Homophobic bullying in FE colleges

It's not only lesbian, gay or bisexual students who experience homophobic bullying or are affected by homophobic language - anyone perceived as different can be targeted.

College Champions logoDo you know a college which needs support in tackling homophobic bullying, celebrating difference and supporting students? Find out about Stonewall's training for colleges. 

What is it and who's affected?

Homophobic language and bullying can be motivated by prejudices against lesbian, gay or bisexual people or simply by a lack of understanding. Stonewall’s research The School Report found that one in five FE college students and one in six sixth form college students experienced homophobic bullying in the last year. 93 per cent hear homophobic language such as 'poof' or 'lezza' and almost all ( 99 per cent) hear the phrases ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’ in college.

The Skills Funding Agency’s Research into Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Adult Learning conducted in 2011 surveyed the experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual learners aged over 19 and found that a quarter of 19-21 year-olds had experienced bullying and/or harassment in adult learning because of their sexual orientation. Only two in five gay learners are fully open about their sexual orientation and a significant proportion don’t feel ‘totally safe’ in adult learning. In particular students reported higher rates of bullying during practical work, or tasks involving work based learning, while only a third of gay students thought that college equality policies were actually making a meaningful difference to their learning experience.

Homophobic bullying can occur in different forms such as verbal abuse (including spreading rumours and using 'gay' as a derogatory term), cyberbullying and physical abuse and even death threats. The School Report found that where homophobic language is challenged, levels of homophobic bullying fall by almost half.

The consequences

Unchallenged, homophobic bullying has severely negative consequences for students. Three in five gay young people say homophobic bullying directly affects their work, and a third change their future educational plans as a result (The School Report). Bullying also directly impacts on young people’s health and wellbeing, with almost a quarter of young gay people having tried to take their own life at some point and more than half having self-harmed. As colleges look to boost attainment and aspiration amongst their students tackling homophobic bullying must be a key priority.

The challenges

Colleges often have a diverse community, including students of different ages and cultures and with different levels of understanding. Students may be taking full or part-time courses on site, visiting the college for short or one-off courses, undertaking work placements or learning remotely. This means that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to promoting diversity in a college and that the approach needed is often different to that used in secondary schools and sixth forms.

Gay students entering college may have experienced homophobic bullying previously at secondary school. The School Report found that one in three gay young people who are bullied consider changing their future educational plans because of it, for instance by deciding not to go to university or college. Colleges which take steps to combat homophobic bullying and promote their work in this area, will encourage these young people to carry on in education and to apply to study at their institutions.

What you can do

It isn’t difficult to prevent and challenge homophobic bullying. Stonewall has produced a number of resources to support staff in FE colleges to create a welcoming environment, including FIT, a feature-length film designed to help schools and colleges tackle issues related to homophobic bullying. The School Report provides a series of recommendations to help schools and colleges tackle bullying, as well as outlining the scale of the problem. The law also empowers you to tackle homophobic bullying, by placing a duty on schools and colleges to prevent prejudice based bullying such as homophobic bullying. Finally Stonewall’s College Champions programme provides colleges with one to one support in order to help them develop strategies to combat homophobic bullying.

Find out more about Stonewall's College Champions programme.

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