Tackling Sexuality and Gender Identity Bullying
What is sexuality and gender identity?
Defining the problem
The problem of homophobia in schools
The effects of homophobia on teachers and pupils
Creating a positive culture in schools
The benefits to schools of tackling homophobic bullying
Why sex and relationships education is important
Challenging homophobic bullying
Responsibilities of the employer
Equality Act 2010
Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974
Strategies and remedies
Equal opportunities policy
Pastoral and other support
Actions school staff can take on pupil bullying
NASUWT advice for members
NASUWT support for members
Other sources of support and information
The NASUWT believes that the harassment, bullying and persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people are issues for teachers. Homophobic bullying is, sadly, commonplace within society and in this context schools are not immune from homophobia and the problems it creates. 
The NASUWT is committed to securing equality, respect and dignity for all, including LGBTI teachers.
Schools, like the rest of society, are made up of individuals holding a spectrum of values, beliefs and opinions. Some of these may be based on prejudice and be discriminatory. Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are examples of such prejudice and can be defined as an irrational dislike, hatred or fear of individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex. Examples of homophobic behaviour can include:
- offensive ‘jokes’, language, innuendo and mockery;
- insulting or abusive behaviour and gestures;
- damage and threat to property;
- refusal to co-operate because of a person’s sexual orientation;
- refusal to co-operate because of a person’s gender identity;
- deliberate exclusion from conversation and professional and social activity;
- HIV/AIDs-related discrimination;
- physical threats; and
Homophobic bullying may be directed against and perpetrated by any member of the school community, including staff, pupils and parents/carers. Those who suffer homophobic abuse do not necessarily have to be LGBTI to experience such bullying.
Circumstances in which homophobic bullying can occur include:
- staff against staff;
- pupils against staff;
- staff against pupils;
- pupils against pupils;
- another person (e.g. parent/visitor) against staff or pupils;
- staff or pupils against another (e.g. parent/visitor).
Transphobic bullying occurs when people are bullied due to their gender identity, their perceived gender identity or because they do not conform to culturally conventional gender roles. ‘Trans’ is an umbrella term that describes people whose sense of their gender or gender identity is seen as being different to typical gender norms.
Children of school age may experience gender variance, which could make them a target for bullying. According to figures provided by the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES), one in 1,000 school children suffers from gender dysphoria - roughly one pupil for every high school - though not all of them will seek gender reassignment surgery.
There has been a sharp rise in the number of primary aged children (or younger) referred for help with coping with transgender feelings. According to research by GIRES and lobby group Press for Change, most children who experience gender variance fail to complete their school education. Around half of all trans teenagers will make a suicide attempt before they turn 20. Trans teachers are also at risk of transphobic bullying.
Gender variance is different to sexual orientation. Gender identity is different to sexual attraction. Trans and intersex people, just like everyone else, can be straight, lesbian, gay or bisexual. Therefore, transphobic bullying is different from homophobic bullying.
Research consistently demonstrates that homophobic  abuse is a serious issue for schools and society. Given the nature of the bullying, it is unlikely that many people who experience homophobic abuse are willing to report it to parents, teachers or colleagues since they may fear further stigmatisation and isolation.
In 2012, the University of Cambridge carried out research for Stonewall’s School Report 2012 which found that:
- homophobic bullying is widespread in Britain’s schools. Fifty-five per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils have experienced direct bullying;
- almost all gay young people (99%) hear the phrases ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’ in school and 96% of gay pupils hear homophobic language such as ‘poof’ or ‘lezza’;
- three in five gay pupils who experience homophobic bullying say teachers who witness bullying never intervene;
- only half of gay pupils report that schools say homophobic bullying is wrong and only 37% do so in faith schools.
This was followed by The Teachers’ Report: Homophobic Bullying in Britain’s Schools (2014), published by Stonewall, which showed that:
- almost nine in ten secondary school teachers and almost half of primary school teachers said children and young people, regardless of their sexual orientation, currently experience homophobic bullying, name-calling or harassment in their schools;
- in addition to direct bullying, 89% of secondary school teachers and 70% of primary school teachers report hearing the phrases ‘you’re so gay’ or ‘that’s so gay’ in their schools;
- two thirds of secondary school teachers and a third of primary school teachers report hearing other insulting homophobic remarks such as ‘poof’, ‘dyke’, ‘queer’ and ‘faggot’;
- more than half of secondary school teachers (55%) and four in ten primary school teachers (42%) say they do not challenge homophobic language every time they hear it;
- very few teachers in primary schools (8%) or secondary schools (16%) have received any specific training on how to tackle homophobic bullying;
- three in ten secondary school teachers (29%) and 37% of primary school teachers do not know if they are allowed to teach about LGBTI issues in their schools;
- more than a third of secondary school teachers (37%) and nearly a third of primary school staff (29%) have heard homophobic language or negative remarks about lesbian, gay and bisexual people from other school staff; and
- only a third (32%) of primary school staff and fewer than half of secondary school staff (42%) in Britain agree that their headteacher demonstrates clear leadership when it comes to tackling homophobic bullying.
The Government Equalities Office-commissioned report, published in July 2016 by the National Institute of Ecomonic and Social Research (NIESR), Inequality Among Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender Groups in the UK: A Review of Evidence, found that:
- homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying remains a major problem in schools and, to an extent, in further and higher education. A number of measures, such as directly addressing incidents of HBT bullying, are thought by teachers to be effective but there is evidence that these measures fail to be universally implemented. Heterosexism and heteronormativity are prevalent in educational institutions, reinforcing feelings of alienation among LGBTI students and leaving their specific support needs largely unaddressed. The evidence also finds teachers in need of leadership and support, including training;
- the evidence in relation to discrimination in education is weak, based on non-robust studies and with little comparison between groups. There is no reliable evidence on the extent of perceived or expected discrimination, and little reliable evidence on inequalities between groups. However, there is evidence that expectations of discrimination are higher amongst transgender people than LGB people.
Other sources of research show significant levels of homophobia both in society and within education.
Homophobic bullying has a profoundly damaging impact on young people’s school experience.  One in three gay pupils (32%) experiencing bullying change their future educational plans because of it and three in five say it impacts directly on their school work.
Gay people being bullied are also at a higher risk of suicide, self-harm and depression. Two in five have attempted or thought about taking their own life directly because of bullying and the same number say that they self-harm because of bullying.
A 2011 Report for the NASUWT by Perpetuity Research, The Experience of Prejudice-related Bullying Amongst Teachers and Headteachers, found that:
- around a third of NASUWT members had been victims of prejudice-related bullying or harassment in the preceding 12 months;
- around 8% of those teachers suffering prejudice-related bullying or harassment did so on the basis of their sexual orientation;
- a fifth of those reported prejudice-related bullying or harassment as a constant feature of their working lives;
- only 15% of those victimised reported every incident that occurred; and
- 48% of prejudice-related bullying or harassment is perpetrated by a teacher’s immediate line manager, a third by colleagues and 25% by pupils.
Homophobic bullying of teachers can lead to:
- low self-esteem;
- a culture of fear;
- pupil indiscipline;
- pupil or staff absenteeism;
- reduced staff effectiveness;
- increased staff turnover;
- poor teaching performance;
- academic underachievement;
- poor health; and
Advances in the use of information communications technology (ICT) have provided new and sophisticated tools with which bullies are able to carry out their activities. Cyberbullying may involve the abuse of e-mail, internet, social networking sites, virtual learning environments, digital cameras and mobile phones and has emerged as a key challenge for schools affecting both pupils and staff.
These advances in technology mean cyberbullying can take place at any time. The bully often remains anonymous and can now conduct their activities from the comfort of their home while the person bullied is no longer able to find any refuge in theirs. This type of bullying is often more damaging because offensive and hurtful messages or images can be spread quickly and seen by many people.
Cyberbullying is used to perpetrate homophobic bullying. The anonymous nature of this tool makes it far easier for perpetrators to make discriminatory statements and exhibit prejudice without the threat of immediate sanctions from others or disapproval from their peers.
