Jonathan Charlesworth, author of How to Stop Homophobic and Biphobic Bullying, on its impact

This blog is an extract from Jonathan Charlesworth M.Ed.’s book, How to Stop Homophobic and Biphobic Bullying: A PRACTICAL WHOLE-SCHOOL APPROACH, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Jonathan states in his book that: ‘Challenging transphobic bullying warrants its own focus in a dedicated book and this is why it is not included in How to Stop Homophobic and Biphobic Bullying.’

What Is the Impact on those Being Bullied?

Homophobic and biphobic bullying can affect a pupil’s emotional and social wellbeing and their physical health. They are likely to remove themselves from social interactions in class and other activities they previously enjoyed. You are likely to witness their seemingly inexplicable slump in grades and whole-day or ‘in-school’ truancy. They are ‘there’ but not attending all their lessons in order to avoid their tormentors and even if in class physically they are definitely not ‘there’ in terms of concentrating on the lesson. Ultimately you may observe their departure from your school early or a move to a different school. The severity of the effects on a pupil depends entirely on the individual, their resilience and coping strategies. Inconveniently for teachers, different pupils are unlikely to respond to homophobic or biphobic bullying in the same way. We and the schools in which we work however have a legal, ethical and moral obligation to provide equal access to education and equal protection under the law for all pupils.

For many pupils worried about matters of sexuality, schools are unsafe and survival – not education – is the priority. (Weiler, 2003, p.10)

Box 5.1: Homophobic and biphobic bullying in the UK

Youth Chances (METRO Youth Chances, 2016) is a social research project aiming to identify the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning young people. Led by the charity METRO, the Youth Chances project conducted an online survey of 7000 young people aged 16–25 about their experiences of education, employment, health services, relationships and sexuality.

What is the Impact on those Being Bullied?

The survey found that:

• three in four LGBT young people have experienced name-calling

• one in two LGBT young people has experienced harassment and threats

• one in four LGBT young people has experienced physical assault

• two in three LGBT young people felt their school supported its pupils badly in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity issues.

These negative experiences proved to have a devastating impact on the mental health and wellbeing of LGBT young people with:

• 52 per cent of respondents reporting having engaged in self-harm

• 42 per cent seeking medical help for anxiety or depression

• 44 per cent reporting thoughts of suicide.

(METRO Youth Chances, 2016)

When I was at school and during my years in teaching, pupils who experienced homophobic or biphobic bullying too often left at 16 years of age, exiting with qualifications much lower than their potential would have allowed them in happier circumstances. There is an historic link between bullying and low educational achievement. It is therefore logical to assume that the prevalence of homophobic and biphobic bullying results in lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils being especially disadvantaged when it comes to educational attainment. Such pupils however frequently cite physical sports as the most feared activity within school but consider the library and study areas to be sites of refuge (Monk, 2011). This complicates the often taken-for-granted assumption that lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils are failing to fulfil their academic potential.

To explore with any thoroughness the connection between sexual orientation and educational attainment would be impossible without also addressing issues of gender, socio-economic background, disability and race. The point here is that when young people are homophobically or biphobically bullied it can impact on them in varying ways (see Box 5.2) and low academic achievement is not the only signifier of distress. A school where any bullying is tolerated creates an unsafe learning and teaching environment for all.

A life lived out of authenticity – in which lies are told to others (and even oneself) about who one ‘is’ – is both emotionally exhausting and obstructive to any young person’s, or indeed adult’s, emotional and even physical development. Homophobia and biphobia have negative effects on the health and wellbeing of young people and those around them. They may internalise it as they negotiate their own identities at school. Self-confidence can be severely undermined with homophobia or biphobia directed inwards and manifesting as self-loathing.

Too many lesbian, gay or bisexual young people report feeling any number of negative emotions: anxious, stressed, worthless, ashamed, angry, isolated and fearful with feelings of incredible loneliness and a sense of abnormality. These emotions can lead to depression, self-harm, eating disorders, alcohol or drug dependency or suicide attempts. It is well recognised that suicide and suicide attempts are far more frequent in those young people who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual than in the general youth population. The role of homophobic and biphobic bullying in contributing to these negative emotions and mental health issues cannot be underestimated.

– Jonathan Charlesworth M.Ed.

About Just Like Us

As a charity, our mission is to empower young people to champion LGBT+ equality. We want all young people to know that being LGBT+ is something to be celebrated.

We know that growing up LGBT+ is still unacceptably tough and LGBT+ young people still face unacceptable levels of lesbophobia, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia – 85% still regularly hear homophobic remarks (Prescient for Just Like Us, 2019).

To tackle this, we run three programmes: our Ambassador Programme, Pride Groups and School Diversity Week. If you’re an educator and would like to talk to us about reducing anti-LGBT+ bullying in your school or college, we’re always here to help.

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