Almost all Australian LGBTQ+ high school students hear homophobic language at school, study finds

More than 90% of LGBTQ+ students hear homophobic language at school, with more than one in three confronted with slurs on a daily basis, a study of Australian high school students has found.

Despite common experiences of homophobia, just 6% of gender and sexuality diverse students said that teachers within earshot always intervened, with some reporting that adults are actively participating in the bullying.

The Western Sydney University study, which surveyed 2,376 LGBTQ students aged between 13 and 18 at government, independent and Catholic high schools across Australia, found almost 30% said they had either witnessed or been the victims of physical harassment targeted towards gay, lesbian and bisexual students.

About 57% of the respondents went to public schools, and most participants identified as female or male, with almost 9% identifying as non-binary.

The survey results include several instances of children reporting the use of “faggot” as a slur, with other anecdotes of gay students being shoved into lockers and physically assaulted, while teachers were present.

The study also notes separate data that shows 15-year-old gender and sexuality diverse students in Australia report “very low school-based belonging and high rates of school-based isolation” compared with other countries, with “scores notably far worse than even the lowest performing countries”.

Jacqueline Ullman, an associate professor of adolescent development, behaviour and wellbeing at WSU and author of the study, said research has shown the sexual educational experiences of these students significantly shape their sense of connectedness to their school, which she said is a known predictor of academic performance.

In an article for the Conversation, Ullman said that about 75% of students who were in year 9 or above said it was “definitely” or “mostly” false that they had been taught about sexual diversity.

“LGBTQ+ students who reported more inclusion of diversity issues in their curriculum had significantly better school-based wellbeing than LGBTQ+ students in schools with little to no inclusion. Unsurprisingly, LGBTQ+ students with higher levels of these forms of wellbeing were significantly more likely to say they would attend university,” Ullman said.

Teachers’ behaviour is also important in shaping how LGBTQ+ students perceive themselves academically, Ullman said.

Ullman’s survey asked students to indicate how true it was that their “teachers talk about same-sex attraction (lesbian, gay or bisexual people or topics) in a positive way”, and compared this with academic self-concept results.

“Results show that where students viewed their teachers as more positive about same-sex attraction across each of the six response options, they also reported higher academic self-concept,” Ullman said.

The survey also asked students how frequently teachers would intervene when hearing negative language about gay, lesbian or bisexual people, and found that students who said their teachers “always” intervened had the highest academic self-concept scores.

Students whose teachers “never” intervened reported the lowest average academic self-concept.

Ullman warns legislation proposed by One Nation’s Mark Latham in the NSW parliament, which aims to prevent teachers talking about gender and sexuality diversity claiming its a parental responsibility, could ultimately adversely affect academic outcomes for LGTBQ+ students in schools and universities.


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