"Pupils do not necessarily have to be lesbian, gay or bisexual to experience such bullying. Just being different can be enough."
(Don't Suffer in Silence, DfES)
What is homophobia/biphobia?
Homophobia and biphobia can be defined as an irrational dislike, hatred or fear of individuals that are, or are perceived to be lesbian, gay or bisexual. It results in negative consequences ranging from damage of self-esteem to premature death.
Such attitudes can also affect anyone who does not conform to stereotypical standards of masculine or feminine behaviour.
What is homophobic/biphobic bullying?
Homophobic bullying is often present in an environment that fails to challenge and respond to homophobia.
Like other forms of bullying, homophobic bullying can be physical, verbal or indirect. Often it is the language that can distinguish it from other forms and the motivation of the bullies is specific.
When does it take place?
Like any form of bullying it can occur at any time in a person's life however...
Most homophobic bullying takes place at a time when young people, particularly boys, are unsure about their own developing identity - subjected as they are to the confusing messages our society sends out about what it means to be 'a man' and against the stereotype of what it means to be gay. Homophobia presents itself in young people as the fear of and the reaction to an issue about which they can have little understanding and to a person perceived as 'different'.
Who gets homophobically/biphobically bullied?
Anyone can become a victim of homophobic or biphobic bullying:
- Teenagers who have misjudged their best friend by confiding in them only to find themselves 'outed' are the principal targets of this form of bullying.
- Heterosexual girls and boys who others think of as lesbian, gay or bisexual can come under similar attack. Most young people taunted about their sexual orientation are, in reality, too young to know what sexuality is.
- Friends of lesbian and gay young people are frequently forced to face up to their own prejudices, fears and preconceptions whilst regularly finding themselves the targets of homophobia by being 'guilty by association.'
- Brothers and sisters of homophobically bullied siblings are also often victimised.
- Children of a lesbian, gay or bisexual parent can often be vulnerable to homophobic abuse from peers should their family situation become known.
How can homophobic/biphobic bullying affect young people?
Young people can have their education disrupted. They may not participate in lessons appropriately due to feelings of fear or anger.
Pupils' self-esteem is often severely affected and, as a result, their academic potential is not fulfilled.
Young people whose fears and confusions are not adequately dealt with in their youth too often go on to develop problems in adulthood including depressive disorders or dependencies upon alcohol and drugs.
Schools who dismiss the problem are not helping any of their young people to develop a concern for the well-being of others and an understanding and healthy acceptance of people's difference.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual young people can find themselves seriously stressed by having to wrestle with their own feelings about themselves and the problems other people have in coming to terms with their sexual orientation.
Too many victims of homophobic bullying are driven to self-harm and suicide.
Is being gay/bisexual the problem?
It's not being gay that makes some young people unhappy, it's the negative reaction of other people that they fear, coming to terms with being 'different' and coping with it that's difficult. It is even harder if this has to be done in secrecy from family, friends and teachers.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual people of all ages can find themselves emotionally exhausted by having to reconcile how they are feeling inside with the problems others have in coming to terms with their sexual orientation.
How can we address homophobic/biphobic bullying in schools?
Nine in ten secondary school teachers and more than two in five primary school teachers say pupils, regardless of their sexual orientation, experience homophobic or biphobic bullying, name-calling or harassment. Those affected include boys who apply themselves academically, girls who 'behave like boys', pupils with gay or bisexual parents, and often anyone simply seen as different.
The government has prioritised tackling homophobic and biphobic bullying. The 2010 Schools White Paper highlighted the problem of homophobic bullying, stating explicitly that headteachers should take incidents of prejudice-based bullying such as homophobic bullying especially seriously.
Primary schools may want to introduce the issue of homophobic/biphobic bullying by exploring the concept of families being diverse and not, as history may suggest the nuclear 'ideal' of a mum, dad and 2.4 children! Stonewall have produced a very useful resource pack for primary schools, entitled Different Families. The materials will enable you to talk about all types of different families, including those with lesbian, gay or bisexual family members, in an age appropriate way in primary schools.
