Something to shout about: challenging homophobia in schools
A pilot workshop to tackle homophobic bullying in Dublin schools is being expanded. Participants in the scheme share their experiences
ShoutOut organisers (left to right): Lydia Rathaill, Declan Meehan, Eoin O’Liatháin, Owen Murphy and Jane Casey
Last week the Minister for Education announced groundbreaking new procedures to tackle homophobic bullying and cyber bullying in all 4,000 primary and secondary schools around the country. New regulations mean each school must include safeguarding procedures to deal with homophobic and cyber-bullying in their codes of conduct.
Over the past 10 years the climate of homophobia in the education system has been shifting slowly thanks to concentrated efforts by groups like BeLonG To (a national organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people) and GLEN (the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network)
“The first time we ran a campaign in schools, back in 2003, the front page of a Sunday newspaper read ‘Church anger as gay campaign targets schools’. We have come a long way,” says Micheal Barron, director of BeLonG To.
The progress of the past decade saw three nationwide school campaigns highlighting homophobic bullying and a commitment to tackle it in the 2011 Program for Government. The work that started as a plan to tackle homophobic bullying became Ireland’s National Action Plan on bullying, which also ensured the visibility of LGBT identities on the education agenda.
“In reality there is still physical bullying going on. There isn’t a week that goes by that a young person doesn’t turn up beaten-up because of being LGBT,” says Barron. “It’s that and excluding, gossiping, and graffiti. Exclusion is particularly difficult for young women.”
Typically in any class of 30 students, two or three are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Explaining this to schools on a level everyone can relate to, and particularly to those with a conservative religious ethos, can be difficult. Difficulties reaching out to more conservative schools are two-fold because the resistance needs to be identified and worked on slowly.
“We adapt a community approach and show how difficult it is when an LGBT young person feels invisible,” says Barron. “We talk about it in terms of identity, instead of it being about where you’re from or what clothes you wear. Identity-based bullying is like racism, which makes it easier for schools to see it as part of the bigger picture. The new procedures place the LGBT person up front and asks schools to follow agreed templates to report incidents of bullying.”
BeLonG To, which has been praised by the UN for its work on bullying, is currently working to develop a global “LGBT safe-school” network with organisations across Latin America, Europe, South Africa and China. “The response in Ireland has been extraordinary. Our role has been to demonstrate what’s possible and our goal, while ambitious, is hopefully to eradicate homophobic bullying in schools over the next few years,” he says.
This week, a new program will be launched, inspired by BeLonG To’s work with the aim of tackling homophobic bullying through workshops for transition-year students. ShoutOut, which was set up by a group of college students, was piloted in 10 schools around Dublin last March and will expand to 100 more schools thanks to an €8,000 grant from the US Embassy.