Homophobia still rife in Scottish classrooms

New study finds schools not dealing with LGBT issues. Picture: Robert Perry

New study finds schools not dealing with LGBT issues. Picture: Robert Perry

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ALMOST 15 years after the abolition of Section 2A, which prevented the discussion of LGBT issues in classrooms, homophobia is still rife in Scotland’s schools and teachers are ill-equipped to deal with it, a new report has found.

Almost nine out of ten (88 per cent) secondary teachers and four out of ten (39 per cent) primary teachers questioned for a YouGov poll said homophobic bullying took place in their school, but only 16 per cent had received training on how to tackle it. Three-quarters of primary teachers and 44 per cent of secondary teachers said they either weren’t allowed or didn’t know if they were allowed to talk about LGBT issues in the classroom, with some under the impression that Section 2A was still in place.

The poll, which was commissioned by Stonewall Scotland, found almost two-thirds of primary teachers had heard pupils use expressions like “that’s so gay” and more than a third had heard pupils use the words “poof”, “faggot”, “dyke” and “queer”. A third of primary teachers also reported the use of homophobic language by staff. Primary teachers in Scotland were significantly more likely to say that homophobic bullying happened often in their schools than counterparts south of the Border (11 per cent against 3 per cent).

Section 28 – or Section 2A as it was in Scotland – was introduced by the Conservative government in 1988 at the height of the Aids crisis. It was finally scrapped in June 2000 (November 2003 in England and Wales) after often bitter debate. The expectation among those who supported its abolition was that the move would make life easier for LGBT children. Yet today, in an era when sexual orientation equality is enshrined in law and the first same-sex wedding ceremonies are about to be performed, campaigners claim not enough is being done to tackle homophobia in the classroom.

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“It’s disappointing, but the research backs up what we’ve been hearing anecdotally from teachers: that they feel frustrated, they feel they are failing young people because they don’t feel confident enough to talk about these issues,” said director of Stonewall Scotland Colin Macfarlane.

“Teachers know it’s important. They know, through changes in legislation like equal marriage, that this is something they should be discussing, but, in a lot of instances, they don’t feel comfortable and safe that they can. A lot of them still think Section 28 exists. Why do they still think that? Where is the guidance that tells them this is not the case?”

One of the biggest problems highlighted in the poll is the casual use of derogatory language – such as “you’re so gay” – which appears to be almost endemic among young people. This is difficult to eradicate because many of those who use it do not seem to regard it as homophobic. Speaking in the YouGov report, one secondary school teacher said: “Comments now almost seem socially accepted by pupils and some adults, which makes it very difficult to break these ‘habits’ by secondary school age. Just like swearing.”

Macfarlane said: “Almost every single child in our schools are hearing “you’re so gay” or “those trainers are so gay” every day, but those who are saying it don’t necessarily think they are doing something wrong.

“When teachers aren’t tackling that language and saying: ‘Do you know what you are actually saying is that being gay is wrong?’ then that’s damaging.”

Macfarlane says the use of such language hurts not only those who are LGBT, but those who have LGBT parents or relatives or indeed anyone who just doesn’t conform to gender stereotypes.

“A lot of people still think it is just banter, but schools wouldn’t stand for it if they said: “Those shoes are so ‘black’,” or “this lesson is really ‘crippled’,” he said. “It’s important for teachers to understand that the language is damaging in terms of pupils’ emotional wellbeing and that it isn’t only an LGBT issue.”

Not all the findings from the poll were negative. Teachers do recognise the need to do more. Ninety two per cent of primary school teachers, for example, said different types of families including same-sex parents should be addressed in the classroom. On the back of the report, Stonewall Scotland is calling on the government to ensure the duty of schools to tackle homophobic bullying is explicitly stated in its anti-bullying strategy and guidance, and that its national policy and guidance on tackling homophobic bullying is communicated to all education authorities, schools and partner organisations. It says schools should revise their policies to ensure they support teachers to tackle homophobic bullying and language, and that head teachers should make sure all staff are encouraged to talk about LGBT issues. The charity already runs a “train the trainer” programme which allows it to go into schools and empower teachers to tackle homophobic bullying; those teachers then go on to train their peers.

A spokesman for the EIS said abuse or discrimination against any individual or group of individuals was unacceptable in a school or, indeed, in any other setting. “Teachers should be supported with access to appropriate professional development, and the provision of relevant learning and teaching resources to equip them to tackle serious issues such as homophobia,” he said. “The EIS equality committee continues to work in partnership with organisations, including Stonewall, to provide appropriate support on LGBT issues.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Our national approach to bullying sets out a common vision and aims to make sure that work across all agencies and communities is jointly focused on tackling bullying.

“We expect that all schools develop and implement an anti-bullying policy which should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis.

“To support this we have established and wholly funded Respectme, a national anti-bullying service.”

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