5: Research with Young People in Scottish Schools
The views that are expressed in this part of the report are those of the young people surveyed and interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the views of LGBT Youth Scotland.
Extracts from the online survey and focus group have been quoted verbatim. Any explanations are placed within square brackets [ ] and italicised.
Survey respondents are identified by the fact that they were responding to the survey (S), their gender, their age and their sexual orientation.e.g. S-F-15, Bisexual - Survey Respondent, Female, aged 15 and Bisexual
Focus group participants are identified by the fact that they were participating in the focus group ( FG), their gender and their age. All of the female participants identified as Lesbian and the Male participants as Gay.e.g. FG-M-17 - Focus Group participant, Male, aged 17
5.1.1 Respondent age and year at school
77 young people completed the online survey. The graph below illustrates the age range of respondents.
60% of respondents were aged between 15 and 19. 22% of surveys were completed by a younger group of pupils aged between 11 and 14 and the remaining 18% of surveys were completed by respondents aged between 20 and 25. Two survey respondents did not state their age ('U' on the x axis) but it was clear from their responses that they had recently attended school.
Figure 5.1: Age of Online Survey Respondents
As illustrated by the graph below, respondents' current year at school ranged from Primary 7 to S6.
Figure 5.2: Year of School for Online Survey Respondents Currently Attending School
5.1.2 Local Authority Area
Surveys were completed by young people in 15 Local Authority areas across Scotland.
The majority of respondents (56%) were attending or had attended school in either Edinburgh or Glasgow. One likely explanation for this central belt bias is that this is the area in which LGBT specific services are most developed and visible. Although the survey was online to encourage the widest geographical response rate, young people outside of these areas may be less aware of LGBT Youth Scotland and its website and therefore less likely to complete the survey. Nevertheless there was a wide spread of responses across Local Authority area, stretching from Highland down to Dumfries and Galloway. Response rates by Authority are shown in the table below.
Table 5.1: Online survey respondents by local authority area
Perth and Kinross
Dumfries and Galloway
5.1.3 Gender Identity
Respondents were fairly equally weighted in terms of gender with 44% of respondents identifying as Female and 53% as Male. One respondent identified as 'Androgynous - neither Male or Female'. One respondent did not disclose his or her gender.
The survey responses therefore did not highlight specific issues which transgender young people might have in relation to school.
5.1.4 Sexual Orientation
The survey asked whether respondents would identify themselves as 'Bisexual', 'Gay', 'Lesbian', 'Straight/Heterosexual' or 'Unsure/Questioning'.
Figure 5.3 Sexual orientation of online survey respondents
The majority of respondents (36%) identified as Gay. 13% identified themselves as Lesbian, 16% as Bisexual (16%) and 9% identified themselves as Questioning or 'Unsure' of their sexual orientation.
The intention was to survey a range of both LGBT and non- LGBT school pupils across Scotland and this was successful as one quarter of respondents identified as 'Straight' or 'Heterosexual'. One respondent declined to answer.
188.8.131.52 Age and Sexual Orientation
Two of the three Primary 7 pupils who completed the online survey identified as Gay and another as Questioning/ Unsure. Of the remaining 11 surveys completed by 12 to 14 year olds in S1 to S4, 8 respondents identified as Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual and 3 as Questioning.
It is interesting to note that these young people are clearly identifying their sexual orientation at a young age. Although no generalisations or conclusions can be drawn from a small sample such as this, the identifications made in this sample call into question the belief that Primary and early Secondary age school pupils are unaware of sexual orientation and are therefore unprepared to hear about homophobia or general LGBT issues in school.
In addition, the 9% of survey respondents who stated that they were Questioning/Unsure demonstrates that many young people may not fit neatly and permanently into the constructed categories of 'Lesbian', 'Heterosexual' or 'Gay'. Indeed, for many young people these categories do not adequately describe their sexuality; for example feeling that they are "just not straight."
5.1.5 'Racial Identity' and 'Ethnic Origin'
99% of respondents were White/ Caucasian, 1 respondent did not disclose his or her racial identity.
80% of respondents identified themselves as Scottish. 4% described themselves as British and 3% as English. The remaining respondents described themselves as being of Irish, German, Polish or Finnish origin with one respondent declining to answer.
5.1.6 Type of School
The majority of respondents (86%) attended or had attended a Non-Denominational school. 14% of respondents were attending or had attended a Denominational school.
80% of respondents did not disclose whether they attended or had attended a State school or an Independent school. Of the remainder, 13% attended or had attended a State school and 9% attended or had attended an Independent school.
One respondent was currently attending a Special school.
5.2 Anti-Bullying Policies
Respondents were advised that 'most schools have an Anti-Bullying Policy which sets out the ways in which staff will deal with bullying if it occurs' and asked whether they were aware of a policy like this in their schools.
Only 9% of respondents indicated that they were aware of their school Anti-Bullying policy.
Interestingly, 62% of survey respondents did not answer this question.
Ideally, young people should be involved in developing the policies which impact upon their school lives and involved in the design and delivery of initiatives aimed towards them. One of the main priorities for the young people who set the agenda for ChildLine Scotland's 2003 Conference was improved anti-bullying policies which involve young people in delivering the solution (ChildLine Scotland, 2003). A report by Save the Children Scotland (2000) as part of the Improving Our Schools consultation stated that:
Children and young people want to be better informed and to be more involved in decisions concerning their education and their school. They want to be given more opportunities to be consulted on matters which affect them and to have their views taken into account when decisions are made.
Involvement and participation in policy development and decision making means that young people can be more confident of positive outcomes. However, these survey responses suggest that respondents either did not understand the question being asked or did not care enough to answer it. Either of these explanations suggests a significant disengagement from the policy development and delivery process and is likely to have had an influence on the low levels of reporting general and homophobic bullying discussed below.
5.3 Bullying in Scottish Schools
5.3.1 General Safety
Before being asked about the awareness and experience of homophobic bullying, survey respondents were asked about 'general' bullying in their schools, the frequency and type of bullying and whether they had ever reported bullying to school staff.
- 88% of respondents were aware of general bullying taking place in their schools and 81% of respondents were being or had been bullied at school.
- 72% of respondents stated that bullying occurred in their schools 'Frequently' or 'Often'. 4% stated that it happened only 'Sometimes' and 10% 'Rarely'.
- The table below illustrates the types of general bullying which the young people were either aware of or experiencing. Respondents were able to select more than one option.
Table 5.2: Online survey: types of general bullying
Type of Bullying
Being left out or ignored
Property stolen or vandalised
* of the 81% who were experiencing or had experienced general bullying
Verbal bullying and ignoring or leaving people out were the most common types of bullying which almost all respondents were aware of or had experienced. However, almost three quarters of respondents were aware of physical bullying in school and just over half were aware of pupils having their property stolen or vandalised. Over one third of the respondents who had experienced bullying had experienced physical violence or had their property stolen or vandalised.
Focus group participants agreed that school is potentially unsafe for every pupil, regardless of sexual orientation. All were aware of bullying of some type in their own schools.
I don't think they're safe places for anyone [schools] … (laugh)… because everyone at my school to some degree was being bullied even by teachers or other members of staff. (Female, 16)
You know in American schools you graduate from high school? In Scottish high schools you survive. You should get a qualification in survival at the end of it. (Male, 17)
5.3.2 Homophobic Bullying
Survey respondents were asked more specifically about homophobic bullying.
84% of respondents were aware of homophobic bullying in their schools and 52% of respondents were being or had been homophobically bullied at school.
Awareness of specifically homophobically motivated bullying was therefore at a similar level as awareness of general bullying but the number of respondents who have experienced homophobic bullying is lower than the number of those who have experienced more general bullying.
As homophobic bullying accounts for only one type of general bullying in schools, it was to be expected that the incidence of homophobic bullying would be lower than that of general bullying. 72% of respondents had indicated that general bullying occurred in their schools 'Frequently' or 'Often' while 45% of all respondents stated that homophobic bullying occurred in their schools 'Often'. 22% stated that it happened 'Sometimes' and 17% 'Rarely'.
Respondents who stated that they were aware of homophobic bullying identified as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Questioning and Straight. As the literature review discussed, young people who are homophobically bullied may have been labelled as LGBT but do not necessarily identify as such. However, in this survey, all of the respondents who were being or had been homophobically bullied identified as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Questioning.
The table below illustrates the types of homophobic bullying which the young people were either aware of or experiencing. Respondents were able to select more than one option.
Table 5.3: Online survey: types of homophobic bullying
Type of Homophobic Bullying
Being left out or ignored
Property stolen or vandalised
* of the 52% who were experiencing or had experienced general bullying
The most common types of bullying differ between general and homophobic bullying. The most common type of homophobic bullying was being left out or ignored and over a quarter reported having had their property stolen or vandalised. Most interestingly, respondents reported lower levels of verbal abuse than was the case in more general bullying but a higher incidence of physical bullying with almost a third of respondents reporting awareness of and experience of physical violence.
5 respondents selected the 'Other' option when describing types of homophobic bullying. Examples included:
A lot of kids call me a freak and throw bottle lids at me. The make fun because I'm often on my own and they hiss at me. (F-13, Questioning)
Sexual harassment (M-20, Gay)
Staff treating me differently because I am open about my sexuality. (F-17, Lesbian)
Focus group participants were asked to describe types of homophobic bullying. In addition to tales of verbal bullying from six of the participants, four had experienced physical violence. One participant (FG-M-18) had been stabbed in the chest with a fork after he was 'outed' at school.
My favourite was 'let's throw footballs at her head' (FG-F-16)
I got headbutted in the face once. (FG-M-17)
People spat in my face, stabbed me with a compass… (FG-F-18)
184.108.40.206 "You're so Gay!"
Focus group participants and several survey respondents agreed that phrases such as 'that's so gay' or 'you're so gay' were commonly used as insults in school.
The only homophobic bullying in my school that I was aware of was that the word 'gay' was used frequently as a derogatory term. The people doing the bullying often had no reason to think that the person they were bullying actually was gay, it was just a term that was used. (S-F-18, Lesbian)
[There were] many cases of using the term 'gay' and others as an insult, where all i wanted to do was say 'well, yes, i am - that's not an insult to me' (S-F-19, Lesbian)
People throw the word gay around like… fucking ridiculously. Anything that's not positive or good, if it's something crap, they've given up saying 'that's shit', now it's 'that's gay'. (FG-M, 18)
One survey respondent pointed out, as did the focus group participants, that many young people may have LGB or T family members. This may mean that these young people are targets of homophobic bullying or, as shown below, may be affected by indirect homophobia in the school.
I havent been bullied in that way but ive heard it and dont like to hear people being called "gay" [as an insult] 'cause ive got family members who are gay and would be insulted by that. (S-M-11, Straight)
Focus group participants felt that it was the intention behind the words which was crucial; the use of homophobic language was more acceptable if it was used jokingly by a friend in a context in which it was not intended to be insulting or bullying.
There's a big difference between your best mate calling you a stupid dyke and a bully throwing something at your head and calling you a stupid dyke.' (FG-F, 16)
Yeah, it depends where they're coming from. (FG-F,19)
I think it's partly the feeling behind it. If it's someone that you don't know or that you're not friends with then whether they're meaning it as a joke or not it's pretty unacceptable. (FG-M, 17)
Focus group participants were asked where and when homophobic bullying was most likely to take place. The experiences of these young people show that homophobic bullying can happen anywhere in school.
Most participants stated that homophobic bullying occurred most frequently between classes and during breaks and lunchtime, i.e. at those times in which school staff were not present. However, one participant felt that at no time was he safe either in or out of school.
[It happened] during classes, break and lunch, after school and at the weekends if you happened to bump into them. (FG-M, 17)
Two participants then disclosed more subtle bullying within class time.
During class wasn't as bad cos the teachers wouldn't leave for a minute in case the class went mad. (FG-F, 16)
Facilitator: When you say 'not as bad'?
Well you know you'd get comments and stuff like that but you wouldn't get violence. (FG-F, 16)
Yeah, whispering and hissing (FG-F, 19)
5.4 Effects of Homophobic Bullying
As discussed in the literature review, previous research has indicated that the effects of homophobic bullying can include low academic attainment, truancy and mental health and wellbeing issues ( e.g. Warwick et al., 2001, Rivers, 2001, Johnston, 2005, Youthnet Northern Ireland 2003). As such, these were the issues which respondents were asked about in the survey. It must be stressed that a clear causal relationship cannot be confirmed in a small sample such as this and the experience of homophobic bullying may be a factor rather than the single cause of these feelings and behaviours. However, the self reports of survey respondents indicate that, for them, some connection exists between the experience of homophobic bullying and these effects.
5.4.1 Personal effects
In an attempt to gauge the impact of homophobic bullying on young people's health and general wellbeing a broad question was asked about the ways in which homophobic bullying made young people feel.
The effects of homophobic bullying described by survey respondents have been grouped in the following categories and are illustrated by direct quotations from the online survey.
220.127.116.11 Unhappiness and Depression
Depressed, left out and like you have done something wrong. (S-F-19, Questioning)
i felt deppressed,paranoid anixous,hated school. (S-F-17, Lesbian)
18.104.22.168 Low Levels of Confidence and Self Esteem
Anxious, mostly, and it seriously affected my self-confidence. Been through uni and I'm still not comfortable speaking publically or meeting strangers. Still do it of course. Just worried without cause. (S-M-21, Gay)
totally alone worthless at the time - want to leave here sometimes - other times not so bad - easier than when I was in second or 3rd year. (S-M-16, Gay)
[I feel] pointless. (S-M-15, Bisexual)
22.214.171.124 Fear, Isolation and Loneliness
I felt isolated. Found it hard to make friends and be comfortable around people, esp guys. Wasnt my own self and felt lonely and afraid. (S-M-21, Gay)
126.96.36.199 Shame, Embarrassment and Feeling Different
why do i feel like this when normal people are straight. (S-M-14, Gay)
It made me feel ashamed of what i really am!! (S-F-15, Bisexual)
it made ma feel very small and if i should be a shamed of who i was , which i know i shouldtn be im proud to be gay but they dont like that it also made me feel regected and unwanted as if no one wants to know me and like i should be dead plus i was always nervous about going to skool as i didnt know what was going to happen that day like who would say somethign or who would hit me next. (S-M-14, Gay)
It usualy makes me very angry and not long ago i took that anger out on a door and nearly broke my foot. (S-F-14, Bisexual)
depressed, angry, sad, suicdal, so fucking angry. (S-M-20, Gay)
188.8.131.52 Suicide Attempts
I tried to kill myself, and only just failed. (S-M-19, Bisexual)
I suffered severe depression, I felt as if I was a bad person and because I couldn't talk it over with anyone, I tried to kill myself - 3 times or so. I felt angry at myself, i felt flustrated that I was gay. (S-M-16, Gay)
184.108.40.206 Self harm and Eating Disorders
I felt very lonely.No one stood by me.I had no friends at school.The teachers did not listen.I felt let down by everyone and everything that possibly could let me down.I started self harming at the age of 14 owing to the extreme depression I was in..I still do it because, as you grow older, the bullies, sadly -often- do not. (S-F-20, Lesbian)
i'm on fluoxotine [medication used to treat depression and/or bulimia] and avoid leaving my house much,unless with friends or going to school, and i'm also severely underweight. (S-M-16, Gay)
This long list of damaging and distressing feelings and behaviours illustrate some of the effects of homophobic bullying. A key issue is the longevity of the effects of homophobic bullying. Mental health issues and problems with confidence and self esteem may continue into later life, adversely affecting future wellbeing and life chances. In addition, if one of the effects of homophobic bullying is to make a young person feel ashamed or guilty about his or her sexual orientation then this homophobia may become internalised in the long term, causing difficulties in future relationships with partners, family, friends and colleagues.
5.4.2 Effect on Schoolwork
Over one quarter of survey respondents (26%) felt that their schoolwork had suffered as a result of homophobic bullying. Respondents reported difficulties in concentrating, lower levels of motivation and failing exams.
I like Maths but, I could not do the work cos they [the bullies] were in that class. (S-M-19, Gay)
I just get distracted by it and cant consintrate on my work. (S-F-14, Bisexual)
I failed my Highers the first time around. (S-M-19, Bisexual)
lower motivation to study - constant worry about what would be said or done to me next by the bullies. Always 'on guard' and worrying about bullies. My performance was worse when I had to sit near to a bully as bullying also could occur in class, esp if teacher left the room. (S-M, Gay)
Focus group participants reported a similar lack of concentration and poor attainment.
I started 5 th year doing 4 Highers and an Intermediate 2 and by the end of the year I was on 3 Intermediate 2s and 2 Highers and when I did the exams I failed the 2 Highers. So… Just because I wasn't concentrating in class because of what had just happened before class, what was about to happen when I left class… (FG-M, 17)
5.4.3 Effect on Attendance
12% of survey respondents had truanted because of homophobic bullying.
A number of the survey respondents who had truanted appeared to feel guilty about this, feeling the need to apologise for or justify their behaviour in the survey. One 14-year-old boy who identifies as gay pointed to the fact that missing school in S3 was not a good idea and an 11 year old boy who also identifies as gay stated that it has only been twice this year. This suggests that truancy is generally being used as an avoidance tactic and a last resort for these young people.
i went to school but didnt go to registration then decided to just go into town instead before any1 saw me, i didn't want to go home and face the music from my mother as they would send me back. but come midday i decided to go back, i decided that they didn't have the right to make me sad etc so i bit the bullet and went back claiming i had been at the doctors. That afternoon though i wish i hadn't skipped, i felt like they had won, i felt realy guilty. (M-21, Gay)
In the focus group, two participants described how homophobic bullying had led to truancy and early school leaving.
I got a social worker and I was threatened with being put in a home because I stopped going to school, I had a 91% absence rate - because the bullying was happening in class and the teacher was going oh I can't see it happening, you're just not concentrating, not doing your work. I ended up leaving school when I was 14 and doing the rest in college. (FG-F, 18)
Yeah. I started skipping school all the time. I ended up leaving school because of bullying, that was my reason for leaving school and people might say that's silly and unacceptable but it's like [angry] what am I meant to do, just sit there and take it? (FG-F, 16)
5.5 Young Peoples' Views on Current Methods of Dealing with Homophobic Bullying
One objective of the young peoples' survey was to elicit opinions on the effectiveness of current practice in dealing with homophobic bullying in their schools. This involved questions on reporting, satisfaction with outcomes and confidence in school staff.
5.5.1 Reporting Homophobic Bullying
Rates of reporting homophobic bullying were lower than rates of reporting more general bullying. 69% of respondents who had experienced general bullying reported it to school staff but only 15% of respondents who had been homophobically bullied reported it to a member of school staff.
Only 10% of respondents who reported general bullying to school staff were pleased with the outcome. However, of the respondents who had reported homophobic bullying to school staff none were satisfied with the outcome. This strongly suggests that there are problems with current methods of dealing with homophobic bullying: young people lack confidence in these methods and feel let down by their outcomes.
The survey tried to ascertain why respondents might not report homophobic bullying. Three main themes emerged, two of which were common to both general and homophobic bullying and one of which was unique to homophobic bullying.
220.127.116.11 Feeling that the situation was not serious enough to report it
Some respondents - both those who had experienced homophobic and those who had experienced more general bullying - felt that it was not serious enough to take it to a member of school staff, dismissing it as 'silly' or 'stupid' and claiming that it had little impact on their lives. However, the seriousness of any type of bullying, homophobic or otherwise, should not be diminished and no young person should be forced to ignore it or live with it.
Verbal: didn't seem any point. I didn't let it bother me. Physical: it was only once, punched in the face, and the guy apologised the next day (however, I doubt it was because he was sorry). Didn't seem worth it. My property wasn't stolen vandalised, but I was worried it WOULD be from 1st to 4th year. Not a nice feeling. (S-M-21, Gay)
It wasn't extreme bullying; just silly name calling and the like - I was able to ignore it and it didn't make my life any different. (S-M-21, Gay)
I didn't think of it as bullying at the time, i passed it off as people being stupid and spent as little time as possible with them. (S-F-18, Bisexual)
18.104.22.168 Believing that there was no point in reporting it as nothing would be done or it may make the situation worse
A great deal of hopelessness was expressed by respondents with a number of young people believing that there was little point in reporting the homophobic bullying as nothing would be done to improve the situation or it may make the situation worse. This was a feature of both general and homophobic bullying responses. However, there was an added element for those who were or had been homophobic bullied which might be absent from other types of bullying. Several of the respondents who stated that there was no point in reporting the bullying felt that nothing would be done about it specifically because it was related to sexual orientation. They felt that school staff would not be responsive because they would not understand the issues facing them.
Again, no point. This is a Jesuit school. (S-M-19, Bisexual)
I didn't feel as if it was accepted. (S-M-16, Gay)
I didn't feel the staff would understand or do anything about it. (S-F-19, Bisexual)
They don't understand the issues facing LGBT people. (S-F-19, Questioning/ Unsure)
because it wouldnt stop anyway so there is no point. (S-F-14, Bisexual)
22.214.171.124 Not wanting to tell school staff about their sexual orientation
This reason for non-reporting was unique to the experience of homophobic bullying. A number of survey respondents were afraid that disclosing homophobic bullying to school staff would be tantamount to 'coming out' and acknowledging that the bullies were right. 'Coming out' is a process which is extremely personal, often difficult and which should ideally be done only when a young person is ready to deal with the possible consequences in all areas of their life. It was assumed by several young people that their parents would be involved and the fear of being 'outed' and rejected made reporting the bullying extremely unlikely.
Because I don't feel happy with informing the school of my orientation, I haven't come out to my parents and know they would be involved… (S-M-15, Gay)
i wasn't out at the time and felt if i reported it everyone would assume i was gay, which i didnt want at the time. (S-M-18, Gay)
These responses emphasise the fact that confidentiality and sensitivity are crucial when dealing with homophobic bullying as young people may be anxious about disclosing the reasons behind the bullying and may be unready to disclose their sexual orientation.
Focus group participants also highlighted the lack of confidentiality shown when homophobic bullying actually was reported.
One thing they had a problem with was confidentiality - if you went to a teacher and said look someone is bothering me they would then go to this person and say look so and so said that you've done this to them and then you'd just cop it 10 times worse. (FG-M, 18)
Yeah if you told anyone they'd go to the person and say '[name] said you called him a faggot' and so thanks, cheers, I'll see them after school… (FG-M, 17)
5.5.2 Effectiveness of Action Taken
Focus group participants were aware that teachers should be acting to protect pupils but still did not feel that they were safe. The sense of being 'let down' seemed to add to the virulence of participants' comments.
Facilitator: So how did your schools cope with it? [homophobic bullying]
They didn't cope. (FG-M, 18)
They have no power. Or they like us to think they have no power. I don't know what power they do have. (FG-M, 17)
One way in which focus group participants' schools reacted was to try to protect them by minimising contact with bullies. Although intentions were laudable, participants felt that they were being hidden away to cause teachers less inconvenience and that this was not an effective long term solution.
My headteacher offered me an empty classroom for my breaks and lunchtimes so I could sit in the corner and hide on my own. Yeah, thanks for that… (FG-M, 17)
Every day I would go in and the same thing would happen and I would go and see the teacher and they would say oh just avoid them. Every day I would go down this corridor and it would happen - oh choose a different one. (FG-M, 17)
Focus group participants stated that they would like or would have liked to speak to someone objective within the school who would understand the issues involved. However, none of the young people had had positive experiences with counsellors.
Well our school had a counsellor but it ended up that all the people who came to her were just sort of after free dinners cos she used to take you for dinner - her time was always taken up so she never got to spend much time with people who maybe needed her help. (FG-F, 16)
My school had that but you had to fill in about 5 forms and tell about 3 people what your problems were before you could see her, it was ridiculous. (FG-M, 18)
Several participants felt that rather than being seen as victims of bullying they were being blamed simply because they were 'different'. This confirmed their suspicions that school staff did not understand or care about the issues facing LGBT young people. This inculcated defiance in these young people which, in turn, legitimised their teachers' perceptions of them as troublemakers.
if I went to any teachers in school I would always get the same spiel of 'well if you don't want to get bullied change the way you dress, change the way you are' as if it's your fault. Why should I have to change who I am just because people won't accept it? (FG-F, 16)
I know of one school where similar things were happening to my friend and they dealt with it, people were suspended. But me, people spat in my face, stabbed me with a compass and the teachers put me on detention breaktime and lunch. (FG-F, 18)
I got jumped outside my school and I broke the guy's nose and I got excluded. (FG-M, 18)
5.5.3 Attitudes towards School and Teachers
There was an alarming level of cynicism and negativity towards teachers in focus group participants' schools. These young people genuinely felt that teachers knew they were being bullied, knew the reasons behind the bullying and did not care.
Teachers, they don't see what they don't want to. They've got selective vision. (FG-F, 18)
Facilitator : do you know about your school's anti-bullying policy?
What, ignore it? (FG-M, 17)
Well yeah, the general policy was pretend it's not happening. (FG-M, 18)
Participants believed that teachers generally did not care about their pupils or their jobs.
Facilitator: what would your ideal teacher be like? Your ideal teacher…
[interjects] … Would care about their subject (FG-F, 16)
Actually care about their pupils! (FG-M, 18)
Actually give a toss about anything. (FG-M, 15)
We need teachers who're not just waiting for class to be over so they can get to the staff room and have a coffee and start bitching again. (FG-M, 18)
In addition, focus group participants felt that teachers were more than capable of allowing or, in some cases, generating homophobia in the classroom either through 'jokes' or the careless use of homophobic language. This was echoed by a number of survey respondents.
In R.E my teacher tld us how gays should not be allowed to kiss in public...this is not what teachers should be teaching us and i started an argument with him about it but it didnt make a diffence. I think it is people like him that make people beleive that homosexualism is wrong. (S-F-13, Straight)
5.5.4 Parallels with racism
Focus group participants felt that homophobia was not treated as seriously as it should be in school and compared this to the swift and significant action which would be taken over a racist incident.
If I'd said 'Paki' in my school I'd have been kicked out. (FG-M, 15)
Exactly. Racism and homophobia are the same. (FG-M, 17)
But it's like people think racism is worse than homophobia because 'they [ i.e.LGBT people] can change' (FG-M, 18)
Yeah, I think schools think 'oh it's just a phase'. (FG-M, 18)
If you call someone - well, I'm not going to say the words [racist] - in the middle of a class you would only get the word halfway out of your mouth and you're outside the gates. It should be the same. (FG-M, 17)
As discussed in previous sections of the report, anti-discrimination practice in areas such as race are more firmly embedded in schools and wider society. Although many schools in this study stated that they treat all forms of bullying equally seriously, the differences between the treatment of racist and homophobic bullying are clear, and a number of young people surveyed and interviewed called for sexual orientation to be taken seriously as a part of identity no less important than 'race' or ethnic origin.
5.6 Discussion of homophobia and LGBT issues in school and access to information and support
EAs and schools were asked about the extent to which homophobia and LGBT issues were discussed. The same question was then asked in the young peoples' survey.
77% of respondents stated that discussion of homophobia or LGBT issues had 'Never' or 'Rarely' taken place in their schools. 17% stated that this discussion took place 'Sometimes' and only 6% of respondents' schools discussed these issues 'Often'. The inconsistency in levels of discussion which were displayed in surveys and interviews with professionals is here substantiated by pupils.
The most likely subject for this discussion to take place was PSD. Other areas included RME, Biology, " once or twice in English", Modern Studies, "Sex Education" and a " presentation by an outside organisation about AIDS." One 12 year old girl who identified as Questioning/Unsure stated that these issues were only discussed in " PSD for older pupils".
In common with those EAs and schools which felt that homophobia and LGBT issues should be addressed within a broader equalities framework, a number of respondents felt that these issues should be discussed in the same way as other types of discrimination.
I would like it if our teachers would disscus this issue like they do with Racisism, Sexisim, and other bullying. (S-M-11, Straight)
school help you understand and stop racism, sexism, etc so why not homophobia. (S-F-14, Lesbian)
At the school i was at it wasn't talked about, if it was racial etc then it was an issue but when i was being bullied and reported it to my teachers etc they said they would look into the matter but it didn't stop they didn't even punish them, so I reported it again but still nothing ever happened. The teachers just didn't want to get involved. (S-M-21, Gay)
All focus group participants felt that there was a silence surrounding these issues which hindered open discussion and increased awareness. In terms of access to LGBT specific information, in some schools the silence extended to active censorship by staff and pupils.
There were [ LGBT Youth Scotland] posters in the library, they lasted about two weeks before they were ripped down. (FG-M, 18)
I asked to put them up [ LGBT Youth Scotland posters] but was told no. (FG-M, 15)
Similarly, a survey respondent pointed out that because of filtering software it is not always possible to get online information from, for example, the LGBT Youth Scotland website when in school.
Homophobic bullying happens quite often at our school, for a while this site [ LGBT Youth Scotland's] was even banned and the schools excuse was that it contained words that we should't be exposed to. (F-15, Bisexual)
The filtering issue was also highlighted by an EA survey respondent who stated that this was a barrier to information in schools: " Need LGBT websites developed in such a way that it will get through a 'nanny' net in schools - because of language used."
Censoring information about LGBT issues sends out the clear and distinct message that it is something unsavoury to be hidden away, a message which cannot fail to have an impact on those pupils who are LGBT or questioning their sexual orientation.
i think we should cover a topic on it in pse coz it's really important for us to know about. it would also make it easier for people like me who aren't 100% sure what they are yet! (F-13, Bisexual)
5.6.1 Catholic schools
14% of survey respondents indicated that they attended or had attended a denominational Catholic school. 8 of these respondents were Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Questioning.
it is wrong in sooo many ways [homophobia] but teachers dont see that especially at a catholic skool ( which i go to ) they dont like dealing wif it cos its bad in our religion and even the deputy heads have started treating me differently because of what i am . . . now im not saw as [name of respondent] im saw as the gay kid to all the teachers who know and its not a nice feeling as teachers are there to help u learn and to give u advice. (S-M-14, Gay)
Teachers in Catholic schools really need to lighten up...I feel that their dismissal of it is very painful for those who believe themselves to be LGB or T. (S-F-20, Lesbian)
One focus group participant had attended a Catholic school where, she said, it was unthinkable that any kind of discussion around LGBT issues would take place.