A survey conducted by the NASUWT during 2016 on the abuse of social media against school staff showed that 50% of teachers in England had experienced insulting comments, allegations of inappropriate behaviour with a pupil, comments on their performance or other comments posted about them online or on a social networking site.
Fifty per cent of teachers did not report incidents of abuse by pupils because they felt no action would be taken against them. The vast majority of cyberbullying of teachers had been carried out by pupils aged between 11 and 16 years of age. However, abuse had also been received from pupils as young as five years of age.
A staggering 70% of teachers responding had also received offensive comments or harassment on social networking or internet sites by parents.
The survey showed that whilst schools are required to have anti-bullying policies and procedures in place to tackle cyberbullying, many schools had failed to include aspects of homophobic and other forms of prejudice-related bullying. Moreover, where schools did have policies, these were often not clearly communicated to pupils, parents and staff.
The impact of cyberbullying on children and young people is equally devastating as the effect on adults. In some cases, it has led to young people taking their own life.
Where the culture and practices of schools and colleges do not promote a safe and healthy environment, all pupils and staff are adversely affected.
In particular, standards of teaching and learning are undermined and staff turnover affected.
Schools and colleges should establish a clear programme of action to tackle bullying and all forms of violent and disruptive behaviour, including homophobia, through a policy of zero tolerance. 
The Importance of Teaching, a 2010 Department for Education (DfE) White Paper, stated that:
pupils who are bullied are more likely to be disengaged from school and do substantially worse in their GCSEs than their classmates. So tackling bullying is an essential part of raising attainment.
Teachers, pupils and charities report that prejudice-based bullying in particular is on the increase. It is of course unacceptable for young people to be bullied because of their sexuality, yet this happens to two thirds of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils. Ninety-eight per cent of young gay pupils hear the word ‘gay’ used as a form of abuse at school and homophobic bullying is often directed at heterosexual pupils as well.
Effective sex and relationships education (SRE) is important in helping young people make responsible and well-informed decisions about their lives. It enables young people to develop self-respect as well as respect for others.
It is clear that a whole-school approach is needed to successfully challenge bullying and create an environment where children and young people feel safe to learn. This requires consistency: a consistent approach to tackling instances of prejudice and bullying and consistent messages given out about understanding and respecting diversity, promoting equality and social cohesion and reinforcing mutual respect.
Stonewall’s advice on tackling homophobia in secondary schools asks schools to:
consider how to appropriately integrate sexual orientation into the curriculum in a positive and constructive way which enables both heterosexual and gay pupils to understand and respect difference and diversity.
The 2014 DfE guidance document Preventing and Tackling Bullying – Advice for Headteachers, Staff and Governing Bodies states that:
The best schools develop a more sophisticated approach in which school staff proactively gather intelligence about issues between pupils which might provoke conflict and develop strategies to prevent bullying occurring in the first place. This might involve talking to pupils about issues of difference, perhaps in lessons, through dedicated events or projects, or through assemblies. Staff themselves will be able to determine what will work best for their pupils, depending on the particular issues they need to address.
Schools which excel at tackling bullying have created an ethos of good behaviour where pupils treat one another and the school staff with respect because they know that this is the right way to behave. Values of respect for staff and other pupils, an understanding of the value of education, and a clear understanding of how our actions affect others permeate the whole school environment and are reinforced by staff and older pupils who set a good example to the rest.
It provides guidance to primary, secondary, special schools and pupil referral units (PRUs) in England on all matters relating to SRE, including…how to support the health and social needs of all pupils with regard to sex and relationships (section 1.1).
It goes on to say:
The guidance is relevant to all staff, and those responsible for coordinating and teaching SRE in schools and to senior managers in schools, LAs [local authorities] and PCTs [primary care trusts]. It is also useful to all professionals working with and for young people to deliver SRE, improve sexual health and relationships, reduce health inequalities and support school improvement (section 1.2).
Effective SRE is important to ensure that children grow up able to enjoy the positive benefits of loving, rewarding and responsible relationships, to be informed, comfortable with the changes during puberty, sexually healthy and emotionally safe. Schools provide a safe place for children and young people to make sense of the information they have picked up from the media and also playground myths (section 1.3).
