Sam Clark, a 19-year-old, discovered his sexuality at the age of 10. Subsequently, he experienced homophobic bullying which worsened following his admission of being gay in secondary school. In the playground, he would be pushed over and ridiculed in front of teachers. Unfortunately, Clark is not the only victim, according to Stonewall’s survey of 1,145 gay and lesbian secondary school students, two-thirds suffered the same experience.

To address this issue, the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) is launching guidance aimed at schools to help prevent homophobic bullying and tackle it when it does occur. Specific advice, created by Stonewall and Education Action Challenging Homophobia (Each), is provided for governing bodies, senior management, teachers, parents and students.

The survey conducted by Stonewall found that 41% of respondents had encountered physical attacks, 17% had been threatened with death, and 12% had suffered sexual assault. More shockingly, half of the respondents alleged that it was teachers who made homophobic remarks. Emma Jones, 20, and Sophie Phillips, 18, speak against the discrimination they received from some of their teachers at sixth-form college in north Wales. Jones and Phillips were reprimanded by teachers for hand-holding and ignored during classroom discussions, effectively isolating them. Homophobic language uttered by students was also ignored.

Recognizing the severity of the situation, The DCSF released the first formal guidance that specifically addresses homophobic bullying. The guidance outlines ten steps that need to be implemented to address and prevent it, with a priority of ensuring that policies expressly admit to homophobic bullying. The guidance aims for schools to promote social cohesion and equality, particularly to make gay, bisexual, and gay teachers feel included, accepted, and free from discrimination. Not solving bullying can lead young people to develop mental health issues that will affect their education.

The Education and Inspections Act 2006 requires that schools prevent all kinds of bullying. Schools must now include guidance on homophobic bullying in their anti-bullying policies. Implementing policies is not the only step; promoting social cohesion and equality and addressing bullying are necessary. The guidance advises confronting and dealing with homophobic language firmly.

Kenny Frederick, the headteacher at George Green’s school on the Isle of Dogs in London, stresses the importance of having integrated anti-bullying and equal opportunity policies that explicitly mention homophobia. Bullying is unacceptable, and every child has the right to be respected for who they are.

According to Chris Keates, general secretary of the Nasuwt union, there is a hierarchy of bullying in which homophobic bullying is not a priority for many teachers. It is often regarded as a normal part of growing up and typical playground teasing. However, a new guidance recommends removing pupils from the classroom who make persistent discriminatory remarks and talking to them about why such language is unacceptable. Schools should also consider permanent exclusion in severe cases of physical bullying.

Organisations like Stonewall and Each advise on encouraging positive role models to prevent such bullying from happening in the first place. But Sue Sanders, co-chair of Schools Out, claims that one major problem is that teachers themselves find it difficult to come out. Sanders urges the government and local authorities to celebrate the existence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teachers, as this could lead to greater acceptance and safety for both teachers and students.

Being bullied is not just an issue for students but also for teachers themselves. According to figures from the Teacher Support Network, two-thirds of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teachers have experienced harassment and discrimination at work due to their sexual orientation. Despite reporting the bullying to their schools, teachers are often discouraged from taking it any further, and there is a tendency to keep such issues quiet.

To prevent bullying and promote understanding, it is essential to teach pupils about sexuality. The month of February is designated as LGBT history month, celebrating famous figures within the community. Stonewall and Each have created lesson plans to educate students about homophobia and sexuality in the curriculum. In rural areas, a project has been developed to tackle the isolation that gay and lesbian young people experience. Ten young people from the project’s online forum will make a short film about their experiences, with the hope of showing it at the Hay Festival. The DVD of the films will also include lesson plans for teachers to use in the upcoming school year.

Ultimately, tackling homophobic bullying all boils down to respect. Students need to know that they are not alone and that they have a right to live their lives free from bullying, while bullies must understand that homophobia will not be accepted in schools.


  • paulwallace

    Paul Wallace is a 44-year-old anthropology professor and blogger. He has been writing about anthropology and other topics for over a decade. He has also taught anthropology at the college level for over a decade.

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