A recent study conducted by Dublin City University unveiled that more than half of LGBTQ+ pupils in secondary school experience harassment on a daily basis in Ireland. The results from the survey also show that both students and teachers who witness homophobic and transphobic abuse in school fail to intervene appropriately.
As reported by the Independent, the study was carried out by researcher Orla Dunne and is part of her doctoral studies with the Centre for Talented Youth, Ireland (CTYI) and the DCU Institute of Education. The research’s findings will be presented later this month at a conference on education in the Hague, as part of the European Council for Higher Ability conference.
The study surveyed 143 participants aged between 15 and 23 and coming from the Republic of Ireland. They were selected among people that were either still in school or had recently finished and they were asked to share their experiences of harassment against LGBTQ+ students and how teachers dealt with such abuses.
The research found that the most common type of abuse is the use of casual homophobic and transphobic slurs, with 61% of the LGBTQ+ students surveyed saying that they hear the word “gay” used with negative connotations “frequently” or “often”. One of the participants said: “The fa**ot slur” was frequently used by boys from first to sixth year and you would hear it just walking through the corridors.”
Moreover, students that are out in school reported being treated differently than their peers and being mocked behind their backs. 52% of the students reported hearing negative comments about their sexuality “frequently” or “often” and the same responses were given by 37% of participants in regard to negative remarks about Trans and gender non-conforming people.
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One of the participants said that this was the reason why they waited until they were in university before coming out. “I would never in a million years feel comfortable being out at secondary school.” they said.
Another theme that emerged from the study is that students were cast as “predatory” when they used shared toilets in school. “I was told some students wouldn’t go into the bathroom when I was there because they thought I would rape them purely because of my sexuality”, one of the participants said.
The study also found that the majority of students would “never” intervene in the event that they were witnessing abuse against other LGBTQ+ students, mostly due to personal safety concerns and the feeling that their actions wouldn’t have any impact. 72% of them also admitted that they wouldn’t report negative remarks to teachers.
Students reported that for those partaking in harassment of LGBTQ+ students in school there were very few repercussions. “A group of popular boys in my year bullied a gay student and posted homophobic remarks on their social media and escaped with very little punishment.”
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It was also noted that in schools where there was diverse leadership among staff, there was an increased feeling of safety between students. One of them said: “My school principal in particular is very supportive in regards to LGBTQ+ issues, so the rest of the staff follow suit.”
However, other participants noted that it can also happen that a teacher’s prejudice adds to the classmates’ harassment. “A teacher once ranted for 45 minutes about how ‘confusing’ and ‘unnecessary’ different pronouns were and that Transgender people would cause disruption in the school and work environment with regards to what gender toilet they would use.” one recounted.
Another survey on LGBTQ+ youth and their school experience was conducted by BeLonG To in partnership with the Teacher’s College of Columbia University earlier this year. A previous version of the study, conducted in 2019, revealed that 86% of LGBTQ+ students feel isolated by their peers. The results from this year’s research will show whether the situation for LGBTQ+ students in schools has changed in the last 3 years.
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