Medicine, Mind and Adolescence 1996, XI, 2

Protecting the gay adolescent at school

Ian Rivers

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Objectives : Currently, very little provision is made for the counselling and pastoral care (social welfare support) of gay adolescents within secondary education (Warren H. 1984; Rivers I. 1995a). Research carried out in the United Kingdom in the early 1980s and more recently in United States has shown that many young lesbians and gay men are continually bullied or harassed by peers and sometimes by teachers because they are gay or because they are perceived to be gay (Uribe V. and Harbeck K. VI. 1991). Yet, it has also been found that the incidence of homophobia in school can be reduced dramatically by introducing some of the issues relating homosexuality to students through the curriculum. This article argues that strategies promoting both tolerance of alternative life-styles and a responsible attitude to sex and sexuality are required as part of a commitment to the effective pastoral care of all students in secondary schools.

Method : In February, 1994 a pilot study was carried out at the University of Luton focusing upon the school experiences of a sample of lesbians and gay men. Over a two week period, advertisements were placed in a weekly paper for lesbians and gay men asking for volunteers to participate in the study. The respondents (37 men and 7 women) were sent a survey pack containing an adapted version of the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire, a detailed description of the nature and purpose of the project and a pre-paid return envelope. Results : The results illustrate that respondents were bullied in various different ways (direct-physical, direct-verbal and indirect) and in various locations in and around the school as a consequence of being gay or as a consequence of being perceived to be gay by their peers. They show the level of support victims received from their parents, teachers and peers when they were being bullied. The results also show the number of respondents who reported being bullied by their teachers in the classroom, often in front of their class-mates, and what effect such experiences have had upon later development.

Conclusion : The problems faced by educators who offer support and guidance to young homosexuals are discussed and consideration is given to the various ways in which homophobia can be tackled effectively within the current school curriculum. Comparison is also made between schools offering either a competitive or co-operative ethos, and consideration is given as to whether a co-operative ethos can reduce levels of bullying and homophobia by promoting tolerance of alternative lifestyles - be they culturally, socially or sexually defined.

(Paper presented at the Second International Congress of Adolescentology Milan '94 : Adolescence and Family, Milan, Italy, November 18-19, 1994).

Key Words: homosexuality, adolescence, victimisation, bullying, school.

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