LGBT+ bullying in schools
Our school years are some of the most formative years we will ever experience, and for those who are members of the LGBT+ community, it can be extremely difficult and challenging, to say the least. Being out and proud at school can be seen as something that can attract unwanted negative attention, accompanied by verbal, psychological and, oftentimes physical bullying. Things have improved over the past few years in this country, however there is still a long way to go around visibility, tolerance and acceptance. The only way we, as as society and as a country can move forward is by continuing to live openly and bravely, without shying away, for the comfort of others. No one should have to put up with being bullied for their sexual preferences and it is something that should be addressed in all schools across the country. In an attempt to combat bullying in schools, an ‘Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-primary Schools’ was drawn up in 2013 by the Department of Education and Skills, in it, it called for issue of bullying to be dealt with, head on, homophobic bullying was one of the many forms of bullying that was deemed unacceptable in the school setting. Schools were called upon to adopt and introduce policies and procedures, as well as this guidelines were offered, in an attempt to allow for successful implementation. Anti-Bullying Procedures in Schools
LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL AND TRANSGENDER (LGBT+) STUDENTS
School can be one of the most formulative and influential experiences in young lives. Let’s examine the experience of school among LGBT+ young people. According to a study, ‘roughly 50% of LGBT+ students said they have heard homophobic or transphobic remarks from teachers and other staff members at school’ – www.thejournal.ie
School experiences amongst LGBT+ students vary, but unfortunately it can be a difficult experience for many. It is important to be understanding of this and provide our LGBT+ students with as much support as possible. When the default is that school will be seen as a difficult environment for LGBT+ children, schools must work ever harder to counteract this image by committing to real, positive work to educate all children and discourage bullying.
Awareness of LGBT Identity
It is important that the staff and students in schools are educated and aware of LGBT+ experiences. Increased awareness of these issues can be achieved by staff training and informational workshops can be put on by relevant LGBT+ organisations to inform students in relation to diversity and inclusion. LGBT+ issues should also be discussed in sex education talks to students. School policies on the treatment of LGBT+ students should be adapted to ensure the fair treatment of students, and the confidence of staff to help in situations they may have little prior experience with.
Coming Out and Being Out at School
Often LGBT+ students don’t feel it is safe to come out. They fear that they will not be accepted. Keeping this secret from others can cause them anxiety or stress that could be avoided if there was a safer environment created for LGBT+ students at schools. When a student begins to question their identity and starts thinking about coming out, or after a student comes out, they can join or contact LGBT+ groups where they can meet other like-minded and supportive members of the LGBT+ community. These groups should be highlighted within the school system.
- BeLonGTo has a Stand Up! week campaign for secondary schools. It can be found at the below address. Participating schools have a colourful event to show their support for LGBT+ people. This signals to children that their school is a safe and loving one. www.belongto.org/professionals/standup
- BeLonGTo have a resource for primary schools called All Together Now. It is a number of lesson plans to target bullying and promote acceptance. www.belongto.org/all-together-now
- ShoutOut is a group that delivers LGBT+ workshops to schools. Previously these were delivered in person, but as of 2020 these are delivered virtually for safety and minimizing contacts. www.shoutout.ie
Why do LGBT+ People come out?
Coming out can be a difficult experience for LGBT+ people, but coming out also can help LGBT+ people live authentically and be truthful in who they are. This is the best way to find self-acceptance. Unfortunately, some LGBT+ people have homophobic people in their life that may not accept them for who they are. This can be family members, friends, or other influential figures in their life.
When people in positions of authority, such as teachers, coaches, uncles/aunts, grandparents, or parents make careless or outright queer phobic comments thinking there are no LGBT+ people around, closeted LGBT+ children take this as a signal that they cannot trust their identity with this person who they may otherwise need. This may prevent them from coming out to their family and friends, and encourage them to internalize self-hatred.
However, the world is becoming more accepting of LGBT+ people and when they come out this can give them huge sense of relief and validation. It can reaffirm who they are and what kind of life they wish to lead in the future. Coming out is a deeply personal act that should never be pushed onto anyone who does not feel ready, but when someone is ready and the reception is good, it can be positively life-changing.
How should the school respond if a young person comes out?
The school staff should treat this with the utmost respect. The school has a responsibility to protect any LGBT students from bullying to the best of their ability, and to account for the fact that LGBT+ students self-report that they are bullied at higher rates than other students. (“According to research, 1 in 3 young LGBT people aged 14 – 18 have attempted to take their own lives because of bullying, rejection, and pressures to hide who they really are.” – BeLonGTo.) The school should try to educate its students on LGBT+ issues for a number of reasons: it is an important life-skill for a student to be able to accept people different from them. It shows the school cares about LGBT+ students. It is the staff and school’s duty of care to educate students to become the best fully rounded human beings they can be, and by learning the values of anti-bullying, acceptance, and about culture they are doing this. Guidance counsellors should be available for students to provide support and information the students.
What about the student who is perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?
Students that are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender need to be proud of who they are but often it can take time for them to accept their differences. Regardless of whether someone is perceived by others as LGBT+ it doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the case. However, LGBT+ people should come out in their own time and do it when they feel they are ready. Sexuality and gender orientation is a personal thing to everyone and shouldn’t be confused with how people perceive others.