A Homophobic Environment And Schools Education Essay

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Homophobia refers to the negative feelings that some people have towards people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered LGBT and can often lead to harassment, bullying and victimisation. Despite this definition, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (2013) state that it is not just limited to being targeted at those who identify themselves as being LGBT. They believe that people who are merely perceived to be gay can be targeted, as well as those who do not conform to stereotypical gender roles. Boys who display characteristics that are stereotypically feminine and girls who display characteristics that are stereotypically masculine can be faced with abuse in schools. For example, AVERT (n.d.) write that boys are usually "stereotyped as sporty and strong decision-makers, and girls are expected to be emotional and expressive." Therefore, boys can be labelled as being gay if they don't like sports, if they happen to show their feelings or if others think they are being too intimate with other boys.

A study by Rivers (2000, p14) found that there are a number of places this bullying can take place, including in the classroom, playground, corridors, toilets, changing rooms and on their way home. The Department for Children, Schools and Families (2007, p.16) list a number of ways that children can experience homophobic bullying. They argue that it can consist of verbal abuse (such as mean jokes, suggestive remarks, teasing and name calling) or non-verbal abuse (such as mimicking them and using offensive gestures towards them). They also argue that pupils could be ignored or excluded from joining in with others, be threatened or experience physical abuse (such as hitting or kicking). It also states that pupils may experience cyber-bullying via email, chat rooms, social network sites and mobile phones. Furthermore, they state that offensive graffiti or distribution of other offensive material could be used to harass the child.

Stonewall (n.d.) state that teachers have a legal duty to ensure homophobia is dealt with in schools. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 states that there is a "need to safeguard and promote the rights and welfare of pupils" (Firth, 2012, p6). Under this law, teachers must "identify and implement measures to promote good behaviour, respect for others, and self discipline amongst pupils, and to prevent all forms of bullying", including homophobic bullying (Stonewall, n.d.). Firth (p.6) states that the Equality Act 2010 imposes a duty on schools to be proactive in promoting equality of opportunity for all. She says that, under this law, is it illegal to put people at a disadvantage based upon their sexual orientation and, therefore it offers protection against direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation. Firth (p.6) also talks about the Human Rights Act 1998 which "requires schools to respect and value all of their pupils" and states that they have a right to private life and to be free from discrimination. Department For Education and Skills (2004, p9) states that OFSTED insists that inspectors report how schools promote the five outcomes of the Every Child Matters policy. These outcomes are "being physically and mentally healthy, staying safe and being protected from harm and neglect, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution by being positively involved in community and society, and economic wellbeing." It adds that it will be impossible to deliver all five of these outcomes in a culture of homophobia.

Despite these laws being in place, Moore & Rosenthal (2006, p.132) argue that 'there is now considerable evidence that schools are a powerful site for homophobia to flourish' and this is also reflected in research published by Stonewall, a charity organisation which fights for LGBT rights. They have conducted a number of surveys in recent years, asking for both the pupils and teachers points of view and experiences of homophobia in schools. The School Report (2012) was a survey of more than 1,600 gay young people in Britain. It found that more than half of LGBT people experience homophobic bullying at school (Stonewall, 2012, p.2)

Even if they are not bullied, ninety six per cent of gay pupils heard homophobic remarks such as 'poof' or 'lezza' whilst ninety nine per cent hear derogatory phrases such as 'that's so gay' (Stonewall, 2012, p.5). Thurlow (2001, p.36) writes that "sticks and stones may be more likely to break their bones but the relentless, careless use of homophobic pejoratives will most certainly continue to compromise the psychological health of young homosexual and bisexual people by insidiously constructing their sexuality as something wrong, dangerous or shameworthy." Dye (n.d.) quotes Sue Allen, chair of Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (FFLAG) as saying that "Every generation has a word which they use as a term of offence [...] today it is 'gay'". She claims that pupils in primary schools begin using it to mean anything that's 'naff or abnormal' and, as a result, by the time they reach secondary school, a feeling of negativity surrounds being gay. Plummer (2001, p17) agrees that initially when pupils are using these terms they are not referring to homosexuality. He says that pupils will use the term 'gay' to refer to something that "looks a bit different, a bit tacky, pathetic or anything like that." He states those who were called "poofters" were the ones that weren't in the 'in crowd' such as those who didn't play sport or those who were interested in collecting things or reading. Moore & Rosenthanal (2006, p.172) argue that sexual connotations are not attached to these offensive terms until the children get into their teens but despite this, they recognise that these terms have "deeply negative and offensive meanings." Therefore, even if they start off in a non-sexual sense, "the powerful effect of these precisely targeted homophobic terms [...] provides a hostile context for the development of a homosexual indentity." Barnes (2011) believes that the reason children use and laugh at this type of derogatory terminology is because they don't have all the facts about homosexuality. After they know the facts, she argues, they begin to use the correct words in the correct way. 

