What is homophobic bullying?

Homophobic bullying is when people behave or speak in a way which makes someone feel bullied because of their actual or perceived sexuality. People may be a target of this type of bullying because of their appearance, behaviour, other physical traits or because they have friends or family who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender or just because they are seen as being different. 

homophobic bullying advice

Like all forms of bullying, homophobic bullying can be through name calling, spreading rumours, physical or sexual, and emotional abuse. If you're being bullied in this way you need to tell your parents and report it to a teacher. Keep a diary of the remarks or behaviour. If this sort of bullying spills over into violence then it should be reported to the police as a hate crime. Many police forces have specialist units to deal with these incidents.

This type of bullying can also include threats to 'out' you to friends and family about your sexuality, even if you are not gay, lesbian or bisexual. You can read more about sexual bullying here. 

In many cases the people who are picking on you are projecting their prejudice on to others. They may also hear homophobic remarks being used by other people who hold outdated attitudes.

How common is it?

Homophobic bullying is the most frequent form of bullying after bullying because of weight, according to Stonewall’s research – yet nine in ten primary and secondary school staff have never received any specific training on how to prevent and respond to this type of bullying.

Of those who have suffered homophobic bullying, 92 per cent have experienced verbal abuse, 41 per cent physical bullying and 17 per cent death threats. One in eight (12 per cent) of gay pupils has also faced sexual assault. Most bullying is carried out by children within their year group.

"It’s important to remember that not everyone who experiences homophobic bullying is LGB or questioning their sexuality,”says Miriam Lynn, project support worker with the Cambridge-based charity SexYOUality. “It can happen to anyone.”

SexYOUality runs anti-homophobic bullying programmes in schools, supporting LGB young people and offering drop-in youth groups.

What should schools do about homophobic bullying?

Schools should deal with homophobic bullying by including it in their bullying policies. In 2003 a survey of 300 schools found that 82 per cent of teachers were aware of gay name calling in their schools and 26 per cent knew of physical incidents.

Some schools are also dealing with the problem by raising it in citizenship lessons, looking at how to tackle prejudice and discrimination.

There are a number of organisations which help pupils with these issues including StonewallDiversity Role Models and Schools Out

What can parents do?

Parents and carers can play an important role in tackling homophobic bullying, says Stonewall’s Chris Gibbons. He suggests:

  • Talk to your child. Ask how they are feeling and if everything is OK at school, rather than if they are being bullied. They may be embarrassed and worried that you will think they are gay, so might choose not to say anything.
  • Remember that homophobic bullying can affect any young person, regardless of their sexual orientation. Just because your child is experiencing homophobic bullying does not necessarily mean that he or she is lesbian, gay or bisexual.
  • Be supportive. Your child needs to know that if they do decide to talk to you about bullying, you will listen and that they can trust you with what they tell you. Let them tell you in their own time, and ask them how they want to proceed. Preferably approach the school together.
  • Check with the school what procedures they have in place for dealing with bullying and in particular, homophobic bullying. Involve your child in any decisions that are taken on how to tackle the bullying. If you are not satisfied with how your child’s teacher responds, talk to the head teacher or bring it to the attention of the school governors - including your child at every stage.

Sue Allen of FFLAG advises that you check that the school has a separate anti-homophobic bullying policy and not something tacked on to their general bullying policy. Ask to see it, and if they haven’t got one, ask why not and insist this is remedied. Go into the school and challenge them. They have a duty of care to all children. Research shows that in schools where children are explicitly taught that homophobic bullying is wrong, rates of such bullying are dramatically reduced, and pupils feel safer. Schools have a legal obligation to deal with homophobic bullying under the Education and Inspections Act 2006.

If the bullying doesn’t stop, go to your Local Education Authority and demand action. Changing schools can work in some cases but often a vulnerable child is vulnerable wherever they go. Encourage your child to take up judo or another form of self-defence. This will boost their confidence that they can defend themselves if necessary.

How we can help you

If you would like support and advice, you can talk to one of our Family Support Workers by calling our confidential helpline on 0808 800 2222. You can also share experiences and advice with other parents on our Forums. Family Lives is here for you and you can contact us about any family issue, big or small.

Did you find our advice helpful? Help us help more people by filling in our survey