Sex equality guide issued to schools


The most common age for a lesbian, gay or transgender young person to become aware of their sexual identity is 12, while they are most vulnerable to self-harm at the age of 16, a new guide issued to schools today shows.

It is at the age of 17 that a young person is most likely to "come out" to someone they trust. These are among the pieces of vital, basic information contained in a new guide for school principals on how to support gay and lesbian pupils.

The Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Students in Post-Primary Schools - Guidance for Principals and School Leaderspaper was published today by the Minister for Lifelong Learning Seán Haughey. It was compiled by the Department of Education and GLEN (the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network).

Sandra Gowran, GLEN's Director of Education Policy, said the guide was the first of its kind in Ireland and came in response not only to homophobic bullying in Irish schools but also to requests from teachers' unions for such guidance.

"It supports schools in tackling homophobic bullying and in providing a safe and supportive environment for lesbian, gay and bisexual students."

In a summarising insert, the guide advises on developing a school policy which would include reference to sexual orientation in relevant school documents such as those on bullying, relationships and sexuality and codes of behaviour.

It encourages school leaders to "plan ahead", advising some young people will come out at school and guidance is given on planning how students would be supported and how incidents of bullying will be reported.

In the classroom, awareness programmes could be developed about the impact of language and stereotyping. "Staff meetings provide a valuable forum in which to discuss how the school is responding to the needs of LGB students," says the guide.

A small team of interested staff should be resources to progress a school's response to issues, it says.

Ms Gowran said it was hoped the guide would be used by principals to implement measures which would create a positive visibility of LGB students.

She said the guide was necessary because research found many young gay and lesbian people had negative experiences at school which put them at risk of not achieving their full potential, of developing poor self-esteem, leaving school early and engaging in self-harm.

Mr Haughey said schools were an important forum for delivering a society's values. Describing the guide as "very important" he said the modern school was "safe and supportive of all students. As with all bullying, homophobic bullying is unacceptable".