Protecting LGBTQ Students from Violence in Schools
Much of the violence that occurs in schools is instigated by individuals who are uncomfortable with differences. Gay bashing takes many forms within schools, from anti-gay slurs such as “faggot” “dyke” “lezzie” “queer” “you’re gay!” or “that’s so gay!”, to threats, intimidation and various forms of physical assault.
Violence and gay bashing of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBTQ) students and those who are perceived to be LGBTQ, affects ALL students. It creates a hostile school climate where anyone can become a target for abuse, simply for appearing different or for speaking up for equality.
Students who are targets of hatred at school frequently develop a negative self-image. They often experience severe isolation and depression. Many are literally forced out of the school system early. Educators who remain silent about the plight of LGBTQ students in schools are contributing to their distress in schools.
Silence and inaction help to perpetuate hatred against these students.
Strategies for Preventing Violence
- Discuss homophobia and LGBTQ issues in age-appropriate ways directly or when faced with teachable moments. This may be in a unit, story, or discussion, or by dealing directly with a name-calling incident. Immediately name any put downs clearly, and discuss them. Homophobia should be discussed in a forthright manner from K-12, just as racism and sexism are.
- Make students aware that hateful comments or actions towards others are intolerable. Draw analogies between race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, etc. to help students connect many forms of oppression.
- A Student Code of Conduct policy that includes specific disciplinary consequences for perpetrators should be developed. The policy should list the different forms of oppression explicitly. Give all students and parents a strong message that these “isms” will not be tolerated. Do not use weak language like “all students should treat one another with respect and refrain from name-calling on any basis.” A better example for all schools reads:
“Students are expected to treat one another with respect and refrain from making any verbal, written or physical expression that ridicules, degrades or expresses hatred based upon race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, gender or sexual orientation.” (This wording includes a specific list of all forms of oppression prohibited in schools under the BC Human Rights Act. This language is completely appropriate for elementary schools as well, because it provides a starting place for discussion with students and the parent community.)
- Protect the victim. Too often LGBTQ students are blamed for what happens to them because of their behaviour or mannerisms. Administrators may treat the victims as the problem and transfer them to another school for their own “safety.” The perpetrator is thus rewarded for homophobic behaviour, while the victim is removed from their school community and support systems. The perpetrator loses nothing and actually may increase in status because “they got rid of the fag”. Strong disciplinary actions must apply to the perpetrators.
- Protect the victim’s right to confidentiality. Do not “out” him or her to family members. Coming out to family is a personal decision to be made by the student. Outing may cause more harm than good as it may result in a student being forced out of home and deciding to drop out of school.
- Place material about youth groups for LGBTQ students prominently. Display posters and resource brochures in places where all students can see them or pick them up easily. Make all students aware of library resources about same-sex families, homosexuality and books with LGBTQ characters. If your library has few resources, purchase some accurate information that is readily accessible to students to help dispel negative stereotypes. The overall message should be that the school community fully respects human diversity.
- Set up a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) in your high school or a Human Rights/Equality Club in your elementary school. Publicize the group’s existence via the student council or school newspaper. Pick a safe venue and time, so that students attending can avoid harassment or labelling.
- Plan a sensitivity training workshop. The BCTF offers such workshops about LGBTQ youth/family issues if any school’s PD committee requests it
- Consult with the police liaison officer regarding LGBTQ issues. This person can be a strong ally in helping to change the school Student Code of Conduct policy or in dealing with anti-LGBTQ incidents. Outline the specific consequences for different degrees of harassment, intimidation or assaults.
- Demonstrate acceptance of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Use gender-neutral language, and teach directly about LGBTQ persons and issues in age-appropriate ways. Withhold personal moral judgements about sexuality. Challenge homophobic comments or behaviours of colleagues, parents and students. The attitudes and actions of adults set the tone for the school and have a direct effect on students.
- Invite guest speakers into schools to discuss homophobia and LGBTQ issues. Many students do not have any knowledge of LGBTQ people. Many LGBTQ youth groups are willing to send guest speakers to schools (i.e. Gab Youth Services, Out in Schools, Sher Vancouver, PFLAG).