In this blog I summarise key evidence from Stonewall’s latest School Report (Bradlow et al, 2017), a study of over 3,700 lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) young people across Britain aged 11–19. In addition, I suggest possible approaches for schools to consider in facilitating the inclusion of children and young people who identity as LGBT+.
The key findings from Stonewall are alarming: 45 per cent of LGBT students are bullied for being LGBT at school; 64 per cent of trans pupils are bullied; 86 per cent regularly hear phrases such as ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’ in school, and 84 per cent have self-harmed (ibid).
While the 2017 statistics suggest that there has been a reduction in homophobic bullying when compared with Stonewall’s 2012 data, more work needs to be done to ensure that all schools can meet their statutory duties as outlined in the Equality Act (2010). There is a clear need to provide teachers with further training and education both during their initial teacher education programme and while they are in-service, in order to enable them to proactively address the needs of children and young people who identify as LGBT+.
The standard response of referring an LGBT+ young person to counselling can have a pathologising effect, by placing the focus of the intervention on the individual and thus neglecting the roles that wider structural forces (for example, the curriculum) play in reinforcing marginalised and stigmatised identities. Bullying, harassment and discrimination can result in marginalisation and psychological distress. However, dominant discourses of bullying in the LGBT literature emphasise suffering and portray LGBT+ young people as ‘victims’ (Payne and Smith, 2013). Given that multiple identities intersect, this is problematic (Formby, 2015), because one aspect of a person’s identity might be wounded, while another aspect might be positively affirmed. It could therefore be argued that the portrayal of LGBT+ young people as vulnerable and in need of protection might be disempowering (Airton, 2013).
‘Addressing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying is essential, but it is not sufficient in itself: it is reactive and becomes a “sticking plaster”.’
School environments should be critically interrogated to examine the extent to which they promote heteronormativity (or ‘compulsory heterosexuality’). This includes both the hidden and the formal curriculum. The absence of LGBT+ issues in the curriculum and the invisibility of LGBT+ identities and experiences in sex and relationships education have been well documented in the literature (Formby 2011). Displays around the school, in corridors and in classrooms, should demonstrate a visible commitment to diverse relationships and a zero-tolerance approach to homophobia. Stories in school libraries should reflect the plurality of relationships that exist in 21st century society. All pupils and staff need to be educated about LGBT+ and other identities (such as gender fluidity) and taught to respect and celebrate all forms of diversity. Addressing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying is essential, but it is not sufficient in itself: it is reactive and becomes a ‘sticking plaster’. Instead, educating children and young people (and staff) about respect, discrimination and prejudice constitutes a proactive response and has greater potential to change attitudes and values.
There is more work to be done. We need more research on the experiences of transgender pupils, and we need data that illustrate the experiences of younger pupils who identify as LGBT+. Finally, there is a need for the government to reverse the financial cuts to youth services that have resulted in the drastic shortage of youth support in local communities. Without this support in the community, young people who identify as LGBT+ may be forced to rely on the virtual world for support and, although this may be positive for some, it may result in drastic consequences for others.
Airton L (2013) ‘Leave Those Kids Alone: On the Conflation of School Homophobia and Suffering Queers’, Curriculum Inquiry 43(5): 532–562
Bradlow J, Bartram F, Guasp A and Jadva V (2017) School Report: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people in Britain’s schools in 2017, London: Stonewall. http://www.stonewall.org.uk/school-report-2017
Formby E (2011) ‘Sex and relationships education, sexual health, and lesbian, gay and bisexual sexual cultures: Views from young people’, Sex Education 11(3): 255–266
Formby E (2015) ‘Limitations of focussing on homophobic, biphobic and transphobic “bullying” to understand and address LGBT young people’s experiences within and beyond school’, Sex Educatio 15(6): 626–640
Payne E and Smith M (2013) ‘LGBTQ Kids, School Safety, and Missing the Big Picture: How the Dominant Bullying Discourse Prevents School Professionals from Thinking about Systemic Marginalization or… Why We Need to Rethink LGBTQ Bullying’, QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking 1(1): 1–36