Homophobic bullying rife


SCHOOL LEADERS need to become more active in tackling homophobic bullying in Irish schools, a new report has found.

The report, Addressing Homophobic Bullying in Irish Schools, commissioned by the Equality Authority, warned that boards of management and principals had to do more to create an ethos where “homophobia is as unacceptable as racism or sexism”.

Dr James O’Higgins-Norman, of the School of Education Studies at DCU, led the research, which followed his 2006 findings that 80 per cent of Irish teachers had witnessed homophobic bullying.

According to Dr O’Higgins-Norman’s research, 41 per cent of teachers said they found homophobic bullying more difficult to deal with than other forms of bullying. They said they feared becoming a target themselves, as well as a negative reaction from parents, colleagues and school management.

Dr O’Higgins-Norman said, “Bullying can have a huge impact on mental health, creating a sense of isolation and affecting ability to engage with education. It can also lead to suicidal tendencies, as we have seen in the recent Phoebe Prince case in the US.”

The report said that, as role models for staff and students, school principals needed to “demonstrate leadership characterised by understanding, respect and inclusiveness”. It also found that both principals and boards of management needed to ensure that staff were trained to promote diversity and address bullying.

Examining international evidence, as well as the experiences of six Irish second-level schools already addressing homophobic bullying in their curricula, the report also noted that religious views on homosexuality should not be used as an obstacle to addressing homophobia in schools.

“Regardless of a school’s denominational status,” read the report, “most religions are based on justice and fairness. Therefore, the key issue to address is the need to challenge discrimination and to promote respect and the equality of all people.”

The report also stated that opportunities existed across the curriculum – and were not confined to religious or social education – to help students to reflect on their attitudes, to correct misinformation and to raise awareness of discrimination.

It also called for a code of behaviour to be established with all members of the school community, including parents.

In response to the findings, chairwoman of the Equality Authority, Angela Kerins, said, “in a submission to the Department of Education, we’ve drawn attention to the need for school inspectors to examine whether schools are taking effective steps to prevent homophobic bullying”.

More information is available from the Equality Authority on LoCall 1890-245545.