What is homophobic bullying?

Homophobic bullying is when a young person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation/gender identity is used to exclude, threaten, hurt, or humiliate him or her. Homophobic bullying can also be more indirect: homophobic language, and jokes around the school can create a climate of homophobia which indirectly excludes, threatens, hurts, or humiliates young people.Homophobic bullying is a form of identity based and prejudice based bullying. Broadly speaking, it is motivated by dislike or ignorance about LGBT people. It can also be directed towards people who seem not to conform to traditionally male or female gender roles – for example, a boy who doesn’t like football and prefers dancing.


How are prejudice based bullying and homophobic bullying connected?

Homophobic bullying relates to a defining element of a person’s identity, targeting his or her ‘inner being’. Young people’s sexual orientations or gender identities are not a choice but an innate part of who they are, and homophobic bullying is similar to sexist bullying or racist bullying in that it is a form of identity based bullying.Homophobic bullying fits under the umbrella of prejudice based bullying, which targets young people because of who they are or who they are perceived to be. This can be on the grounds of age, disability, gender (including gender identity), race, religion or belief and sexual orientation. Other grounds for prejudice based bullying might include carer status, social class, looked after or accommodated status or asylum seeker/refugee status. Young people can also be bullied for being perceived to belong to one or more of these groups, or for being associated with a member of one or more of these groups.


Is homophobic bullying experienced differently from other forms of bullying?

All types of bullying differ both in the motivations behind them and in the way that young people experience them. Homophobic bullying has its own particular roots and expressions and is experienced in particular ways by young people.Young people often do not disclose bullying for a range of reasons. Identifying as LGB or T is often an ‘invisible’ difference and some young people who experience homophobic bullying keep quiet because disclosing the bullying is equivalent to telling somebody that they are LGBT or that somebody thinks they are. When there is fear or expectation of rejection it is less likely that a young person will disclose what is happening to them. In addition, homophobic bullying can be experienced by people who are not LGB or T but are perceived to be.


Why address homophobia and homophobic bullying specifically?

Specifically addressing homophobia and homophobic bullying demonstrates a commitment to making visible and challenging this particular form of discrimination. Different types of bullying involve different considerations and different approaches. Addressing homophobia and homophobic bullying, alongside other types of bullying, can help to highlight that these are specific and significant issues for the whole school community.


Is ‘that’s so gay’ homophobic?

Yes it is, whether the intention behind it is homophobic or not. The phrase ‘that’s so gay’ and the word ‘gay’ are common in all youth settings. ‘Gay’ in this sense means something that is rubbish, inferior, pathetic – exactly what some people think of others who identify as gay.This phrase can be used without malice or understanding but it can still have a negative impact on LGBT young people who hear it used in this way, and it can still establish a connection between the word ‘gay’ and ‘bad’ amongst younger pupils. Acknowledging that this language has homophobic consequences regardless of intention, and challenging and exploring its use with pupils, can limit the damage which it can do.


Do all young people who experience homophobic bullying identify as LGBT?

No, any young person can experience homophobic bullying. Those who do are not necessarily LGB or T. People who can experience homophobic bullying include:

  • LGBT young people 
  • young people who are perceived to be LGBT 
  • young people with LGBT family and friends 
  • young people who are seen as different and do not conform to traditional gender roles 
  • any young person at all 


Who should challenge homophobia and homophobic bullying?

Challenging homophobia and homophobic bullying is the responsibility of everyone who wants to be part of the school community in which all young people are supported and included. It is the responsibility of teachers and other members of school staff under the leadership of school senior management, the local authority and national government.  It is young people’s responsibility as well.

How many people are LGBT?

The simple answer is that we don’t know. A UK Government estimate put the total number of gay and lesbian people in the UK at between 5 and 7% of the total adult population, or around 3.3 million people, but because many LGBT people feel it necessary to conceal their sexual orientations the actual number is likely to be higher.In a class of 20 young people then, one or two potentially could be LGBT. In a school of 800 young people, over 50 could identify as LGBT. When all is said and done, every teacher will teach young people who identify as LGBT.

Can you tell that someone is LGBT?

No. There are LGBT young people in every school and, as not everyone conforms to stereotypes, you cannot always tell who they are. Sometimes, based on stereotypes, it may seem easy to identify young people who are LGBT – an effeminate boy maybe, or a young person who dresses or speaks in a way that is ‘typically gay’. These young people may or may not be LGBT and it is important not to make assumptions. Every young person, no matter how they present, has a right to safety and no one brings homophobic bullying on themselves.Many young people deal with feeling different by conforming and assimilating to be as much like other young people as possible. These young people may be facing exactly the same issues as all other LGBT young people and it will be impossible to tell. The only assumption to make is that any young person in the school could be LGBT. You may never know and you may never support them directly: challenging homophobia as widely and generally as possible means that these young people and all young people will still benefit from these messages.

