Homophobic Bullying

Disturbing article in the Guardian about homophobic bullying.

The victims’ stories are appalling and, apparently, the problem is on the increase. In 1988 more than 80% of schools were aware of such bullying taking place. Now, researchers reckon that 1 in 3 LGB kids experiences bullying, but only 6% of schools have anti-homophobic bullying policies in place. There is a perception that gay people in Britain are now more visible, more socially acceptable and better protected by the law.

But, Rivers says, “None of these messages has got through at a school level […] Homophobic bullying carries a particular menace because rarely does any young person want to admit to the nature of their abuse. Children who are victimized might not even be gay, or know they are, or have come out. They are unlikely to raise such a subject with teachers or parents. So they suffer in silence. And because it is so hidden, this type of bullying can have horrifying consequences. Something To Tell You, a study of lesbian and gay teenagers, showed that one in five had attempted suicide at least once (emphasis mine).

Schools will often claim that they can’t deal with the problem because the parents go berzerk if the school is seen to be soft on homosexuality. But Sue Sanders from the campaign group Schools Out argues “There is a massive myth that parents would be uncomfortable if we did this work to combat homophobic bullying, but it just isn’t the case,” she says. Most parents just want their children to be taught in a safe environment – and heterosexual kids are also prey to homophobic bullying.”

I’m not so convinced that parents in general would be comfortable with giving homosexuality the OK. Moreover, all these little homophobes are picking up a sense of tolerance for homophobia somewhere, and I don’t get the impression that very many families are having sit down talks with their kids about homosexuality and explaining why it’s wrong to attack people perceived to be gay.

Most of the campaigners interviewed recommend more educational programmes in schools. That’s great, but getting into schools to do anti-homophobic work is no easy matter and, furthermore, no one’s sure what can be done about the UK’s 7,000 faith based schools where homophobia is rather likely to be written into the school ethos. While I agree that more education is a good idea, personally, I don’t think we’re going to be able to fully tackle homophobic bullying until we acknowledge and talk about the very real social function which homophobia serves in our culture. Homphobia is not arbitrary, not some bizarre anomaly that comes from nowhere; the kids who bully are symptomatic of a society which has long depended on homophobia. Sanders hits the nail on the head when she notes that heterosexual kids are also subject to such bullying. Yes, of course they are, because for homophobia to work properly, it’s crucial that everyone feel at risk of becoming a victim.

In the words of the queer theorist, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, homophobia is ‘a mechanism for regulating the behaviour of the many by the specific oppression of the few’ (Between Men, 88). Until we accept that homophobia is a weapon used to keep everyone sexually in line, we will not be able to deal with it adequately, not even with all the educational programmes in the world. It’s going to be incredibly hard to get people to lay down this particular weapon. Since admitting that homosexuality is not wrong means giving up enormous heterosexual privilege, we can’t expect society at large to let it go without a fight.