Preventing Homophobic Bullying – Schools
All schools have a duty to tackle homophobic bullying
Schools should aim to have an ethos which is inclusive and tolerant of difference. There is no place for anything that might be perceived as condoning homophobic attitudes or behaviour. Teachers must explicitly condemn homophobic bullying and equip themselves to be able to discuss pupils’ concerns about homosexuality in a balanced manner that is appropriate to the age of the young people concerned. In fact it could be argued that if teachers fail to do this they will not be able to carry out their duty of care to their pupils, which includes doing everything possible to provide a safe learning environment.
How should teachers react?
Homophobic name-calling should always be challenged in the same way that racist or sexist behaviour is. Normal anti-bullying strategies should be used when reacting to incidents and these strategies must have a clear place within the context of a whole school preventative policy. The most important thing teachers can do is to strive to create a positive, open, tolerant ethos in which matters of concern to young people are discussed calmly. If the response to homophobic bullying is purely reactive and short-term this may only serve to marginalize victims.
What should be taught?
The curriculum should include appropriate coverage of sexuality, although teachers must be sensitive to the age and emotional development of pupils and to the cultural practices and religious beliefs of families. Discussions about homophobia and other kinds of bullying and abuse may be included in a number of curriculum areas, including Health Education, Sex Education, Personal and Social Education, English, History, Media Studies, Modern Studies and Religious and Moral Education. The aim of such discussions is to allow children to develop the skills, values and knowledge which they need in order to protect themselves from harassment and abuse of all kinds and to become non-abusing individuals themselves. However, these skills and values will only be useful if they are unambiguously linked to knowledge and understanding about the contexts in which they can be applied. If young people learn that a skill like assertiveness can be useful in tackling, say, child abuse they will not necessarily assume that it can be used in other situations in which they find themselves, such as homophobic bullying. This is more fully discussed in an SEED sponsored publication, Promoting Personal Safety and Child Protection in the Curriculum (see below).
The reluctance of teachers to enter into discussions with pupils about homosexuality and homophobia will be overcome if there is clear agreement about what pupils need to learn and appropriate training for those teachers responsible for promoting this learning. A useful summary of advice and guidance relating to sex education is on the “Parentzone” website.
Classroom guidelines - discussion points
In order to promote tolerant, non-abusive behaviour in their pupils and to protect themselves from accusations of bias or improper conduct when discussing homophobia or homosexuality in the classroom, teachers should:
• Respect the age and stage of development of individual pupils
• Let parents know that this is one of the topics that will be covered within the curriculum and invite discussion about this
• Make pupils aware that people have a right to express their sexuality in any way which is within the law and a responsibility not to harass others, whatever their sexual orientation
• Help pupils to understand that there are opposing but sincerely held views about homosexuality
• Inform pupils that different societies have different attitudes towards homosexuality - it is accepted in some, tolerated in some, and completely outlawed in others
• Provide pupils with accurate information about the law on homosexuality in this country
• Acknowledge the risks associated with some sexual practices without reinforcing stereotypical assumptions and heterosexual and homosexual behaviour
• Tell pupils that they are free to discuss everything which has happened in the classroom with their parents
• Challenge any homophobic remarks which are made about pupils or teachers during any class discussion.
• They should not make any assumptions about any pupil’s sexual orientation - it may take some time for this to be established - it may not happen until after the young person has left school - it is something the young person must decide for himself or herself discuss details of their own intimate personal lives (heterosexual or homosexual) with pupils.