Section 3.1 of the guidance makes reference to the need to ‘promote equality, inclusion and acceptance of diversity’ and goes on to say that:
the school curriculum has a role to play in reducing the likelihood of sexist, sexual, homophobic and transphobic bullying occurring in part through addressing some of the underlying attitudes and values that underpin it. SRE within PSHE [personal, social and health education] is the most obvious location for specific coverage of issues relating to bullying, gender equality and sexuality.
SRE must be aware of and responsive to the diverse faith, cultural and family backgrounds of children and young people and also to the abilities, gender and sexual orientation of children and young people.
Questions for Key Stage 2 aimed at helping pupils explore SRE within the National Curriculum include:
‘What is sexist bullying and homophobic bullying and what skills do I need to do something about it?’
It is essential that schools develop policies and procedures that address the problem of homophobic bullying. 
The DfE guidance Preventing and Tackling Bullying – Advice for Headteachers, Staff and Governing Bodies notes that:
Bullying can take many forms (for instance, cyber-bullying via text messages or the internet), and is often motivated by prejudice against particular groups, for example on grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or because a child is adopted or has caring responsibilities. It might be motivated by actual differences between children or perceived differences. Stopping violence and ensuring immediate physical safety is obviously a school’s first priority but emotional bullying can be more damaging than physical.
It therefore follows that schools should consider all of the above criteria, including how best to ensure that pupils and staff are aware that incidents can and should be recorded and be confident that these will be acted upon appropriately.
The guidance goes on to state:
successful schools have clear policies in place to deal with bullying and poor behaviour which are clear to parents, pupils and staff so that, when incidents do occur, they are dealt with quickly.
Acts of homophobic bullying may result in a range of actions, including criminal or civil claims being brought against the employer and the bullying individual.
Schools cannot discriminate against pupils, staff or members of the public on grounds of their sex, race, disability, religion and belief, age or sexual orientation. Protection is also extended to those who are pregnant or are undergoing gender reassignment. 
Provisions within the 2010 Act mean that schools must have due regard to the need to:
- eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation;
- advance equality of opportunity;
- foster good relations.
As employees, teachers and other members of the school workforce are legally protected from discrimination on the basis of:
- gender reassignment;
- marriage and civil partnership;
- pregnancy and maternity;
- religion and belief;
- sexual orientation.
Employees should therefore be protected by their employer from any of the following actions:
- direct discrimination - acts of overt discrimination to a person’s detriment, such as denying them promotion on the basis of a protected characteristic;
- indirect discrimination - a discriminatory provision, criterion or characteristic, such as a promotion requirement or working pattern, that cannot be objectively justified;
- discrimination arising from disability - for instance, a capability procedure that arises from a person’s disability-related absences;
- harassment - acts of unwanted conduct that threaten or violate a person’s dignity, such as making unreasonable demands, bullying or ‘stalking’;
- victimisation - particularly after making a complaint about discrimination or lodging a claim at an employment tribunal;
- failure to make reasonable adjustments in order to accommodate a person’s disability.
The concept of associative discrimination contained within the 2010 Act means that a teacher or member of staff is protected from discrimination relating to a family member, colleague or friend, for example, being harassed on the grounds of a relative being gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans.
The Act makes it unlawful for schools and colleges to discriminate against, harass or victimise a pupil or potential pupil:
- in relation to admissions;
- in the way it provides education;
- in the way it provides pupils with access to any benefit, facility or service;
- by excluding a pupil or subjecting them to any other detriment.
It is unlawful to discriminate against a trans pupil, a pupil who is pregnant or one who has recently given birth. The concept of associative discrimination also means that it is unlawful to harass or victimise a pupil for anything relating to or done by their parent or sibling, in relation to the areas covered by the Act, e.g. it is unlawful to victimise a pupil because they have a gay parent or a disabled sister.
You can view the Equality Act and Explanatory Notes on the Government's Equality Act 2010 guidance web page.
All employers have a duty of care to their employees.
This means that they must work to ensure the physical and mental health and wellbeing of all employees.