Stonewall have also produced some easy to use resources for secondary schools, include feature length DVD FIT which is a perfect way to talk about sexual orientation and homophobic bullying along with Oh No Not The Gay Thing, which outlines lesson ideas on how to include sexual orientation across the curriculum. These resources and a range of others can be ordered from Stonewall.
Responding to homophobic/biphobic language
Casual homophobic or biphobic language is common in schools but, if it is not challenged, pupils may think that homophobic bullying is acceptable. It is therefore important to challenge this language when it occurs:
- Ensure that pupils know that homophobic and biphobic language will not be tolerated in schools. Make sure it is included in policies and procedures.
- When an incident occurs, pupils should be informed that homophobic language is offensive, and will not be tolerated.
- If a pupil continues to make homophobic or biphobic remarks, explain in detail the effects that homophobic bullying has on people.
- If a pupil makes persistent remarks, they should be removed from the classroom and teachers and staff should talk to him or her in more detail about why their comments are unacceptable.
- If the problem persists, involve senior managers. The pupil should be made to understand the sanctions that will apply if they continue to use homophobic or biphobic language.
- Consider inviting the parents/carers to school to discuss the attitudes of the pupil.
(Safe to Learn: Embedding Anti-Bullying Work in Schools, DCSF).
What can I do as a parent?
Stonewall research shows 81% of people in Britain would now be comfortable if their child grew up to be lesbian, gay or bisexual. However, coming out remains a stressful experience for many gay young people and their parents. Although gay people today have plenty of sources of support when they choose to come out, few resources exist for parents of gay young people. Stonewall's guide will help parents support their children without worrying needlessly about the 'impact' of their sexual orientation.
Stonewall Head of Education Wes Streeting said: "Many parents worry about what being gay means for their relationship with their children and have all sorts of questions that they're sometimes afraid to ask for fear of saying the wrong thing. So You Think Your Child Is Gay? provides upbeat and straightforward advice to parents, which focuses on the most important thing of all – giving children love and support, whatever their sexual orientation."
A hate incident is any incident where you or someone else has been targeted because they or you are seen as being different. Anyone can be a victim of hate because of prejudice against their age, disability, gender identity, race, religion/belief or sexual orientation.
If you live in the County, incidents may be reported to Leicestershire County Council's Hate Monitoring Project by telephone on 0116 3058263.
If you live within Leicester City you can receive advice from and report incidents to the Race Equality Centre on 0116 2999800.
Incidents can also be reported on-line.
Homophobic Bullying - Resources
Here are a number of great books which are appropriate for use with primary school children. These books can be used to talk about different families and to address homophobic bullying and language.
A selection of great books which can be used as part of the curriculum, and which
should not be missing from any school or college library.
‘Getting started toolkit for preventing and tackling homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in primary schools’ which provides a framework and a set of practical tools to help primary schools start to tackle HBT.
We provide information in a range of formats on a wide range of subjects that affect LGBT people's lives including signposting and referrals to other agencies.
Trade is a local health charity for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGB&T) communities of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.
We offer a range of free, confidential support and advice around health issues, mental health, HIV, and LGB&T wellbeing.
This includes a whole range of services; such as one-to-one emotional and practical support; support in 'coming out', sexuality and relationships; information on testing and sexual health; and a fully qualified counselling service.
You can find Trade at their city centre offices, 2nd Floor, 27 Bowling Green St., LE1 6AS, or by visiting www.tradesexualhealth.com. They're flexible and friendly and are more than happy to answer any queries you may have over the phone; 0116 254 1747.
LGBT Melton is a youth support group for 14-18 year olds who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and live in Melton Mowbray and surrounding areas. We provide advice, information and guidance on issues such as sexual health, discrimination, education, employment, relationships and mental health.
The 'It Gets Better' campaign is about young people who have experienced homophobic bullying, telling other young people that it does get better (as a response to the high numbers experiencing homophobic bullying and, in some cases, taking their own lives).
The L Project single "It Does Get Better" aims to help raise awareness and money for charities which work to prevent LGBT bullying among young people.