- 13 Nov 19
The report, which is based on responses from the largest research sample of LGBTI+ youth in Ireland, revealed what too many queer Irish youth already know: our schools are not safe.
According to a survey published today by BeLonG To Youth Services, a national organisation supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI+) young people, nearly 3 of 4 students who identify as such feel unsafe at school. Furthermore, of that 73% who feel unsafe, 3 in 10 of them reported skipping school at least once in the past month out of concern for their personal safety.
The School Climate Survey 2019 is the largest research sample of LGBTI+ young people in schools in Ireland ever with nearly 800 respondents between 13 and 20 years of age. In personal interviews with researchers, students documented cases of sexual assault, physical and verbal bullying, and mental health issues as a result of their sexual or gender identities.
The results highlight an alarming reality that has been overshadowed by surface-level achievements for the LGBTI+ community. Homosexuality was decriminalised decades ago, well ahead of many of Ireland's western counterparts. And same-sex marriage is a given for the latest generation. While it may seem Ireland is a legal haven for the LGBTI+ community, the reality is that blatant oppression still exists here and it is severely harmful to our students.
“I was sexually abused by the guys in the PE changing room age 14 to 17 on a weekly basis," revealed one student. "They would slap my ass, put their fingers up my ass, grope me and pull at my penis. I was terrified of PE and this affected my attendance on PE days.”
Another student admitted, “I felt deeply suicidal for a large portion of the year and I still do."
“Literally everyone hates me at my school. I’m stupid. I’m annoying. I’m just worthless,” added another.
Data shows that the chilling accounts of these students are not merely sound bytes. 77% of the LGBTI+ students surveyed reported verbal harassment based on their sexual orientation, gender, gender expression or ethnic origin. And the abuse is not coming exclusively from their peers. While 68% of respondents reported hearing homophobic remarks from other students and 50% heard transphobic remarks, those numbers remained at 48% and 55% respectively when the comments came from a teacher or staff member.
"This research must act as a wakeup call for the government, schools, politicians, parents and students," said Moninne Griffith, CEO of BeLonG, in a statement this afternoon. "Minister for Education, Joe McHugh needs to take immediate action and prioritise the safety and wellbeing of LGBTI+ students who are seriously at risk. The government cannot continue to ignore the risk posed to LGBTI+ students - real political action is needed. This must stop now."
The onus for resolving the numerous challenges LGBTI+ students is to be shared between the government and individual schools, suggests the report.
On the government side, BeLonG asserts that Minister for Education Joe McHugh must implement a number of sweeping strategies to combat anti-LGBTI+ sentiment in schools, beginning with the implementation of the actions outlined in the first objective of the 2018 LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy: create a more supportive and inclusive environment for LGBTI+ young people in formal education settings.
For the 68% of students surveyed that said they were not taught anything positive about queer identities in school, BeLonG recommends the Ministry conducts a thematic evaluation of Social Personal Health Education (SPHE) including Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) as well as provides resources for schools across Ireland to engage in a whole-school community model of LGBTI+ inclusion.
They also call upon the government to develop and pilot a student-centred peer support for LGBTI+ and their allies within post-primary schools, known as gender-sexuality alliance programs.
At the local level, schools are urged to develop and implement more effective school LGBTI+ inclusion policies and plans and ensure that staff are aware and equipped address LGBTI+ issues to support vulnerable students.
BeLonG also encourages collaboration and involvement in the surrounding community outside of schools, including any local LGBTI+ youth projects/groups, parents and community organisations to promote a wider LGBTI+ inclusive community.
All this serves to show there is indeed a long road ahead for Ireland to truly become an inclusive nation – one that is already being paved by research such as The School Climate Survey 2019. The harrowing accounts of harassment, abuse, and turmoil, and supporting data prove the impetus for implementing solutions immediately. With a clearly-defined problem and numerous solutions, Ireland must act swiftly to foster a safe environment for our LGBTI+ youth.