Stonewall's School Report (2012, p21) details a number of statistics that show that many pupils report a decline in their attendance to lessons. For example, it states that seventy per cent of LGBT pupils admit to skipping school at least once. Furthermore, nearly half of the LGBT pupils who experience homophobic bullying admit to skipping school because they are being bullied. This can lead to them getting behind in their work and ultimately their attainment may be affected. 43 per cent of bullied of LGBT pupils state that they feel they are underachieving in their school work. (p.20) Over 30 per cent change their plans for future education because they are being bullied, meaning that they are more likely to leave school at 16, rather than carrying to study for their A-Levels and go to university, for example (p.21). Stonewall state that Ofsted requires schools to stamp out homophobic bullying in their inspection framework and, therefore they believe that "schools should see tackling homophobic bullying as part of their wider drive to improve behaviour and boost aspiration, standards and attainment." (p27)

There are concerns that schools are not doing enough to make all pupils feel welcome in their school. Stonewall (2012, p.20) found that more than fifty per cent of LGBT pupils feel as if they don't belong at their school and 46% don't feel as if they can act like themselves when they are at school. A similar percentage claim that it is hard for gay people to feel accepted in school and nearly fifty per cent of bullied LGBT pupils say that they have low self-esteem (pp.21-22). Furthermore, forty one per cent don't feel part of their school community and 30 per cent disagree with the notion that their school 'an accepting, tolerant place where I feel welcome'. Barnes (2011) believes that it is essential that the curriculum reflects the community we live in and therefore, as LGBT people are a legitimate part of our community, they should also be included in the curriculum. She states that it is preferable to "seep LGBT people into [the pupil's] consciousness" rather than to explicitly confront the students with LGBT issues. She believes that this can be done through a combination of inclusive lesson plans and giving them the facts through discussions that arise. Stonewall (2009a, p12) lists examples such as discussing LGBT characters in novels, civil partnerships and different families. They state that these are all ideal ways to discuss gay issues in a "sensitive and appropriate manner". In order to ensure that the pupils feel accepted in school, they also recommend displaying posters which communicate positive messages of equality such as the 'Some people are gay, get over it' campaign. The best schools do more than tackle homophobic bullying and therefore schools should work towards embracing an environment where diversity is promoted and celebrated across whole school community. (Stonewall, 2012, p27)

However not all teachers are happy to include LGBT issues into their lessons. In January 2009, a London primary school teacher faced disciplinary action after she refused to read the book 'And Tango Makes Three', written by Parnell & Richardson in 2005 (UK Parliament, 2013a). The story book tells the story of a gay penguin couple and once she realised that she that the book was advocating gay marriage she refused to continue reading it because of her Christian beliefs. She is not alone. The UK Pariliament (2013b) states that a 2013 poll conducted by ComRes found that over forty thousand teachers say they will probably refuse to teach about 'the importance of' same-sex marriage if the Marriage (Same Sex couples) bill is eventually passed. Dashwood (2011) expresses that in her experience of homophobia in schools, she believes it is actually the pupils who show the most amount of tolerance, rather than the teachers. She argues that "it is often young people who are the most accepting members of a school community, and a consequence they put many of their teachers to shame." She concludes that the government should ensure that educators are not responsible for any homophobia in the classroom, before attempting to tackle homophobic bullying among pupils.

Stonewall (2012) states that whilst children in faith schools are no more likely to report homophobic bullying than those in non-faith schools (p.4), teachers in religious schools are more likely to make homophobic remarks and less likely to challenge pupils when they hear them make homophobic remarks, than those who teach in non-faith schools (p.12). Garner (2011) believes that a number of faith schools view themselves above the law and think they can "do anything that they believe is line with their religious beliefs."

Stonewall (2012, p.21) states that "gay pupils who are bullied are at higher risk of suicide, self-harm and depression." LGBT organisation, Revel and Riot (n.d) suggests that the reasoning behind these thoughts are due to internalised homophobia; subconsciously-developed negative feelings LGBT people feel towards themselves because of their sexuality. Revel and Riot state that LGBT people may start to have these negative attitudes because they are 'affected and hurt' by the discrimination gay people receive in society. They believe that internalised homophobia can take a number of forms. Firstly, a gay person can live in 'denial', where they live their lives pretending to be heterosexual which can lead to the person feeling "unfulfilled and lonely." Secondly, a person can remain closeted. This means that they take part in homosexual activity but keeps it a secret from the people close to them. Revel and Riot argue that "being closeted is linked with high-anxiety, low self-esteem, increased risk for suicide and general lack of fulfillment." The Stonewall survey (2012, p22) found that more than fifty per cent admit to taking actions to deliberately harm themselves, such as cutting or burning themselves. Nearly fifty per cent of LGBT people who are bullied show symptoms linked with depression whilst thirty five per cent of those who weren't bullied showed depression symptoms (p.22) Almost a quarter of LGBT pupils admitted to attempting suicide at some point, whilst over seventy per cent claim to have at least considered it. Stonewall (2012, p.4) compares these figures to those published by the Samaritans which states that only seven per cent of all young people (either straight or LGBT) have ever attempted suicide and less than fifty per cent have considered it. Rebel and Riot (n.d.) argue that the worst form of internalised homophobia is aggressive denial, where a person feels so strongly that they should not be gay that they repress their sexual desires and act out in a homophobic manner towards other LGBT people.

Over a quarter of bullied LGBT pupils say they feel guilty about getting bullied whilst over sixty per cent say they feel embarrassed and over forty per cent say they feel ashamed.(Stonewall, 2012, p.21) It is not always easy for teachers to be aware of when a pupil is the victim of homophobic bullying and the Department for Children, Schools and Families (2007, p16-17) believe that this is because many pupils are embarrassed to admit it, perhaps because they do not want to disclose their sexuality to their teacher or because they are embarrassed that they are being perceived in this way and being bullied for it when they actually are not LGBT. Alternatively, they argue that some pupils may choose not to tell their teachers that they are being bullied because they worry about how the "staff may deal with the problem given the sensitivities involved" (p.19) A Stonewall report from 2009 focused on responses from teachers of both primary and secondary schools on their experience of homophobia in the classroom. It found that nearly thirty per cent of teachers state that they would not feel confident in supporting a pupil who decided to come out as LGBT to them (Stonewall, 2009b, p16). Furthermore, forty per cent say that they "would not feel confident in providing information, advice and guidance on gay issues" to their pupils. Concerns about how teachers will respond correlate with figures from Stonewall's School Report (2012, p.12) that shows that many LGBT pupils feel that their schools "often fail to intervene when homophobic bullying and language occurs." The report found that the rate of homophobic bullying is much higher in schools where teachers never step in when they hear homophobic remarks, compared to schools where the teachers challenge homophobic remarks every time. (Stonewall, 2012, p.13)

Up until 2003, it was illegal for teachers to "intentionally promote homosexuality" or to promote "the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" (National Archives, n.d.) This was stated as part of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act. Even though this has now been repealed, there may still be confusion of what is acceptable. This fairly recent change of the law may leave those that have been teaching for a while confused as to what they are allowed to do. If they have always been told that they are not allowed to teach about gay issues throughout their career, many may continue to ignore these issues even now the ban has been lifted. Bridges (2013) agrees with this notion as she states that gay relationships seem to be "outside the comfort zones of many teachers, and is therefore not tackled with as much rigour as other types of bullying."

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Pupils who have gay family members can also feel the effect of homophobia in the classroom. Stonewall's Different Families (p.20) states that whilst lots of pupils who have gay parents are open about their families, most are careful about who they tell. Those who feel that they have to keep their families secret from everyone find it 'stressful'. The report states that many pupils with gay parents are worried that they will get bullied and this prevents them from being honest about their families. The report concluded that pupils with gay parents don't feel as though their families were reflected in the classroom. It states that too often, schools assume that pupils have a mum and a dad both in classroom activities and in letters that are sent home. Therefore, the report recommends that teachers cease to make this assumption to avoid this 'insensitivity' towards the pupils who have alternative families (p.22). Firth (2002, p7) acknowledges the importance for pupils who come from LGBT families to "feel that their families are recognised, accepted and respected." For this reason she believes that it is "entirely appropriate" to have discussions amongst young pupils about the diversity of families that exist within society.

