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News & Insights 23 June 2021

A safe place for all: putting an end to discrimination against LGBTQ+ pupils

Content warning: mentions of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and mental health issues.

As part of Pride month, Action Tutoring Communications Assistant, Phyllida Jacobs, investigates the extent of homophobia and transphobia in schools and explores what can be done in the classroom to challenge these prejudices.

School should be a welcoming place where everyone feels included and respected. Yet for many LGBTQ+ pupils, this is not the case.

Research by Stonewall found that nearly half of LGBTQ+ pupils are bullied because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, with one in ten trans pupils being subjected to death threats at school. LGBTQ+ young people are more likely to suffer from mental health problems, and more likely to miss school due to bullying. Although this research also shows that the problem has slowly improved over the last ten years, there is clearly much more work to be done. 

Schools can play an important role in challenging homophobic and transphobic views that pupils may have picked up elsewhere. Many teachers work hard to challenge these prejudices when they arise. However, too often school can be a breeding ground for intolerance.

The discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ pupils in schools today can be traced back to the controversial Section 28. Between 1988 and 2003 (2000 in Scotland), this law prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” by local councils. As a result, schools stopped teaching LGBTQ+ issues and often did nothing to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying. A generation of LGBTQ+ people were raised in a culture of silence, where their very existence was denied. After years of campaigning, Section 28 was repealed, but its effects can still be felt today. 

It is now mandatory for schools to teach LGBTQ+ content as part of PSHE, yet two in five pupils report never being taught about these issues. The Department of Education guidance leaves it up to schools to decide how and when the content should be taught, allowing many schools to minimise or ignore LGBTQ+ issues in the classroom. 

It’s clear that more needs to be done to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, but in March 2020, the Government Equalities Office withdrew funding from LGBTQ+ anti-bullying projects. This must be seen as a worrying step backwards in the fight for LGBTQ+ inclusion in our schools. 

The strain of lockdown combined with recent negative media attention on trans issues has only made life harder for LGBTQ+ pupils. If we are to create a culture in which all young people feel safe to be themselves, urgent action is needed. Without proper funding for projects specifically addressing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, and clear guidance on teaching LGBTQ+ issues, the great progress that has already been made will flounder.

Learn all about Stonewall’s campaign for LGBTQ+ inclusive education and how you can show your support here.

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