Surviving School

Stonewall’s annual report into LGBT experience in schools across Britain shows progress – and how far we still have to go.

The School Report is an annual survey and this year’s was published in June giving us a fresh insight into the relative status of bi, gay and trans young people and of how biphobia, transphobia and homophobia manifest themselves in the classroom and playground.

Based on a survey with 3,700 participants, 38% of them lesbian/gay and 37% bi, there’s a wealth of data and pleasingly balanced within LGB. The other 25% identify with other sexuality labels, are unsure/questioning, or are trans and straight.

The first thing that struck me was the map of the UK. We usually see London as the most queer-positive region to live in these surveys, but the regional breakdown on how many LGBT pupils being bullied for being LGBT shows London (40%) running behind South East England (36%) in how accepting school life is. Wales and the Midlands come out worst at a little over 50%. Remarkable that for the rest of Britain the rate of experience of bullying is below 50%.

Perhaps because of that magic “bisexual invisibility” hiding us from some of our would-be bullies, that figure drops somewhat for bis.

“One in three bi pupils (35 per cent) are bullied at school for being LGBT.”

Of course, you don’t have to be ‘out’ or even suspected to be LGBT by your fellow pupils for LGBTphobic language and behaviour to affect you. The general message that coming out is good for you and “it gets better” after you do runs smack into the experience for pupils in schools where it is not safe to be LGBT who can see what the impact of being ‘out and proud’ is likely to be on their day to day life:

“Half of LGBT young people (52 per cent) ‘frequently’ or ‘often’ hear homophobic language such as ‘faggot’ or ‘lezza’ in school.

More than a third (36 per cent) ‘frequently’ or ‘often’ hear negative comments about bi people (biphobic language), for example that bi people are ‘greedy’ or ‘just going through a phase’.

Almost half (46 per cent) ‘frequently’ or ‘often’ hear negative comments about trans people (transphobic language), for example words like ‘tranny’ or ‘he-she’.

When bullying does happen,it can take many forms. The survey finds that 42% experience verbal abuse, with 37% aware they are the subject of gossip. One in four are socially isolated by fellow pupils. Physical bullying, whether punching, kicking or throwing of objects affects 12% of boys and 4% of girls – and trans pupils are twice as likely to experience it as cis students. 1 in 25 receive death threats (1 in 11 of trans students).

For all this, only 3 in 10 say that teachers who observe these LGBTphobic actions intervene, and a similar proportion say that teachers in their schools challenge LGBTphobic language.
Though my school days were a long time ago, I went to two different schools as a teen and there was a huge cultural difference which was reflected in bullying. That somewhat pot-luck nature of how safe and accepting your school will be still seems to be the case now:

“In schools that don’t say homophobic and biphobic language is wrong, LGBT pupils are four times as likely to report that teachers never challenge homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language (51 per cent compared to 13 per cent). They are also more likely to report that other pupils never challenge it (41 per cent compared to 24 per cent).”

One interesting aspect highlighted this year is that pupils don’t know where to turn if they need help.

“More than half of LGBT pupils (53 per cent) say that there isn’t an adult at school they can talk to about being LGBT.”

And where they have an idea who they might turn to, it’s a very LG kind of LGBT:

“Two in five LGBT pupils (41 per cent) know of at least one member of school staff who is openly LGBT. LGBT pupils are far more likely to know of openly gay or lesbian members of staff than of staff who are openly bi or trans. Just four per cent know of an openly bi member of staff, while only three per cent know of an openly trans member of staff.”

Again, perhaps, bisexual invisibility at play. And as a consequence of limited LGBT-related teaching being weighted towards those first two letters:

“Three in four LGBT pupils (76 per cent) have never learnt about or discussed bisexuality at school. At 77% the figure on trans and gender identity is almost identical.”

Some things don’t seem to have changed an inch:

“Bi pupils are less likely than lesbian and gay pupils to have an adult at home they can talk to about being LGBT (37 per cent compared to 46 per cent).”

At the extreme end of impact of LGBTphobia, it explores people self-harming or attempting to end their lives:

“Experiences of poor mental health remain alarmingly high. This year’s report found that 61 per cent of lesbian, gay and bi pupils (who aren’t trans) have deliberately harmed themselves at some point, compared to 56 per cent in 2012. It found that 22 per cent had attempted to take their own lives, compared to 23 per cent in 2012.”


“Nine in ten trans young people (92 per cent) have thought about taking their own life. For lesbian, gay and bi pupils who are not trans, seven in ten (70 per cent) have thought about this. This is far higher than for young people in general: Young Minds estimates that one in four young people have had these thoughts.”

We all still have so much of the world to change.
Read more: files/the_school_report_2017.pdf




Bi Pupils in their own words:

“I always hear my mum and sister talking about how they don’t mind gay people but bisexuals are ‘liars’.” – Louise, 15, secondary school (South East)

“After I went to Pride, I felt much more confident and able to come out because of how well bisexuality was accepted there. Going to Pride helped me to gain confidence in myself and to come out.” – Lauren, 16, faith secondary school (East Midlands)

“I’ve heard a lot of gossip and horrible stuff people say about bisexuals (they’re greedy, it doesn’t make sense, pick one and pick the right one, etc.). There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding surrounding bisexuality in general (it’s a phase, it’s not real, etc).” – Chris, 16, private single-sex secondary school (South East)

“Sex education was extremely limited when providing LGBT-related information. In fact, myself and a friend took over that lesson and were explaining things like bisexuality.” – Pat, 17, sixth form college (South East)

“I’ve been shouted at and talked about on multiple occasions because of my sexuality and I’ve heard remarks such as ‘bisexuals are more likely to cheat, I’d never date a bi woman or man’. A few people who are openly gay have said things like ‘as a lesbian, I would never want to do anything with a bisexual woman’.” – Sian, 13, secondary school (Wales)

“I feel like I’m being left out on something that is important, and my school isn’t equipping me with the right tools to understand my bisexuality.” – Jessica, 13, single-sex secondary school (South East)