Employers are also required to assess the work-related risks to the health and safety of their employees and to take appropriate action in the light of such an assessment.
This duty of care means that employers should have in place a workplace harassment policy and procedure that is properly implemented. Such policies and procedures should include reference to homophobic bullying.
In law, employers are also responsible for the conduct of their employees during the course of employment. This is known as their ‘vicarious liability’. The employer is still responsible even if the unacceptable conduct is committed without their knowledge or approval.
The employer can be held liable under both criminal and civil law unless it can be shown that all reasonable steps have been taken to eliminate unwarranted behaviour.
The NASUWT believes there are a number of strategies and mechanisms that help set out what schools can do to help deliver on their commitment to challenging homophobia, such as: 
- the staff handbook;
- school documentation that clearly states that the school does not tolerate homophobia;
- appropriate references in recruitment information and publicity;
- induction programmes for new pupils/parents/staff that explicitly address issues of homophobic and other types of prejudice-driven bullying;
- appropriate whole-staff training and guidance, including continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities;
- effective equal opportunities, dignity at work and behaviour policies.
The then Department for Education and Skills (DfES) made clear in guidance to schools on dealing with bullying - Bullying: Don’t Suffer in Silence (archived pdf) - that headteachers are required by law to have a policy to prevent bullying among pupils. In addition, headteachers were asked to ‘satisfy themselves that their policies comply with the Human Rights Act 1998’. The advice said that policies should include specific reference to all bullying on the grounds of sexual orientation. The protection available to pupils within the school should also be available to staff and the policy explicitly address the problem of pupils who bully staff.
Schools should have a policy in respect of equal opportunities, which should be reflected in all aspects of school ethos and school life. It should apply to staff, pupils, parents/carers and all others who use school premises.
The policy should include reference to the problems of discrimination, bullying and persecution on the grounds of sexuality and gender-identity issues. It should be disseminated to all staff and pupils at the school and parents/carers.
All staff should receive training in respect of the policy.
In addition, the policy should be monitored regularly with a view to identifying and dealing with any trends or issues of concern. Schools must also comply with the public sector equality duty (PSED), in line with the Equality Act 2010.
An effective, coherent and robust school SRE policy should:
- provide help and support to young people through their physical, emotional and moral development;
- enable young people to understand human sexuality;
- help young people learn respect for themselves and others.
Addressing these issues is an essential prerequisite to tackling the problem of homophobic bullying and an essential form of early intervention.
All schools should develop policies that provide the conditions for all pupils to learn and for all teachers to teach in a safe environment free from violence and disruption.
Violent and aggressive language and behaviour and all forms of harassment and bullying are unacceptable. Such behaviour must not be tolerated or seen to be tolerated by the failure of school management to take firm action against bullies. The school’s behaviour policy and procedures should clearly define what sanctions will be used to deal with such behaviour, including the use of exclusion.
The NASUWT advises that all schools should consult with their staff when drawing up behaviour management policy and procedures and that parents and carers should also be involved.
Schools can address the problem of bullying related to sexual orientation and gender identity through a range of measures, including:
- encouraging pupils to report incidents of bullying;
- monitoring incidents of bullying;
- making gender-neutral toilets accessible;
- raising awareness of teaching and non-teaching staff so that they are alert to signs of bullying and clear as to how to respond;
- strategies covering break times;
- appropriate staff training.
Access to support and counselling facilities is important for staff and pupils who experience homophobic abuse. All instances of bullying should be followed up, regardless of the pastoral or other support offered. Confidentiality should be respected. (In the case of pupils, however, it may not be appropriate to promise confidentiality in all circumstances.)
The NASUWT supports the adoption of a number of strategies for reducing homophobic bullying, including:
- making clear reference to the unacceptability of homophobic bullying in the school’s anti-bullying policy;
- in-service training (INSET) for staff;
- guaranteeing confidentiality and appropriate advice to LGBTI pupils;
- challenging homophobic language;
- exploring issues of diversity and difference;
- exploring pupils’ understanding of their use of homophobic language.
Teachers and other staff should keep a written record of any incidents of homophobia that they witness or that are reported to them, including details of:
- times and dates;
- pupils involved;
- the nature of the bullying.
