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I know what it's like to be a trans teen at school. Here's how to deal with the bullying

Jun 28, 2017, 16:17:15

Bullying and hate speech daily affects how pupils perform – it seems obvious, right? So why are we still failing LGBT+ pupils? During my time at secondary school I felt anxious, isolated, lonely and depressed; there were no adults at school I felt like I could talk to about being trans. Turns out I’m not alone.

According to the School Report, released today by LGBT charity Stonewall, 53% of LGBT young people said the same. In fact, more than 40% of trans students said that teaching staff at their school don’t even know what the word “trans” means. This is a huge issue, particularly as 64% of trans pupils are bullied for being transgender. For lesbian, gay and bi young people who aren’t trans, this bullying figure is 45%.

When LGBT young people are bullied and teased at school, or receive inadequate support from teaching staff, it has a direct impact on our mental health. The Department of Health needs to work with the Department for Education to encourage greater awareness of mental health issues, especially those that affect the LGBT community.

School Report found that more than 80% of trans young people have self-harmed. For lesbian, gay and bi young people who aren’t trans, this figure was about 60%. These figures are extremely worrying, and the bullying and isolation that can lead to this behaviour must be addressed. But this goes further than the classroom, corridors and playground: social media and the internet can also be dangerous places for LGBT young people. Some 40% of LGBT young people say they’ve been the target of online abuse, and a staggering 97% say they see homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic content online.

Disappointingly, social media platforms aren’t doing enough to remove targeted hate speech or abuse, which can leave LGBT people helpless and susceptible to even more vitriol from their computer screens. LGBT young people have little faith in these platforms either, with two in three believing that the services won’t do anything when anti-LGBT incidents are reported.

This lack of faith must be addressed and proven wrong, in particular social media and the internet is often where LGBT young people will seek out information – 96% say that is where they went to help understand their sexual orientation or gender identity. So it’s vital that the internet is a safe space for LGBT young people, and all marginalised or vulnerable groups.

When I was in school, I wasn’t taught about LGBT issues, aside from one half-hour lesson on same-sex marriage. Even then, the impression given by teaching staff was that this was a lesson we were having because they “had to” teach it, not because they wanted to or believed in what was being said. With little information or support available at school, I used the internet, and it was online that I was able to find the resources to come out. But that same thing that helped me to tell people who I was today leaves me upset, anxious, and sometimes scared for my safety.

Websites and apps need to find faster and more effective ways to prevent and remove homophobic, biphobic and transphobic content, and work with appropriate not-for-profit organisations to help support those who fall victim to this kind of targeted attack. And within schools themselves, it is vital that we all play our part to ensure that education is for all. If we don’t, we are not just denying educational opportunities to young people, but also putting their futures and mental health at risk.

We can start with getting the basics right – making sure we’re preventing and tackling homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic bullying in our day-to-day lives. If you see it, call it out. It’s important that we show clear leadership to younger people, setting an example by working to put a stop to bullying and hate speech in our wider communities.

Schools must do their bit too in helping to create an inclusive curriculum where LGBT issues are included and visible. A huge part of that involves relationships and sex education (RSE) and ensuring that it is inclusive of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people and their relationships. I was pleased to see the previous (2015–2017) government put personal, social, health and economics education (PSHE) into the national curriculum, but we need to make sure that it is inclusive, so that young LGBT pupils can have the education they need.

And things are getting better. Over the past five years, levels of anti-LGBT bullying have decreased, as has anti-LGBT language. More schools are ensuring lessons include different families and identities, and young people are seeing more teaching staff condemn anti-LGBT behaviour.

This progress is encouraging, and demonstrates the strides being made by some fantastic teachers, young people and MPs across Britain. It must continue.

We are currently in the midst of Pride season, which is the perfect time to practise another key part of making young people feel included: visibility of LGBT role models and visible support for the community. Whether it’s cheering on a parade or keeping a rainbow flag in your classroom or workplace, visible signs of support for LGBT people are important. For vulnerable, young people in particular, it can make them feel more accepted and less alone. Just those small actions can help change lives.

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