ABA: Disabled young people that identify as LGBT+ bullied and silenced in our schools

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“People think you can be disabled or LGBT but not both”

The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA), hosted by leading children’s charity National Children’s Bureau, is publishing new resources for school staff to help tackle the homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying of disabled young people and those with special educational needs (SEN).

Research shows that HBT bullying is widespread in UK schools: over half of children who identify as LGBT have experienced bullying relating to their gender or sexual orientation1, with disabled children and those with SEN at increased risk. A survey of LGBT young people in the UK found that two thirds (66%) of children with disabilities or SEN had experienced homophobic bullying, compared to 55% among the sample as a whole1.

The new ABA resources, developed in partnership with Educational Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH), are being published to mark the start of LGBT History Month, and follow a report from NatCen2 which found that schools lack confidence and feel under-resourced when it comes to dealing with homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.

Qualitative research by ABA with disabled young people, some of whom identified as LGBT+3, confirmed that teachers didn’t always understand the issues they faced:  “How are we supposed to tell [about bullying] if teachers don’t understand LGBT+ or disability?” asked one young person.

The young people ABA spoke to revealed the ‘top issues’ schools should address if they are to reduce bullying of disabled young people – particularly in relation to gender and sexual orientation:

  • Reports of bullying must be taken seriously – many young people said that they were not believed when they reported bullying.
  • Speaking out about bullying was made more difficult when the young people saw their peers and teachers being bullied for being LGBT+: “at my school it was horrible. One person came out as gay and he left really quickly”.
  • Many young people said that the use of homophobic, transphobic and/or disablist language was rife: “It happens both ways. Whether you’re gay or not, they say ‘you’re so gay’. I think they think it’s easier to say that than to say something to us about being disabled. Then you hear people saying to gay people ‘you’re so retarded.”
  • Many of the young people said they had received little or no sex and relationships education (SRE) at school; with what they had learnt focussing on heterosexual sex and safe sex, and lacked focus on developing healthy relationships: “Sex education for disabled young people… There is none”.
  • Not discussing being LGBT+ in school, and especially not hearing about LGBT+ disabled people, made the young people feel invisible and marginalized. This made coming out as LGBT, or being understood as LGBT increasingly difficult: “People think disabled people are asexual as it is, so they don’t talk to you about any relationships, let alone about being or acknowledging that you are LGBT.”

Lauren Seager-Smith, National Coordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance said:

‘We are very concerned by reports of dual discrimination, bullying and marginalisation experienced by disabled young people that identify as LGBT+.  There are clear steps we can take to change the situation – we must listen to disabled young people in our schools and act on their recommendations, fight for statutory sex and relationships education that is inclusive of all young people, and make sure our anti-bullying initiatives do not exclude those children most at risk.’

Jonathan Charlesworth, Executive Director of EACH said:

‘More research is needed which looks at the prejudice facing young people who fall into both of these minority groups. We must focus on a whole-school approach to combatting the issue; with comprehensive anti-bullying policies – which specifically reference prejudiced based bullying, and proper sex and relationships education which doesn’t focus solely on heterosexual sex, relationships and sexual health and which is tailored, appropriate and accessible for disabled children and those with SEN.’

‘Today, every forward-looking school strives to support all its pupils not regardless of but because of their pupils’ and staff’s diverse sexuality, gender, identity, race, faith or ability. We hope these new resources will help schools support disabled children and those with special educational needs so they do not have to suffer the lasting harm that comes from being bullied.’

The resources for schools are available from: www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk/our-work/homophobic,-biphobic-and-transphobic-bullying/