Do LGBT young people have many LGBT role models?

No, not that many. The visibility of LGBT people in the media and public life has grown in recent years and most people could name some out and proud LGBT people. Although their visibility is hugely positive for young people, these people are mainly from the entertainment industry and there are many other professions in which LGBT people appear to be absent. One of the most obvious examples is in sport:"Football, it seems, is one of the last professional environments where you can’t be out and proud. In every other entertainment industry we have gay stars. Why should football be different? Are football fans really so incapable of watching a gay player without abusing him?" (David James, Portsmouth goalkeeper, 2007)LGBT role models from a range of backgrounds, a range of professions and with a range of achievements remain limited for young people.nabled in this through accurate information, support and encouragement from school staff and a range of anti-homophobia work in the school from which to learn.

What are the issues facing LGBT staff in Scottish schools?

Just as young people can feel excluded, threatened, hurt, or humiliated by homophobia at school and unable to come out, members of staff can also feel inhibited about disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many staff members feel unable to come out as LGBT because of the potential reactions of colleagues and pupils.A 2006 survey from The Times Educational Supplement revealed that 75 per cent of lesbian and gay teachers have experienced discrimination at work. One in five said that they were scared to go to work as a result of school-based harassment. 

How do I challenge homophobic behaviour amongst my peers?

It can be very difficult to challenge colleagues who use homophobic language or tell homophobic jokes – potentially even more difficult than challenging young people who do the same. Challenging this behaviour can lead to the one person who speaks out feeling vulnerable, exposed and open to accusations of ‘political correctness’ and overreaction.There are no easy answers, although there are suggestions elsewhere in the toolkit for teachers for ways in which to challenge homophobia more generally. However, if homophobic language and jokes are acceptable in the staffroom or anywhere else in the school then it will be impossible to challenge young people who display the same kind of behaviour. The acceptance of homophobia anywhere in the school will undermine all other equality, diversity and anti-discrimination work carried out.

How can I effectively approach LGBT issues or anti-homophobia in the classroom?

Discussing anti-homophobia and LGBT issues in the classroom for the first time can be daunting. What if it makes LGBT young people feel uncomfortable in a lesson which draws attention to them? What if it makes homophobia and homophobic bullying worse?Lessons do not need to draw attention to anyone in the class or the school. Using case studies and examples of well-known people to illustrate points, not allowing references to individuals and remaining sensitive to the fact that in the class there may be LGBT/ questioning young people or young people with LGBT family or friends are all ways to make this happen. Teachers are skilled in delivering lessons on a range of sensitive topics and these topics are no different.One-off discussions can raise more questions than they answer. However, integrating discussions around LGBT issues and homophobia into existing anti-discrimination and anti-bullying work will demonstrate to pupils that these subjects aren’t ‘special’ or ‘controversial’ but simply part of what the school does. In addition, talking about LGBT issues in the classroom is likely to have an even greater effect if it is accompanied by other measures in the school around the year.Young people are already hearing about LGBT issues from a range of sources but what is important are the messages that they are hearing. LGBT issues are not new to young people but positive, anti-discriminatory messages about LGBT issues may well be.


Is there any legislation to stop teachers talking about LGBT issues or anti-homophobia in school?

No, there is no legislation to stop teachers talking about LGBT issues in school. Quite the opposite – the importance of inclusion and support for all pupils, including LGBT pupils, is now included in legislation. Guidance from the Scottish Government has clarified that this requires schools to treat incidents of homophobic bullying as seriously as other forms of bullying, and highlights the need to address homophobic bullying specifically.Section 2a of the Local Government Act – known as Section 28 and repealed in 2000 in Scotland – is not a barrier to addressing homophobia and LGBT issues in school. Section 28 is mentioned only to highlight that it is an abolished piece of legislation with no relevance to anti-homophobia work in schools.In the past, never discussing homophobia and LGBT issues in school sent out a clear message to young people that being LGBT was not something to be discussed and neither was homophobic bullying. Talking openly about these issues will result in these myths being dispelled.


How can we engage parents and carers in this work?

Sometimes there can be concerns around parent/carer reactions to schools talking about LGBT issues or anti-homophobia work.In these cases, it is of course important to acknowledge and explore parent/carer concerns.However, it is also important to make clear that homophobia is a serious threat to a safe and inclusive school environment and that tackling discrimination, addressing bullying and supporting young people are part of the professional duties of teachers and the responsibility of the school. No parent or carer wants to see any young person bullied or excluded for any reason, and any young person at all can experience homophobic bullying.Young people have the right to receive clear, relevant and up-to-date information on matters that affect their lives. Children and young people have the right to receive and to share information, as long as the information is not damaging to them or to others For young people, part of becoming successful learners and confident individuals is having access to up-to-date and accurate information and resources and using this information to make informed choices about their health and wellbeing.