LGBT students entering college may have experienced bullying at school previously. The School Report found that one in three lesbian, gay and bi young people who were bullied consider changing their future educational plans because of it, for instance by deciding not to go to university or college.
Colleges often include students of different ages and cultures, 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.
Why does it matter?
The extent of bullying in FE
Stonewall’s research, The School Report, found that one in five FE college students and one in six sixth form college students had 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.
Adult learners and bullying
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 bi learners aged over 19. 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 were fully open about their sexual orientation.
In particular, students reported higher rates of bullying during practical work, or tasks involving work based learning. Only a third of lesbian, gay and bi students thought that college equality policies were actually making a meaningful difference to their learning experience.
'At one point it really got to me with all the stuff that was going on, and to be honest I really couldn't take it any more. So I had to change my phone, and be taken from some of my lessons because it got so bad.' Jay, 18
Unchallenged, bullying has severely negative consequences for students. Three in five lesbian, gay and bi young people say homophobic bullying directly affects their work, and a third change their future educational plans as a result (The School Report).
Bullying directly affects young people’s health and well-being. Almost a quarter of lesbian, gay and bi young people have tried to take their own life at some point and more than half have self-harmed.
What the law says
Colleges have a duty to prevent and tackle all forms of bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, and they cannot discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity against a student, teacher or other members of staff.
The Public Sector Equality Duty requires all public bodies, including colleges, to eradicate discrimination, advance equality and foster good relations - this means preventing and tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and language and talking about difference in college.
It needn't be difficult to prevent and challenge homophobic, biphobic and transphobic 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 bullying, by placing a duty on schools and colleges to prevent prejudice based bullying.
Supporting all students
The School Report found that almost half (47 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bi college students feel that there isn't an adult at college who they can talk to. Stonewall's Education Guide on Supporting lesbian, gay and bisexual young people provides many suggestions and good practice case studies, as well as top ten recommendations for school and college staff and anyone working with young people.
An inclusive curriculum
Three in five lesbian, gay and bi college students are never taught anything about lesbian, gay and bi people at college. The Skills Funding Agency found that the greatest barrier to learning for LGB students was ‘insensitive curriculum content’, particularly on vocational or professional courses which suffer from gender stereotyping.
Why include lesbian, gay, bi and trans people and issues in the curriculum?
Making sure your courses are sensitive to and reflective of lesbian, gay, bi and trans issues goes a long way towards making sure that all students feel more accepted in the student community. An inclusive curriculum helps prevent bullying and better prepares students for life in 21st century Britain.
When lesbian, gay, bi and trans issues are integrated into the curriculum, LGBT students feel happier and more included in their learning. Unchecked, homophobic, biophobic and transphobic attitudes can have profoundly negative consequences. For instance, Stonewall's report on homophobic hate crime found that over seven in ten victims of hate incidents aged 18 to 24 say that they were committed by a stranger under the age of 25.
How to develop an inclusive curriculum
There are many opportunities to include LGBT people in the curriculum. It isn't about doing anything special or different but to acknowledge that LGBT people exist, that same-sex relationships and diverse gender identities are a reality, and to challenge stereotypes. In vocational courses, it’s about making sure all students are prepared for working alongside a diverse group of people when they leave college and are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the law.
FIT, Stonewall's groundbreaking film about friendship, coming out and fitting in, is a teaching resource for secondary schools and colleges and provides a good starting point for discussion of these issues. There are also a number of books you could use or make available in the college library.
Finally, Stonewall also offers training and support to help colleges develop strategies to combat homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. If you're interested in this, please get in touch.