What is homophobic bullying?

Advice on LGBTQ 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, physical traits or because they have friends or family who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning or possibly just because they are seen as being different. 

"Telling everyone in the dining hall, class, individuals, family at community events/school events that I am gay (I am not gay), even going up to my parents telling them I am, and saying crude things, homophobic things, but I am not gay." (Comment by a young person via our national bullying survey).

homophobic bullying advice

Like all forms of bullying, homophobic bullying can be through name calling, spreading rumours, cyberbullying, physical or sexual and emotional abuse. Young people have described to us how they have been subjected to hate campaigns against them which can start off within the classroom and then moved onto social media. This has devastated those being bullied in this way and some have moved schools and had their lives disrupted because of the actions of the bullies.

Not only does this affect a young person’s self-esteem, emotional health and wellbeing but it also can have an effect on their attendance at school and their attainment. 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. 

How common is it?

Homophobic bullying is the most frequent form of bullying after name calling. According to Stonewall’s School report, 96% of gay pupils hear homophobic remarks such as ‘poof’ or ‘lezza’ used in school. 99% hear phrases such as ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’ in school. 54% of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people don’t feel there is an adult at school who they can talk to about being gay. Worryingly, 6% of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils are subjected to death threats.

“I can't tell anyone because, basically, no-one knows that I am gay...I got punched in the corridor today for example, and I can't tell the teacher because it will involve coming out.” Nick, 14 (via Stonewall)

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

Within our TeenBoundaries workshops at secondary schools working with young people, we explore homophobic bullying in more depth looking at the journey of name calling, how it makes a person feel, the effects on their behaviour and what can happen as a result. A survey by the UK National Union of Teachers (NUT) research shows that the most prevalent issue is sexual verbal abuse and being called obscene names. The names that cause most offence are homophobic terms. 65% of gay or bisexual young people experience homophobic bullying in school. 66% of LGBT young people suffer from bullying at school, 58% of them never report and half of them skip school as a result

Tips on dealing with LGBTQ bullying

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 you feel unable to speak to your parents or a teacher, perhaps you can approach another adult you can trust to get some help. Hopefully if you have good friends, they can give you support to help get it stopped too.

If you feel able to, ignore the bullying so you are not giving the bully the reaction they are looking for. You can also be assertive and let them know that they are the ones that are looking stupid and ignorant. It is important to note, that if you feel they could get aggressive, then do not put yourself at risk as your safety is more important.

If this bullying spills over into threats or violence then it should be reported to the police as a hate crime. Many police forces have specialist units to deal with these incidents.

If you are being bullied online or via social media, take screenshots and keep them as evidence to show your parents, the school or the police.

Ask the school to do some work on LGBTQ bullying within your school if you feel able to, sometimes educating others can help enormously in making them realise their actions and consequences.

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 and think it is acceptable to act in this way when clearly it is not. This can often show their ignorance and closed minds.

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.

What should schools do about homophobic bullying?

Schools should deal with homophobic bullying by including it in their bullying policies. According to Stonewall’s Teachers Report 2014 survey, Nine in ten secondary school teachers say students in their schools are bullied, harassed or called names for being, or perceived to be, lesbian, gay or bi. 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. Stonewall has lots of educational resources for schools and teachers from free DVDS to classroom resources.

Some schools are also dealing with this 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

Please download our LGBTQ poster to display in your school by clicking here

This article is supported by The Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation.

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