A recent survey found that a large number of LGBT pupils in post-primary schools are facing physical and sexual assault, harassment and verbal abuse. Research shows that three out of four LGBT students feel unsafe in school.
A male student recounted how he “was sexually abused by the guys in the PE changing room aged 14 to 17 on a weekly basis. [He] was terrified of PE and this affected [his] attendance on PE days”.
Another student reported that “when kids know you are trans they don't see you as male or female or human.”
“I am pretty much a one-man zoo. I can’t change this fact and I'm pretty suicidal because of it,” the student said.
One girl said she “was physically and verbally harassed while [she] was in school based on my sexual orientation and because [she] was more masculine than other girls. [She] got yelled at by one student who used ‘dyke' and ‘lesbian' in a negative way towards me, then repeatedly punched and kicked me while other students watched. This happened on two occasions.'' These accounts show that this verbal and physical abuse of LGBT pupils affects their grades as well as their mental well being. It also takes a toll on their confidence and leaves them feeling isolated.
The Minister for Education Joe McHugh has been informed of these findings. He has been called "to take immediate action and prioritise the safety and well-being" of LGBT students.
Columbia University and BeLonG To Youth Services conducted The School Climate Survey. More than 780 students between the ages of 13 and 20 across the country took part in the online survey.
A staggering 77% of respondents experienced verbal harassment, 73% reported feeling unsafe in school while 38% experienced physical harassment and 11% were physically assaulted based on their sexual orientation, gender or gender expression.
Secondary schools in Ireland are being encouraged to create “safe spaces” and put supports in place for LGBT students to help combat issues such as depression and self-harm. The country’s first handbook on how to set up “gay/straight alliances” in schools has been produced by Cork Institute of Technology’s LGBT Society.
It depicts these after-school clubs for students that will provide safe places for students to talk and learn about LGBT issues and topics. The students will also find support from or give support to fellow students. The initiative has already attracted strong support from the principals of numerous Cork schools, including those with a strong Catholic ethos.
Tadhg Ó Laighin, principal of Coláiste Daibhéid, a co-educational secondary school in Cork’s Ballintemple, said it was important work for a vulnerable section of every school community.