In our school it's like in 1 st year and 3 rd year the girls get taken away for like a morning and get given the sort of like healthy living lecture and period lecture and all that but we never got anything about sex education or contraception or anything like that, definitely not we're a Catholic school. (FG-F, 16)
5.6.2 Visibility and 'Coming Out' at School
62% of respondents were aware or had been aware of openly LGBT pupils in their schools.
However, 'coming out' and being 'out' is a complex process which is different for each individual. Young people may be 'out' to some people but not to others. In addition, the decision to 'come out' may have been consciously made by the young person but they may have been 'outed' by others. The complexity of the 'coming out' process and visibility in the school was illustrated by the focus group interview.
Of the eight focus group participants, six were or had been, to some extent, 'out' at school. However, only one participant had made the decision to 'come out', the others had been 'outed' by supposed friends who they had confided in or had been homophobic bullying for such a long time that it was assumed - rightly in these cases - by other pupils at the school that they were LGB or T.
Focus group participants displayed ambivalence regarding the issue of visibility in the school. The majority of participants had experienced negative reactions to their sexual orientation which they viewed as unfair and unacceptable. However, when asked about the presence of LGBT staff in their school, one participant stated that teachers simply would not be able to be openly LGB or T in school as their careers and reputation would suffer.
Well pupils who are out at school or pupils that people think are, then they get hassle so teachers probably would aswell, they're going to get judged the same off of ignorant little kids who won't listen to them, are going to start skipping their classes, they might tell their parents and the parents will come in and kick up a fuss about it. (FG-F, 16)
The fact that this appeared to be a taken for granted fact for participants is revealing as it illustrated the ability to see something as wrong but also as 'just the way things are' and insurmountably so.
5.6.3 Support Mechanisms
A strong support network is invaluable for young people who are dealing with issues surrounding sexual orientation or gender identity. However, it may be difficult for LGBT young people to ask for support from families or carers as this may involve disclosure and potential rejection. In addition, young people who are homophobically bullied may have few friends at school.
I didn't have friends at school. I didn't have friends til I came here [ LGBT Youth Scotland youth group]. Sad but true… (FG-M, 17)
I was pretty much on my own (FG-M, 18)
Even for those respondents who had other LGBT friends the need for a more formal support network was evident.
Our school has no LGBT set up within school, or any help for LGBT teenagers. I've got many bisexual friends but no gay friends, and only one lesbian friend. And even then, we're not confident enough to try and go to LGBT meetings as it poses a problem due to the distance from the meeting, parents etc. (S-M-15, Gay)
Focus group participants expressed a strong need for someone to talk to about their sexual orientation and the bullying which they were experiencing. They discussed the value of organisations such as LGBT Youth Scotland and the benefits of having somewhere to meet other LGBT young people. Participants were asked where they had heard about LGBT Youth Scotland. The haphazard list of responses - through word of mouth, street and school outreach workers, social workers, parents - demonstrates the variety of ways in which these young people had heard about the service. It also emphasises the need to expand the capacity of LGBT outreach work in schools and elsewhere to create a consistent and reliable procedure with which to alert young people to LGBT services and support. This will involve, as was suggested by the EA and school research, increased partnership working between schools and the LGBT voluntary sector. Clear communication and cooperation between the two sectors will result in the effective signposting of specialist LGBT services to young people and increased awareness and understanding amongst school staff.
5.7 Possible Improvements
Survey respondents and focus group participants suggested a number of ways in which schools might prevent and tackle homophobia and homophobic bullying. Suggested approaches fall into the following categories.
5.7.1 Proactive and Preventative Approach
Young people need to see that there is nothing wrong with it and that it is not right to make fun of people who might be gay. It's horrible to have to go into school everyday and worry about whether you are going to be called a 'poof' in the corridor or have people staring at you, and should not be allowed. (S-M-16, Gay)
Although school staff will react in some way to news of homophobic bullying they cannot react to what they do not know exists. Participants felt that measures should be put in place to prevent homophobic bullying before it takes place. In effect, schools should expect that homophobic bullying will take place rather than waiting to be alerted to it.
At the school I'm at a lot of the bullying seems to take place out of sight so I think there needs to be a lot of effort to deal with… not to deal with bullying as it crops up but to catch it before it happens if you know what I mean. (FG-M, 17)
5.7.2 Open Discussion and Readily Available Information
A number of survey respondents felt that homophobic bullying could not be tackled without more open discussion and information in school.
People who are *bullying*others for being gay etc is usually because they just dont understand - or see it as normal - if being gay etc was explained better in SE classes maybe things would be different - usually bullys are just bullying because it is something they do not understand and just want to go away. (S-F-16, Straight)
Access to information was highlighted as crucial.
Please get posters and info in my school and make it better for me and other people. All schools should talk about different relationships so that its better and we don't get bullied. (S-F-12, Questioning)
Some respondents felt that adults should be providing information and support and reaching out to LGBT young people while discussing homophobia alongside other types of discrimination.
