BeLonG To: Research reveals 73% of LGBTI+ students feel unsafe at school

National school survey shows LGBTI+ students experience physical and sexual assault, harassment and abuse at school.

BeLonG To Youth Services calls on the Minister of Education, Joe McHugh TD, and second-level schools to take urgent action, following the shocking results of the 2019 School Climate Survey. The research was released today to mark the 10th year of Stand Up Awareness Week – Ireland’s largest anti LGBTI+ bullying campaign.

Findings indicate that an alarming 73% of LGBTI+ students feel unsafe at school. Some 77% of LGBTI+ students experience verbal harassment (name calling or being threatened), 38% experience physical harassment (being shoved or pushed), and 11% experience physical assault (punched, kicked or injured with a weapon) based on their sexual orientation, gender or gender expression.

While 68% of LGBTI+ students stated they hear anti-LGBTI+ remarks from other students, a shocking 48% reported hearing homophobic remarks – and a further 55% reported hearing transphobic remarks – from teachers and staff members. As a result of feeling unsafe and unaccepted at school, LGBTI+ students are 27% more likely to miss school, and 8% less likely to pursue third-level education.

Anonymous responses to the School Climate Survey include:

“I was sexually abused by the guys in the PE changing room age 14 to 17 on a weekly basis. They would slap my ass, put their fingers up my ass, grope me and pull at my penis. I was terrified of PE and this affected my attendance on PE days.”

“I told my friends I was gay in first year and they outed me to everyone. It was horrible. People scribbled slurs on my photos around the school and wrote a slur on my locker in marker. I told my teacher and she basically told me I shouldn’t have come out then, as if it was my choice in the first place.”

“When kids know you are trans they don’t see you as male or female or human. I am pretty much a one-man zoo. I can’t change this fact and I’m pretty suicidal because of it.”

“I was physically and verbally harassed while I was in school based on my sexual orientation and because I was more masculine than other girls. I got yelled at by one student who used dyke and lesbian in a negative way towards me, then repeatedly punched and kicked me while other students watched, this happened on two occasions.”

The School Climate Survey results were launched at an event today, Tuesday November 12th, from 10.30-12 noon, at the Gas Building, 24 D’Olier Street, in Dublin. Present to discuss the findings were Deputy General Secretary of ASTI, Diarmaid de Paor; Author of The LGBTIreland Report, Professor Agnes Higgins; GAA Referee and Teacher, David Gough; and, LGBTI+ Youth Activist, Ayrton Kelly.

Speaking at the launch, CEO of BeLonG To Youth Services, Moninne Griffith, stated:

This research must act as a wakeup call for the government, schools, politicians, parents and students. Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, needs to take immediate action and prioritise the safety and wellbeing of LGBTI+ students who are seriously at risk. The government cannot continue to ignore the risk posed to LGBTI+ students – real political action is needed. This must stop now.

Despite misconceptions, growing up LGBTI+ isn’t all rainbows post-the marriage equality referendum. Our findings indicate the intense discrimination, harassment, isolation and stigma that LGBTI+ students experience in Ireland. Worse still, the research reveals that some staff members turn a blind eye to, and sometimes even contribute, anti-LGBTI+ remarks. What about the Ireland we voted for? This report paints a picture of an Ireland we had hoped had been left behind. We are better than this and we owe it to our LGBTI+ students to do better than this.

We are calling on the government to enforce the implementation of anti-bullying policies in schools and invest in teacher training to create the understanding and knowledge needed to support LGBTI+ students. As the School Climate Survey highlights, with the encouragement of one supportive adult, for example a teacher or guidance counsellor, LGBTI+ students feel a stronger sense of belonging in school, and are less likely to feel isolation and discrimination. There are many schools in Ireland leading the way, creating safe and supportive spaces for their LGBTI+ students. We must follow their example, and build a school system that values this and future generations of Irish children.

Author of the research, Professor Oren Pizmony-Levy of the Teachers College, Columbia University, added:

As countries make progress with LGBT+ rights, we need to pay attention to schools where the next generation is learning to lead us toward a more equitable and inclusive world. Our findings show that, similar to other countries, schools in Ireland have much work to do. Research partnerships like this benefit higher education institutions, NGOs and LGBT+ youth we seek to serve. Documenting the experience of LGBT+ students is a critical first step toward ensuring that schools are welcoming to all students.”

Conducted by BeLonG To Youth Services and Columbia University, this is the largest research sample of LGBTI+ young people in schools in Ireland ever. The final sample consisted of a total of 788 students between the ages of 13 and 20. Students were from all 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland and all four provinces. Participants had an average age of 15.9 years old. Half of the sample is female, about one-fifth is male (21.9%), with the rest choosing other gender identities (trans 12.4%, non-binary 7.8%). Two-fifths of the sample identify as bisexual (45.2%); one-quarter identify as gay; and one-fifth identify as lesbian (26.4% and 21.1% respectively). The rest identifies as queer, pansexual or questioning (17.1%, 15.4%, and 12.1% respectively). The 2019 School Climate Survey was conducted online from May to August 2019. 

Stand Up Awareness Week runs from November 11-15, 2019. BeLonG To Youth Services has distributed Stand Up Awareness Week Resource Packs and Posters to all second-level schools in Ireland. To access these free resources including curricular-based activity ideas, visit www.belongto.org

For more information, go to:

www.belongto.org

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