Incidents of homophobic bullying should be communicated to the school management so that effective action can be taken. At the same time, any concerns regarding confidentiality should be considered.
Every teacher has the absolute right to a healthy, safe working environment. Any member who has experience of homophobic abuse should keep a written note of the event(s) causing concern, including details of:
- times and dates;
- persons involved;
- the nature of the bullying.
Where members experience difficulties in their school, they should contact the NASUWT immediately.
In addition, teachers should obtain a copy of their school’s equal opportunities, behaviour and/or dignity at work policies and any policies and associated procedures for dealing with homophobic bullying, harassment and discrimination.
The NASUWT offers a regular programme of training on equality matters for its Workplace Representatives and Local Association Secretaries. Representatives are trained in the handling of all areas of casework involving workplace discrimination, harassment and bullying, including homophobic bullying. The Union also offers courses for members on behaviour management, tackling bullying and assertiveness, as well as a specific development course for LGBTI members.
The NASUWT has a national LGBTI Members’ Advisory Committee which provides advice to the National Executive Committee and informs the policies of the Union in respect of equality for LGBTI members. The Union also has an annual Consultation Conference for LGBTI teachers.
The NASUWT vigorously campaigns to promote equality for LGBTI members and was at the forefront of a joint union legal challenge to the UK Government’s implementation of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003.
The Union supports international campaigns to stamp out homophobia through its work with Education International (EI) and Amnesty International and support for organisations such as the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-Flag), the Cuban National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX) and Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG).
Any NASUWT member who is subjected to homophobic bullying should contact the NASUWT, where they will receive:
- confidential face-to-face and telephone advice;
- workplace representation, as appropriate;
- legal advice and assistance, as appropriate.
The NASUWT works in partnership with EI, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and Amnesty International and supports these international organisations in campaigning against homophobic bullying.
As well as being part of the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA), the NASUWT is actively involved in an ongoing national campaign with Stonewall and other partners in challenging homophobia and homophobic bullying in schools. Stonewall's Education For All campaign aims to promote a safe learning environment for all through a number of national strategies.
The NASUWT has led the campaign on combatting prejudice-related bullying and campaigned to ensure that this particular type of bullying was included in government anti-bullying guidance.
Previously, the NASUWT engaged in constructive dialogue with the then Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) on a programme of work to tackle prejudice-related bullying in schools. This resulted in guidance on tackling bullying related to race, religion and culture in 2006, followed by advice on cyberbullying along with the launch in September 2007 of the overarching Safe to Learn advice on how to embed anti-bullying work in schools.
Regrettably, the Government has failed to build on the good work done prior to 2010 and the NASUWT continues to make representations and lobby the DfE on the need to provide sufficient guidance and facilitate reporting of incidents in order to effectively address the problem of bullying in schools.
There are a number of organisations supporting individuals who have experienced homophobic bullying.
Lobbying organisation for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality.
London SE1 7NX
England: 08000 50 20 20
Switchboard LGBT+ - confidential helpline
0300 330 0630
Education Support Partnership
A confidential telephone counselling, support and advice service for teachers. England: 08000 562 561
Anti-Bullying Alliance: brings together over 100 voluntary, statutory and private organisations into one network and looks to develop a consensus around how to stop and prevent bullying, aim to influence policy and disseminate best practice.
LGBT History Month (formerly Schools OUT UK): a formal and informal support network for people who want to raise the issues of homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism in education.
Educational Action Challenging Homophobia (EACH): A charity providing support to individuals affected by homophobia and training to organisations committed to realising an equal and safe environment for all regardless of sexuality, age, ethnicity or ability. 0808 1000 143
Gendered Intelligence: a community interest company which looks to engage people in debates about gender, offers support to individuals and trans awareness training to organisations throughout the UK.
 For the purposes of this document only, homophobia is used as an umbrella term to define homophobic, biphobic and transphobic behaviour.
 Gender reassignment does not require medical or surgical intervention. It is the term used to describe a decision to change name and personal details and live as a member of the gender with which they identify.