Overcoming Homophobic Language in School

In a 2007 report by Stonewall 98% of students and 95% of teachers reported to have regularly heard “that’s gay” and “you’re so gay” used at school. Even three quarters of primary teachers reported hearing it regularly.

And the language itself can just be the tip of the iceberg. Almost 2/3 of lesbian, gay and bisexual students will experience bullying of some form in their time at school.

Homophobic language in school usually comes in two forms: cultural and direct. Direct is the most concerning – where students use sexual orientation as a specific focus of bullying, understanding exactly what the word means. But the Cultural form is no less important. Many students throw around the word “gay” where it means nothing other than “a bit rubbish”. This may seem harmless but it goes to create a culture in school that sees homosexuality as something negative and to be ashamed of.

So how do you tackle homophobic language in school – when it many places it can be so prevalent?

Take a Collective Approach

Essentially you’re looking to change the culture of a school, and that can’t be done alone. Homophobic language needs to be specifically marked out in your Anti Bullying Policy and staff need to have an understanding that they will all tackle the issue together.

Challenge Pupils Every Time

Just as you would if a child made a racist comment, challenge pupils when you hear homophobic language being used. Pupils need to understand what it means and why it is offensive. Many would never dream of making a racist comment, yet hurl homophobic language around like confetti.

Get Students Involved

Students can often be very enthusiastic in tackling homophobic language, once they’ve had the opportunity to discuss and understand it better. Consider making it a focus for your school council.

Take A Strong Stance

If after repeated warnings and interventions a pupil persists in using homophobic language, they should be escalated via your school’s disciplinary procedures. Students need to understand that using homophobic language is a serious issue, and will be treated seriously too.

Bring in the Parents

For the vast majority of schools if such disciplinary problems persist the parents will be involved automatically, but it can be particularly valuable in cases of homophobic language. Sometimes the child’s attitude to homosexuality can be inherited from their parents and engaging the parents at this stage can be a good opportunity to challenge those beliefs, and to make it clear that homophobic language won’t be tolerated at the school.

Provide Positive Role Models

Many students may not know a lesbian, gay or bisexual person in their life. So school has an excellent opportunity to provide them with one, and also to challenge their assumptions. Alexander the Great as the greatest warrior of all time often makes a good discussion.

Deal with Homophobia in Your Lessons

Don’t just let teaching students about homophobia be the preserve of your PSHE department. There are lots of activities that you can incorporate into your lessons to help raise and explore the issue. One nice one I came across was to study an old picture book, and to discuss with your class the different types of implicit and explicit discrimination found there. Then the students work to create their own picture books that explicitly challenge those assumptions. Like many other topics LGB has it’s own history month (February) and there’s also anti-bullying week which can be an excellent focus for these issues.

Use Drama to Explore the Issues

Drama can be a very powerful tool for exploring the issues around homophobic language and bullying. Particularly putting students in the place of those targeted can give them a much clearer understanding of the hurt that even a seemingly innocuous comment can cause.

Use Assemblies to Set the Tone

Assemblies can provide an excellent focus for discussions around bullying and homophobia – either from students, parents or speakers from outside the school.

Lots of schools find that by implementing some or all of the strategies above that they can make homophobic language being the exception rather than the rule. I’d love to hear your stories of what you’ve tried and what works. Either comment below or tweet me @creativeedu