Study of LGBTQ+ schools reveals disturbing pattern of abuse

More than half of LGBTQ+ secondary school students experience ongoing bullying, according to a new report by Dublin City University (DCU).

Orla Dunne’s research – as part of her doctoral studies with the Center for Talented Youth, Ireland (CTYI) and the DCU Institute of Education – will be presented at an education conference in The Hague at the end of this month. It will be heard within the framework of the European Council conference for higher capacities.

Some of the most striking findings include:

• 61% of LGBTQ+ students surveyed said they had heard the word “gay” used negatively “often” or “often”.

• 52% heard negative comments about their sexuality “frequently” or “often”.

• 37% heard negative remarks about trans and gender non-conforming people “frequently” or “often”.

The study found that the most common type of abuse was casual homophobic and transphobic slurs. As part of the study, students shared their experiences of bullying and reported issues related to how abuse was handled by their teachers.

A theme that emerged during the study’s focus group meetings was that LGBTQ+ students were seen by their peers as “predators” when using shared toilets.

A student said: “I was told that some students wouldn’t go to the bathroom when I was there because they thought I would rape them only because of my sexuality.

Others have detailed minimal repercussions for those who participate in the harassment. A student said: “A group of popular boys in my year bullied a gay student and posted homophobic remarks on their social media and escaped with very little punishment.”

In at least one case, a teacher allegedly added to the bias a student felt when surrounded by classmates. A student said: “A teacher once exclaimed for 45 minutes how the different pronouns were ‘confusing’ and ‘unnecessary’ and that transgender people would disrupt the school and work environment in terms of is about the gender toilets they would use.

The 143 survey participants come from across the country and range in age from 15 to 23 – all were still in school or had recently graduated. All participants are currently participating or have previously participated in CTYI programs.

One student said, “The fa**ot slur” was used frequently by boys in grades one through six and you would hear it just walking down the halls. They said comments like “that’s so gay” were part of everyday life.

Students who had previously come out as LGBTQ+ were treated differently and teased behind their backs. As a result, one student, who waited until college to graduate, said, “I’ll never feel comfortable in a million years of being in high school.”

Another student described the flippant nature of the abuse, saying homophobic humor was “everyday” and “not even particularly mean, or intended to attack or belittle any particular student, more of a committed tradition.” An easy fallback joke”.

A student described ‘girls spreading rumors that other girls were gay’ as a way of ‘depriving them of their rights’ and recalled how girls ‘broken up their friendships when a girl came out’ because the student said “they thought she was a pervert”.

The majority of students said they would ‘never’ intervene, largely for reasons of personal safety and a sense that nothing would change if they did.

One student said, “I remember being so scared because even though I’m not transgender, the hate was terrifying, and homophobia and transphobia often go hand in hand. »

One student said, “I felt it was useless because I wasn’t going to be able to change the school culture. Another said: “I had no confidence that the matter would be taken seriously, let alone that any action would be taken to deter such remarks from being made, hence why I never intervened. .”

The study found that 72% of students also said they would never report negative remarks to a teacher, although students in co-educational schools were more likely to report abuse.

With 68 terms now used to describe gender and identity, Ms Dunne said she was mindful of not giving participants a list of ‘boxes to tick’ when offering their identity.

“This meant that students wrote very long, nuanced paragraphs about how they perceived their gender and sexuality. And their experience was so rich and so personal that I realized everything would have been lost if I had just given them a list of options,” she said.

Ms Dunne said she believed internet access had helped a generation of teenagers and children to express themselves: “Before, they wouldn’t have known anyone in their town who felt like them. Now they can access a world of people saying “Well, I feel the same way too”.

She also cited a 2017 study that detailed teachers’ experiences and why some may not want to intervene.

The 2017 study found that the main barriers to tackling homophobic and transphobic bullying were students’ discomfort discussing their sexuality with teachers; teachers’ discomfort discussing LGBTQ+ issues; lack of training and lack of priority given to homophobic and transphobic bullying, as well as the opinions of parents.

She called for greater leadership within schools as well as additional teacher training.

Opportunities such as extracurricular activities, including music and drama lessons, have been shown to have a positive impact on students.

One interviewee (a young trans woman) said that being cast as the female character in her school musical was overwhelmingly positive: “Individuality was celebrated and I saw a lot of my friends flourish in that atmosphere. so different from school, both academically and socially.”

Students also spoke positively about spaces where there was diverse leadership among staff, which they felt gave them an increased sense of security and allowed for representation in terms of their future and careers.

One student said, “My principal in particular is very supportive when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues, so the rest of the staff are following suit.”

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