Why is this still a problem today?
In part because change, particularly in areas like education, happens slowly, but also because Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 was intended to stop schools acknowledging homosexuality and the needs of young people identifying as lesbian or gay. This is now not the case as Section 28 was repealed in July 2003. The problem is that it left a legacy of confusion and fear in our schools.
Homophobia and homophobic bullying are major problems for pupils, parents, staff and all those involved with young people and their education, irrespective of whether they are straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual. Homophobic bullying is not only experienced by pupils or professionals who are lesbian, gay or bisexual. It can also affect any child, young person or staff member who does not conform to ways of behaving that are traditionally associated with being ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. Abuse can be verbal, physical or psychological.
Bullying can harm the physical and emotional well-being of both those who are bullied and those who bully.
Research shows that homophobic bullying:
- Increases truancy rates
- Increases self-harm and suicide by young people
- Lowers educational attainment
- Damages self-esteem
The impact of homophobia
There are many different excuses given to justify homophobic harassment of, and discrimination against, lesbians and gay and bisexual people. These can be based on ideas around religion and sin, psychology, genes and politics. Homophobia is primarily caused by misinformation. As with racism, sexism and discrimination against disabled people, we are generally taught to be homophobic and our attitudes and beliefs are influenced by several contexts – at home, by television and other media, by our peers, friends or family, our religions, at school. Myths about lesbians and gay men are perpetuated in our society despite the availability of more accurate information. Few children are given unbiased information about lesbians and gay men and many adults continue to believe the stereotypes they learn as children In our society, people are usually assumed to be heterosexual unless there is ‘evidence’ to the contrary – heterosexuality is generally considered to be ‘natural’ and ‘normal’.
In this society, our challenge is to help to create a culture that respects diversity and difference, encourages openness and embraces equality. Please also see:
David Watkins, a teacher, shares his thoughts on Challenging homophobia in Education. Is anything changing?
Yes it is. Schools are beginning to challenge homophobic bullying. All the major teaching unions are working to challenge homophobia and sexual orientation discrimination. The Learning and Skills Council, which is now responsible for post-16 education, is issuing guidance on lesbian and gay issues Attitudes towards lesbians and gay men among young people are becoming more and more accepting. We still have a long way to go and while there are some examples of good practice there are also many examples of bad practice.Young lesbians and gay men and those who are unsure about their sexuality are often called names or bullied at school. Studies have shown that the suicide rate amongst such young people is high. Therefore the Council advises schools to do everything possible to protect young lesbians and gay people from bullying and harassment and ensure they have access to advice and support.The Department for Education and Skills advises that governing bodies should have specific strategies to deal with homophobic bullying.
Please also see:
Zero tolerance for homophobia
Homophobic crime is based on prejudice, discrimination and hate and has no place in an open and democratic society. (Crown Prosecution Service November 2002). Homophobia strikes at people’s right to feel safe and secure, and to abuse or attack someone because of their sexual orientation and gender identity is a hate crime which cannot be tolerated.Manchester City Council’s Children’s Services send a clear message to those who commit such crimes that they will be dealt with firmly and if necessary, under criminal law. We all have a vital role to play, not only in terms of our own responsibility to raise awareness, develop understand and to challenge homophobia wherever it occurs.
It is still necessary to:
Raise awareness in schools of their statutory and moral responsibility towards LGB matters
Support and value lesbian, gay and bisexual members of staff, young people and children of lesbian, gay or bisexual parents or carers
Include the needs of LGB young people in all school policies
Rebuild schools’ confidence so that they can deliver good quality Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) and Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) to all children and young people
Inform teachers of their position discussing same-sex relationships
Include homophobia in all anti-bullying policies
This does not happen by chance. Schools need to plan training and have appropriate literature and resources to guide them. What should we be doing?
Dealing constructively with homophobia first requires an acknowledgement of its existence and its negative effects. Homophobic feelings cannot easily be eradicated, but if we are willing to acknowledge that they exist, then we can begin to take responsibility for our role in addressing the issues. Firstly, it is important to identify homophobia, not sexual orientation, as the problem to be addressed. In conversations with friends and colleagues, we can speak out about the negative impact of homophobia. For many people, the only time that they talk about lesbians, gay men or bisexual people is in the context of homophobic ‘jokes’ or the reiteration of stereotypes. We can take steps to ensure that we feel confident in challenging offensive remarks about lesbians, gay men or bisexual people. We can think about the similarities and differences between homophobia and other forms of oppression and use what we know about racism, sexism, disability and equality issues to better understand and respond to homophobia. Listen to lesbians, gay men and bisexual people and believe that their experiences of oppression are true and valid. Similarly, do not assume that the ways in which lesbians, gay men, bisexual and heterosexual people experience the world are necessarily the same. Do not assume that sexuality is either the single issue to be addressed or the cause or result of other problems. We can actively support antidiscrimination initiatives.
80% of UK schools are aware of homophobic bullying incidents
6% of schools have policies targeting homophobic bullying
About 1 in 3 young LGBTs self-harm or attempt suicideMore facts >>