hear it. Just 7 percent of teachers respond every time they hear homophobic language. Seven in ten pupils have never been taught about lesbian and gay people, while 4 out 5 pupils believe they have no access to information regarding sexuality.
These results are deeply worrying and perhaps this can begin to explain why an LGBT pupil is 6 times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterpart. Any other issue skewing bullying and academic achievement figures would have been tackled by now, but this issue is continuously being swept under the carpet.
As a parent, or carer of a child, you can tackle this by directly raising with your local school what positive steps they are taking. Ask them if they have implemented all the recommendations suggested in Stonewall’s “School Report”. Remember that regardless of the sexuality of your child, it is more likely to be happy and doing well in an open and accepting atmosphere.
Equally, you can contact you local authority and ask them what action they have taken. Brighton and Hove Council have recently adopted a suicide and discrimination strategy that directly looks to tackle homophobia in schools. This issue will continue to be ignored unless we all work to keep in on teachers and politician’s agenda.