There should be something which allows adults/social workers etc. to reach out to the students if they can (S-M-16, Gay)
I would like it if our teachers would discuss this issue like they do with Racism, Sexism, and other bullying (S-M-11, Straight)
Focus group participants called for an end to the silence surrounding homophobia and LGBT issues in schools and for information about LGBT issues to be made readily available to school pupils. Participants were pragmatic about the likely extent of change in attitudes in the near future but felt that earlier and more open discussion of the issues in school would promote greater understanding and begin the process of change.
[By discussing these issues in school] I think it'd [homophobia and homophobic bullying] be lessened a little bit because people would understand a bit more. But it would still be there. (FG-M, 17)
I think it would be a gradual thing. If you introduced it now you wouldn't see a lot of effects because folk in senior school you know from 3 rd year up your mind is set but if you started it earlier when minds are more open - then next year you've got a fresh load of pupils - eventually it's got to sink in, something's got to stick. (FG-M, 17)
I think Primary schools should have these books - I think you can get them in Sweden - they're just like normal primary school books that have got 4 words on each page but you get ones about same sex relationships…(FG-M, 17)
I heard in some schools they were using two dolls [Persona Dolls] to teach about gay relationships and I think that's a really good idea. (FG-F, 16)
But if you had gay kids books wouldn't that turn kids gay? (FG-M, 18)
Oh, don't be so stupid! (FG-M, 15)
But that's how some schools would perceive it - what would you say to that? (FG-M, 18)
There's no point in explaining to those idiots that you don't turn people gay. (FG-M, 15)
If you don't explain things to people then they won't ever understand them and then things just keep on the same. (FG-M, 18)
5.7.3 Training for School Staff
A number of survey respondents stated that teachers should be provided with more information and training to be able to respond more effectively to the needs of LGBT pupils.
I believe that the staff in schools should be given training to be better able to deal with gay students. I know that I knew i was gay in S1 and I never dreamt of going to talk to a teacher about it. They have to be more approachable and have the knowledge to deal with the situation and help gay students to see that they are the same as everyone else. (S-M-16, Gay)
some teachers grew up why it was wrong and unexceptable but as a teacher they should learn to move with the times.Teachers should have more information about it ans actully read that information. What makes a good teacher for me is an open minded one. (S-F-19,Questioning)
5.7.4 Calls for Homophobia and Homophobic Bullying to be treated more seriously
I lost respect for staff in school becuase I reported countless times when I was bullied. Nobody was punnished enough for my liking. A slap on the wrist was given, parents were phoned but it happened as usual as if nothing was done. Not even a punishment exercise was given. (S-M-17, Gay)
The guidance teachers normally say that they didn't mean any harm by it!! (S-F-15, Bisexual)
Although schools may have adequate and effective anti-bullying policies which deal with all types of bullying the fact remains that homophobia is not seen to be as serious a form of discrimination as others such as racism. Participants strongly recommended that homophobia be taken more seriously and that homophobic bullies be more strongly penalised.
This is for the Scottish Executive is it? Well surely they should take the hint that expulsion for these kinds of people would be a positive idea. (FG-M, 17)
[There should be] a stricter way of dealing with bullying, not just a tap on the wrists and an 'if you do that again you'll get a severe talking to!' (FG-M, 18)
In addition, one survey respondent stressed the importance of a visible Anti-Bullying policy.
Have the school bullying policy out where students can read it. If they can't read it, get someone to read it to them once in a while. (M-19, Straight)
Similarly, another respondent felt that explicitly mentioning homophobic bullying in policy documents would mean that staff would be obligated to tackle this type of bullying and the homophobic motivation behind it.
School teachers were reluctant to tackle homophobic bullying when they knew of it occuring. Could be improved by a better whole school policy, specifically on homophobic bullying. This would also require teachers to be more alert and less prejudiced. (S-M, Gay)
5.8 Summary of Research with Young People
The awareness and experience of homophobic bullying was high amongst survey respondents and focus group participants. A number of these young people stated that they felt homophobic bullying had adversely affected their attainment, attendance and wellbeing while at school yet rates of reporting were low. Reasons for not reporting homophobic bullying to school staff included (1) not wanting to 'out' oneself to teachers or parents (2) the belief that nothing would be done about the bullying because staff do not understand the issues surrounding homophobia and sexual orientation and (3) the belief that the situation is not serious enough to report it. These responses show that confidentiality, sensitivity and a high level of awareness are crucial when dealing with homophobic bullying and the importance and unacceptability of all types of bullying should be emphasised to pupils. Very few of the young people surveyed or interviewed were aware of their school Anti-Bullying policy which is likely to have had an influence on the low levels of reporting.
In addition, many young people feel that homophobic bullying is not taken seriously enough and that current methods of dealing with homophobic incidents are ineffective. This appears to lead to low levels of confidence in school staff and the belief that they do not care about their pupils or the issues which they face.
The majority of survey respondents stated that the discussion of homophobia and LGBT issues 'never or 'rarely' took place in their schools. Many of the young people surveyed and interviewed suggested a more proactive and preventative approach to dealing with homophobic incidents, greater open discussion and information about these issues both in Primary and Secondary school, training for school staff to raise awareness and the need for homophobic bullying to be treated more seriously.