It is not just the pupils who experience homophobic abuse. Williams (2012) states that a 2006 survey by the Teacher Support Network discovered that "two-thirds of LGBT teachers had experienced harassment or discrimination at work because of their sexual orientation." She writes that 81% of those received discrimination from the pupils and but 46% said their colleagues were responsible. Dellenty (2012) hopes that gay teachers will have the strength to come out and hopes that schools support them when they do as there will be pupils who have gay family or friends and those who will grow up to be LGBT themselves. He argues that these people "deserve and need a representative diverse range of authentic role models in schools." The Department for Children, Families and Schools (????, p.13) writes that the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 aims to protect all members of staff "against discrimination or harassment on the grounds of their sexual orientation" or perceived sexual orienation.

Aside from bullying, there are also concerns that gay people are not well enough informed when it comes to sexual health. The Sex Education Forum (????) states that young LGBT pupils often report feeling left out of sex and relationships programmes. The Department for Education and Employment (2000) wrote that schools have a responsibility to ensure that the needs of all of their pupils are met in the sex education programmes. They argue that that all pupils "need to feel that sex and relationship education is relevant to them and sensitive to their needs", regardless of their sexual orientation. They add that teachers "should be able to deal honestly and sensitively with sexual orientation, answer appropriate questions and offer support."

Stonewall (2012, p???) found that two thirds of gay pupils dislike taking part in team sports. Futhermore, a survey by the National Union of Students (????) found that 42% per cent of LGBT pupils had a negative experience of playing sport at school which lead to them feeling as though they don't want to play any sports at college or university. The report concludes that schools should encourage "LGBT-inclusiveness" by using sport as a way of expressing to pupils that homophobia is not acceptable behaviour "and that all members of a sports team should contribute to creating an inclusive environment." They should also "make an effort to support students to participate in a broad range of sports, including those that are not typical for their gender."

The celebration of LGBT History month in some schools is a step in the right direction. The National Union of Teachers (NUT, 2013) argues that LGBT History Month helps teachers to "promote equality, value diversity and implement effective strategies to eradicate homophobia." The idea is to make pupils aware of the achievements of LGBT people in Britain, as well as the struggles they faced in society. Taking place every February, It is an opportunity to show that discrimination against people is wrong and must be challenged. The NUT adds that "students in school [...] need to discuss human rights and have the life skills for a world where LGBT and straight people are equal."

The LGBT History website outlines a number of reasons why this celebration is beneficial to the whole school community. It states that it is essential for everybody to be aware of the role of LGBT people in society and claims to aim to help gay people be viewed by students as "motivators, inventors, artists, scientists and stars, rather than as victims." It also hopes to help boost the self-esteem of young LGBT pupils so they feel safe enough to continue with their education and grow to be happy and healthy adults who are "less likely to suffer from violence, depression, and suicide." It is also an opportunity to provide postive role models for the pupils.

An extreme example, but one that has been launched in other countries, is that of a gay school; a school for gay pupils, such as the Harvey Milk High School in New York. Launched in 2003, it was set up for those pupils who had been victimised and abused in their previous schools so much so that they were falling behind in their work or felt too afraid to attend their classes (Henley, 2004). Many of its pupils express that without the school they would make no academic progress and Henley (2004) writes that the school boasts that 95% of its students graduate, compared to just over 50% across New York generally. However, the idea is not popular amongst as people can get bullied for a number of reasons. Henely (2004) quoted Mike Long (who at the time was the chairman of the New York Conservative Party) as saying "if we need a special school for homosexuals, maybe we need a special school for little short fat kids because they get picked on too". Indeed, Stonewall's research found that homophobia was only the second most frequent form of bullying, behind bullying for being overweight. It is important to consider, therefore, that whilst these pupils may not get bullied for their sexual orientation anymore, they could still be targeted for other reasons. Furthermore, there are concerns that separating homosexual people from heterosexual people at an early age is only going to cause a wider segregation later on in life. Henley (2004) writes that some gay activitists believe that "creating a new form of gay ghetto is no way to encourage integration and understanding", adding that "in the real world, [...] gay and straight people have to learn to co-exist.

The Department for Education and Skills (2004) believe that schools are the ideal place to challenge homophobia because they "make a significant contribution to the development of values and attitudes in young children that are likely to be highly resistant to change in later life."

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