Majority of gay teenagers feel unsafe in school – report

Report paints ‘bleak picture’ of life for many LGBT students, says support group

More than a third of LGBT students reported being shoved or pushed because of their sexual orientation, while just over one in 10 reported being punched, kicked or injured. Photograph: iStock

More than a third of LGBT students reported being shoved or pushed because of their sexual orientation, while just over one in 10 reported being punched, kicked or injured. Photograph: iStock

 

Almost three-quarters of gay or transgender teenagers feel unsafe in schools, according to the largest survey of LGBT young people in the Irish education system.

A large majority say they have experienced homophobic remarks from other students and feel school is an unwelcoming environment that excludes them.

The findings are contained in a new “school climate survey” of almost 800 LGBT young people conducted by Belong To Youth Services and academics at Columbia University in the United States.

The heart-breaking reality is that for many LGBTI+ students school is an isolating, unsafe place

Despite social milestones such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage and more liberal views among young people, about a third of LGBT students say fellow students are not accepting of their identity.

“The study paints a bleak picture of the reality of school life for LGBTI+ students in Ireland, ” said Moninne Griffith, chief executive of Belong To.

“The heart-breaking reality is that for many LGBTI+ students school is an isolating, unsafe place.”

Punched

More than a third reported being shoved or pushed because of their sexual orientation, while just over one in 10 reported being punched, kicked or injured.

These attitudes are affecting students’ academic performance in many cases as well as their wellbeing.

About three in 10 LGBT students missed at least one day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.

LGBT students also said they avoided certain spaces (such as changing rooms or toilets) and activities due to safety concerns.

Many also reported that their schools and teachers were not always supportive.

About half of the survey’s respondents said they had heard homophobic comments from a teacher.

The vast majority said there were not taught anything positive about LGBT identities in school and had not been taught about LGBT bullying.

On a more positive note, almost all students identified at least one school staff member supportive of LGBT pupils, while a majority said there were more than six supportive teachers in their schools.

LGBTI+ young people need to feel equal, safe and supported at school so that they can live healthy lives and thrive at school

Those who felt supported were more likely to feel accepted by the student body; likely to feel that they belong in their school and less likely to miss days of school due to feeling unsafe.

Ms Griffith said that while it was encouraging to see positive signs of staff support, the vast majority of LGBT students were “eagerly awaiting leaving school in the hope of a more inclusive environment”.

“We owe these students more than fear, anxiety, loneliness and harm – they deserve a school experience that not only includes their identities but celebrates and values the diversity of their experiences and lives,” she said.

Ms Griffith said the research must act as a wake-up call for schools, politicians and the Government.

Recommendations

“LGBTI+ young people need to feel equal, safe and supported at school so that they can live healthy lives and thrive at school.”

Among the report’s recommendations are that the Government should review and update professional development supports for teachers.

This should include encouraging schools to develop whole-school LGBT inclusion policies and an evaluation of social personal health education including sex education.

It also says the Government should review the feasibility of providing gender-neutral/single-stall bathrooms and changing rooms in the design guidelines for schools.

The report also calls on schools to implement a curriculum that supports diversity and respect for LGBT people.

It adds that staff should be made aware and equipped to address LGBT issues and support vulnerable students.

One proposal is that schools should be ready to respond appropriately when an LGBT young person “comes out”.