New Australian research has found alarming rates of homophobic language and harassment in schools, with students reporting teachers rarely intervene.
Jacqueline Ullman is an Associate Professor in Adolescent Development, Behaviour and Wellbeing at Western Sydney University.
Her new study Free2Be … Yet? surveyed Australian high school students identifying as LGBTQ+ diverse. The report surveyed 2,376 students, aged 13–18. They went to government, Catholic and independent schools.
Writing in The Conversation, Associate Professor Ullman said she wanted to investigate the frequency of harassment and violence towards LGBTQ+ students at school.
“I also wanted to explore associations between elements of the school climate — with respect to gender and sexuality diversity — and the school wellbeing of these students,” she explained.
“Almost 30% of participants said they had personally experienced or witnessed physical harassment directed at LGBTQ+ students.
“This group told stories of violence at school, with limited teacher intervention or discussion about the issues.”
‘Teachers pretend they don’t hear’ homophobic language
Of the 93% of students who reported hearing homophobic language at school, 37% heard it “almost every day”.
However only 6% of students said adults “always” intervened to stop this language.
One female year 9 student reported, “My classmates call everyone f****ts all the time and the teachers just pretend they don’t hear it.”
In some cases, students said the LGBTQ+ student was blamed for the incident.
A year 12 boy who identifies as gay said, “[A student] threw a rotten apple at the back of my head after telling me that the common room is for ‘normal straight people only’.
“The teacher present then told me I had to leave because I was causing trouble by being there.”
More training for teachers needed to help LGBTQ students
Associate Professor Ullman said a school climate that views gender and sexuality diversity positively benefited those students.
It improved LGBTQ+ students’ sense of connection and personal investment in school, both key indicators, she said.
“LGBTQ+ students who reported more inclusion of diversity issues in their curriculum had significantly better school-based wellbeing than LGBTQ+ students in schools with little to no inclusion,” she said.
“These results show more training and encouragement should be given to Australia’s teachers to speak out against homophobic and transphobic harassment and violence in ways that educate students and reduce its incidence.
“Such efforts, alongside positive inclusion, can enable LGBTQ+ students to reach their full potential.”
However new legislation proposed around Australian would do the opposite. Ullman said the new bills want to stop teachers talking about gender and sexuality diversity “in the name of either religious freedom or parents’ rights.”
The federal government is reportedly rebooting its controversial religious freedom legislation.
And in New South Wales, One Nation’s Mark Latham has introduced a bill to ban support for gender diverse students.
“If passed in its current form, the [Latham bill] would prohibit teachers from discussing gender and sexuality diversity,” Ullman said.
“It would also make offering targeted, requested support grounds for revoking teachers’ accreditation.
“Such bills fail to acknowledge the daily realities for many LGBTQ+ youth.”
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