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Homophobia encompasses a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). It has been defined as contempt, prejudice, aversion, hatred or antipathy, may be based on irrational fear, and is often related to religious beliefs
"Pupils do not necessarily have to be lesbian, gay or bisexual to experience such bullying. Just being different can be enough."
(Don't Suffer in Silence, DfES)
What is homophobia/biphobia?
Homophobia and biphobia can be defined as an irrational dislike, hatred or fear of individuals that are, or are perceived to be lesbian, gay or bisexual. It results in negative consequences ranging from damage of self-esteem to premature death.
Such attitudes can also affect anyone who does not conform to stereotypical standards of masculine or feminine behaviour.
What is homophobic/biphobic bullying?
Homophobic bullying is often present in an environment that fails to challenge and respond to homophobia.
Like other forms of bullying, homophobic bullying can be physical, verbal or indirect. Often it is the language that can distinguish it from other forms and the motivation of the bullies is specific.
When does it take place?
Like any form of bullying it can occur at any time in a person's life however...
Most homophobic bullying takes place at a time when young people, particularly boys, are unsure about their own developing identity - subjected as they are to the confusing messages our society sends out about what it means to be 'a man' and against the stereotype of what it means to be gay. Homophobia presents itself in young people as the fear of and the reaction to an issue about which they can have little understanding and to a person perceived as 'different'.
Who gets homophobically/biphobically bullied?
Anyone can become a victim of homophobic or biphobic bullying:
- Teenagers who have misjudged their best friend by confiding in them only to find themselves 'outed' are the principal targets of this form of bullying.
- Heterosexual girls and boys who others think of as lesbian, gay or bisexual can come under similar attack. Most young people taunted about their sexual orientation are, in reality, too young to know what sexuality is.
- Friends of lesbian and gay young people are frequently forced to face up to their own prejudices, fears and preconceptions whilst regularly finding themselves the targets of homophobia by being 'guilty by association.'
- Brothers and sisters of homophobically bullied siblings are also often victimised.
- Children of a lesbian, gay or bisexual parent can often be vulnerable to homophobic abuse from peers should their family situation become known.
How can homophobic/biphobic bullying affect young people?
Young people can have their education disrupted. They may not participate in lessons appropriately due to feelings of fear or anger.
Pupils' self-esteem is often severely affected and, as a result, their academic potential is not fulfilled.
Young people whose fears and confusions are not adequately dealt with in their youth too often go on to develop problems in adulthood including depressive disorders or dependencies upon alcohol and drugs.
Schools who dismiss the problem are not helping any of their young people to develop a concern for the well-being of others and an understanding and healthy acceptance of people's difference.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual young people can find themselves seriously stressed by having to wrestle with their own feelings about themselves and the problems other people have in coming to terms with their sexual orientation.
Too many victims of homophobic bullying are driven to self-harm and suicide.
Is being gay/bisexual the problem?
It's not being gay that makes some young people unhappy, it's the negative reaction of other people that they fear, coming to terms with being 'different' and coping with it that's difficult. It is even harder if this has to be done in secrecy from family, friends and teachers.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual people of all ages can find themselves emotionally exhausted by having to reconcile how they are feeling inside with the problems others have in coming to terms with their sexual orientation.
Responding to Homophobic/Biphobic Language
Casual homophobic or biphobic language is common in schools but, if it is not challenged, pupils may think that homophobic bullying is acceptable. It is therefore important we challenge this language when it occurs. We will:
- Ensure that students know that homophobic and biphobic language will not be tolerated.
- Make sure it is included in policies and procedures.
- When an incident occurs, students will be informed that homophobic language is offensive, and will not be tolerated.
- If a student continues to make homophobic or biphobic remarks, we will explain in detail the effects that homophobic bullying has on people.
- If a student makes persistent remarks, they will be removed from the classroom.
- If the problem persists, we will involve senior managers. Students should be made to understand the sanctions that will apply if they continue to use homophobic or biphobic language.
- Consider inviting the parents/carers to school to discuss the attitudes of the student.