Addressing LGBT+ Identity Based Bullying

Bullying is defined as ‘unwanted negative behaviour, verbal, psychological or physical conducted by an individual or group against another person (or persons) and which is repeated over time.’ (Anti-bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-primary Schools, DES, 2013).

Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying or LGBT+ based bullying ‘is bullying based on prejudice or discrimination because of someone’s actual or perceived sexuality or gender’ (Being LGBT in School’ Resource, GLEN/DES, 2016). Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children, children with LGBT+ family members and those who are perceived to be LGBT+ are particularly vulnerable to, and commonly the target of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.  This is a type of identity-based bullying. The Anti-bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-primary Schools calls on every school to engage in educational and preventative strategies to explicitly address this type of bullying (pp 18-19).

Characteristics of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying

Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying can include:

  • Making comments about someone’s sexuality or gender (or perceived sexuality or gender) that deliberately makes them feel uncomfortable.
  • Calling them names that reference their LGBT+ identity or perceived LGBT+ identity.
  • Physical: hitting, punching or hurting.
  • Making sexual comments or asking them sexual questions.
  • Ignoring or excluding.
  • Making comments through social media.

(This list is not exclusive)

Who tends to be the target?

Children may be a target of this type of bullying because of their:

  • LGBT+ identity

When does LGBT+ based bullying tend to take place?

Homophobia, biophobia and transphobia present themselves in young people as the fear of and the reaction to an issue about which they have little understanding. This fear can in turn lead to LGBT+ based bullying. Most LGBT+ based bullying takes place when young people are unsure about their own developing identity and are subjected to negative messages which society sends out about LGBT+ people or have not experienced sufficient positive LGBT+ representation.

Where does LGBT+ based bullying tend to take place?

In a school context, similar to other forms of bullying, LGBT+ based bullying tends to happen in those areas where there is little or no adult supervision. This tends to be on the yard, in hallways, when teachers are out of the classroom, before and after school begins and also online.

Impact of LGBT+ based bullying

Bullying can have both short and long-term consequences. These consequences can be more pronounced for an LGBT+ child who may already be struggling with their developing identity. Resulting consequences range from damage of self-esteem, truancy and poor academic engagement/attainment.

If not addressed homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying can impact long term social development and mental health of LGBT+ children.

Preventing LGBT+ based bullying

The LGBT+ Ireland Report (2016) (link to ) found that the most common age for an individual to realise their LGBT+ identity was 12 years old. This roughly equates to 6th class in primary school. The age for children to realise their gender identity is typically much earlier. As such, a positive school climate and culture at primary school is key to preventing LGBT+ based bullying.

As mentioned above, the Anti-bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-primary Schools (DES 2013) encourage schools to create a positive school environment that is welcoming of difference and diversity, that is based on inclusiveness, promoting respect across the school community. Primary school teachers are skilled in supporting children to thrive regardless of their background, family type, belief system, ethnicity, ability, sexual identity or gender. This work is supported by the curriculum which is child-centred and which acknowledges the uniqueness of each pupil and strives to cater to the needs of each child.

The Anti-bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-primary Schools (DES, 2013) require the ‘implementation of education and prevention strategies (including awareness raising measures) that build empathy, respect and resilience in pupils; and explicitly address the issues of cyber-bullying and identity-based bullying including in particular, homophobic and transphobic bullying’.

This requires teachers to teach about LGBT+ identities, to support pupils in using LGBT+ inclusive language/terminology and to challenge homophobia/biphobia/transphobia and LGBT+ based bullying and inculcate empathy and respect for different identities and relationships. The Respect Guidelines (2015) produced by the INTO, INTO LGBT+ Teachers’ Group and GLEN outline effective classroom and yard management strategies to support prevention and discrete teaching.

The Anti-bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-primary Schools (DES, 2013) also require schools to have effective procedures and methods of intervention in place and for them to be followed when incidences arise. However, it is important to remember that by the time an intervention happens, hurt may already have been caused to the child in question.

Good practice when addressing an incident of LGBT+ based bullying

The following video shows good practice in addressing an incident of LGBT+ based bullying.

You’ll note from this exemplar that an effective approach to challenging homophobic/biphobic/transpbobic language or behaviour used to offend, hurt or bully is to:

  1. Seek the child’s understanding of the word
  2. Explain that the way they are using it is causing hurt
  3. Explain that doing this deliberately to cause such hurt is not acceptable
  4. Follow up with a discrete lesson to address the language around LGBT+ identities and the appropriate use of language relating to identities and revise classroom rules regarding treating everyone fairly and with respect

By always challenging discriminatory, pejorative and derogatory language and behaviour you are role modelling and communicating intolerance for such disrespect and discrimination.