Secondary schools still not safe places for LGBTI+ students

Shane Brennan

Image Credit: BeLong To

Almost three quarters of LGBTI+ second level students feel unsafe at school and 86% say the feel purposely excluded by their peers, according to the largest report of its kind ever conducted in Ireland.

The “2019 school climate survey” also details how 48% of their respondants have heard a homophobic remark from a teacher or staff member at their school, and 55% saying that school staff have passed transphobic remarks.

The report, carried out by BeLonG To in association with Columbia University on 788 LGBTI+ people in secondary school in Ireland, states that “Anti LGBTI+ bullying is rife throughout second-level schools in Ireland” adding that a “hostile school environment poses a significant threat to their wellbeing, mental health and welfare”.

43% of those surveyed said they had been sexualy harrassed in school, one respondent saying; “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 finger up my ass, grope me and pull my penis. I was terrified of PE and this affected my attendance”.

Other accounts in the report included some who spoke of the impacts of bullying, including respondent who said “I felt deeply suicidal for a large portion of the year and I still do”. Similarly another student explained how they felt that “literally everyone hates (them) at school”.

“I’m stupid. I’m annoying. I’m just worthless”, they added.

Speaking at the launch, which was held in the Trinity College School of Nursing & Midwifery CEO of BeLonG To Moninne Griffith said “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.” she added.

A positive result was that 97% of the students surveyed identified at least one staff member who was supportive of LGBTI+ students. Leinster was found to have the most LGBTI+ supportive schools, with 75% of Leinster based respondents saying that they could identify at least six LGBTI+ friendly staff in their school, compared to 64% in Munster, 62% in Ulster and 54% in Connacht.

Changes recommended at the launch included teaching primary level students about gender identification, schools working “outside the school gates” to create a wider LGBTI+ inclusive community, and training for teachers on how to confront this type of bullying. 

An audience member to a panel discussion, chaired by former RTÉ journalist Charlie Bird, suggested that a quota of LGBTI+ teachers should be imposed, however the difficulties of this were outlined by Deputy General Secretary of ASTI Diarmaid de Paor, who said “we can’t even get a gender quota imposed”. 

GAA referee and primary school teacher David Gough explained how he was “terrified” to tell the board of management at his school that he was a Gay man, saying that “it could have had implications for my career prospects”.  When addressing how teachers react to LGBTI+ students and staff members, De Paor admitted that “My members clearly need more support than they are getting”.

Shane Brennan

Image Credit: BeLong To