What is homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying?
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What is homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying?

Definitions of HBT bullying and language and signposting to further information.

To be able to challenge homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying, it’s important that all members of the school, college or setting community understand what it is and what it can look like. Please note that these definitions only apply for schools in England.

What is bullying?

The Anti-Bullying Alliance define bullying as ‘the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. It can happen face to face or online’.

The Department for Education define bullying as ‘behaviour by an individual or group, repeated over time, that intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally. Bullying can take many forms (for instance, cyber-bullying via text messages, social media or gaming, which can include the use of images and video) and is often motivated by prejudice against particular groups, for example on grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, special educational needs or disabilities, or because a child is adopted, in care or has caring responsibilities. It might be motivated by actual differences between children, or perceived differences.’

Bullying behaviours are characterised by the following attributes:

  • The behaviour is repeated
  • The behaviour is intentional
  • The person or group who are carrying out the bullying behaviours have more power than the victim or victims of bullying
  • The behaviour causes physical or emotional harm for the individual or group who is targeted

What is homophobia, biphobia and transphobia?

Homophobia is the fear or dislike of someone, based on prejudice or negative attitudes, beliefs or views about lesbian, gay or bi people. This can also include denying somebody’s lesbian, gay or bi identity or refusing to accept it. Homophobia may be targeted at people who are, or who are perceived to be, lesbian, gay or bi.

Biphobia is the fear or dislike of someone who identifies as bi based on prejudice or negative attitudes, beliefs or views about bi people. This can also include denying somebody’s bi identity or refusing to accept it. Biphobia may be targeted at people who are, or who are perceived to be, bi.

Transphobia is the fear or dislike of someone based on the fact they are trans, including denying their gender identity or refusing to accept it. Transphobia may be targeted at people who are, or who are perceived to be, trans.

At Stonewall, we use ‘trans’ as an umbrella term to describe people whose gender identity is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. This includes non-binary people.

What is homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying?

Homophobic bullying is bullying that is based on prejudice or negative attitudes, beliefs or views about, or behaviours towards, lesbian or gay people. Bi people can also be targeted by homophobic bullying if somebody thinks that they are lesbian or gay. Homophobic bullying can also include denying somebody’s lesbian, gay or bi identity or refusing to accept it.

Homophobic bullying may be targeted at children or young people who are, or who are perceived to be, lesbian, gay or bi. It can also suggest that someone or something is less worthy because they are lesbian, gay or bi.

Homophobic bullying can be targeted at children and young people who have lesbian, gay or bi family members, and those who do not conform to gender stereotypes or are seen to be ‘different’ in some way, regardless of whether the person is actually lesbian gay or bi.

Biphobic bullying is bullying based on prejudice or negative attitudes, beliefs or views about, or behaviours towards, bi people. This can also include denying somebody’s bi identity or refusing to accept it.

Biphobic bullying may be targeted at children and young people who are openly bi, those who are questioning their sexual orientation, or who are suspected of being bi. Biphobic bullying is also often targeted at children and young people who have bi family members.

Biphobic bullying may target children and young people with negative stereotyping (for example suggesting that they are greedy) or imply that being bi is a phase.

Transphobic bullying is bullying based on prejudice or negative attitudes, views or beliefs about, or behaviours towards, trans people, including non-binary people. This can also include denying somebody’s gender identity or refusing to accept it.

Transphobic bullying affects children and young people who are trans, including non-binary young people. It can also affect those who are questioning their gender identity as well as children or young people who are not trans but do not conform to gender stereotypes.

Transphobic bullying can also be targeted at children or young people who have trans or non-binary family members.

Like other forms of bullying, homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying behaviours:

  • Are intentional
  • Are repeated over time
  • Cause physical and/or emotional harm to the victim
  • Can happen online as well as in person
  • Can take lots of different forms, including but not limited to, physical, verbal or emotional actions

What is homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language?

Homophobic language is language that is used either with the intention, or has the effect, of discriminating against someone based on a person’s actual or perceived lesbian or gay identity, or because they have lesbian or gay family members or friends. Bi people can also be targeted by homophobic language if somebody thinks that they are lesbian or gay. Homophobic language can also include denying somebody’s lesbian, gay or bi identity or refusing to accept it.

Biphobic language is language that is used either with the intention, or has the effect, of discriminating against someone based on a person's actual or perceived bi identity, or because they have bi family members or friends. This can also include denying somebody's bi identity or refusing to accept it.

Transphobic language is language that is used either with the intention, or has the effect, of discriminating against someone based on a person’s actual or perceived trans or non-binary identity, or because they have trans or non-binary family members or friends. This can also include denying somebody’s gender identity or refusing to accept it.

What is the difference between HBT bullying and HBT language?

HBT bullying – like other forms of bullying – can take lots of different forms, including verbal. Somebody might use homophobic, biphobic or transphobic language in order to bully someone else, whether the victim is LGBTQ+ or not.

However, it’s important to remember that bullying behaviours are intentional and repeated. A child or young person may use HBT language only once. They may say something that is homophobic, biphobic or transphobic without understanding the impact of their language – for example, because they are repeating something they’ve heard somebody else say, without understanding what the words mean.

They might use the word ‘gay’ to refer to something that is not very good – as in ‘that’s so gay’ – out of habit, without having considered how it might feel for somebody who is lesbian, gay or bi to hear the word ‘gay’ used in a derogatory way. They may use HBT language as a joke between friends or as ‘banter’, without necessarily causing emotional harm to one another.

In all of these instances, the use of HBT language is inappropriate and should be challenged – but these uses of language may not constitute HBT bullying behaviours.

Where the use of HBT language does not constitute bullying, you may deal with these incidents in a different way to how you would deal with incidents of HBT bullying. How you deal with incidents of HBT bullying and incidents of HBT language will depend on your setting’s policies and procedures – but as an example, you may deal with an incident of HBT language through a reflective conversation with the child or young person involved, rather than by following the behaviour sanctions and reporting procedures you might use in response to an incident of bullying.

You should note that Ofsted can ask for records of all bullying incidents, specifically including HBT bullying, by 8am on the day of inspection.

It’s important to take context into account when responding to an incident of HBT language, including the age and developmental stage of the child or young person; whether they have used language like this before; whether they clearly intended to cause hurt, upset or offence; and – especially where language has been deliberately targeted at someone else – the impact of the language used on other children and young people.

For information on good practice in responding to HBT bullying and language, refer to the following Stonewall resources: