A 15-year-old lesbian pupil describes how she was set on fire by school bullies in a Stonewall report which shows UK teachers are not doing enough to stop homophobic bullying.
According to the study, which is published in full today (5 July), three in five lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils who are bullied at secondary school said that teachers who witnessed the incident never intervene.
Only 10% of gay pupils reported that teachers challenge homophobic language every time they hear it, with the worst offenders being faith schools, where more than one in three students, compared to one in four in other schools, reporting that teachers never challenge verbal abuse.
The failure to tackle anti-gay bullying can be ‘hugely damaging’ says Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill, with the group’s latest School Report showing that 55% of British pupils aged between 11 and 18 experience homophobia.
While 95% say they hear anti-gay words such as ‘poof’ or ‘lezza’ used and 99% claim to hear the phrases ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’.
‘The amount of times I reported anti-gay bullying is innumerable, yet it was never tackled,’ said 15-year-old Max from a secondary academy in Yorkshire and the Humber.
In the survey of 1,600 LGBT students, she said: ‘The closest it came was a group of boys being told to “apologize”. This was after several months of taunting and one occasion of actually managing to set me on fire. “Burn the dyke” was a chant that followed me.
‘I would like school to respond in the same way they do racism or disability discrimination: rapidly and harshly.’
Many pupils don’t report incidents of bullying, with 58% saying they are too embarrassed, 57% afraid of being ‘outed’ as a result and 56% complaining that it’s not easy to talk to anyone about the problem.
The survey also showed that 45% believed reporting it would make the bullying worse and 41% said nothing would happen to the bully.
Indeed, of those who did tell a member of staff about being targeted, 66% reported that nothing happened to the bully.
Stonewall’s report claims that many schools simply lack the policies and resources to tackle the problem, with only half of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils saying that their schools teach that homophobic bullying is wrong and even fewer in faith schools - 37%.
In comparison, 95% of schools say bullying because of ethnicity is wrong and 90% say bullying because of disability is wrong.
Tristan, from a Scottish secondary school, is just one of 53% of students which claim to have never been taught anything about LGBT issues in lessons.
The 17-year-old said: ‘There’s not enough discussion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans issues in social education classes or anywhere. I feel there is a distinct lack of awareness regarding these issues.’
The consequences of bullying include self-harm, suicide and depression, but the report shows that pupils in schools which do respond quickly are more likely to achieve academically and take part in activities such as team sports.
Training of staff, covering LGBT issues in lessons and providing professional support for victims are among the recommendations which Stonewall outlines in the report to help schools deal with homophobic bullying.
Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill said: ‘It’s unacceptable that over half of gay young people face a daily nightmare of homophobic bullying and deeply worrying that many schools and teachers still fail to challenge it effectively.
‘Thankfully, Stonewall’s years of work with thousands of schools and local authorities has reduced the overall level of homophobic bullying significantly.
‘But we won’t rest until every single gay young person in this country can walk through their school gates every morning without fear of being bullied just because of the way they were born.’
The School Report 2012 can be downloaded here.