LGBT students entering college may have experienced bullying at school previously. The School Report (2017) found that more than half of LGBT young people who were bullied feel that homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic bullying has had a negative effect on their plans for future education, 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 School Report (2017) found that more one in five LGBT FE college students and one in six LGBT sixth form college students had experienced homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic bullying in the last year. 52 per cent hear homophobic language such as 'poof' or 'lezza' and the vast majority (86 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 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.
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.
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 (2017) 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 (2017) found that more than half (53 per cent) of LGBT school and college students feel that there isn't an adult at school or college who they can talk to. An Introduction to Supporting LGBT Young People: A Guide for Schools (2015) 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.
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, biphobic and transphobic attitudes can have profoundly negative consequences.
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.
College Diversity Champions
Stonewall currently works with over 90 further and higher education institutions as part of the Diversity Champions Programme – Britain’s leading best-practice employers’ forum for sexual orientation and gender identity equality, diversity and inclusion. Further Education providers work with us to create inclusive and accepting environments for their LGBT staff and students.