Homophobic Bullying In Educational Institutions

Table of contents


Social justice is based on ‘parity of participation’ (Fraser 2006, p16). It aims to challenge inequalities that society creates such as ‘race’, disability, socio-economic status, sexuality and gender to name but a few. This essay will focus on, gender and sexuality, incorporating homophobia and homophobic bullying within education. This is an issue that is rarely covered within the school curriculum and policies as shown in the report by (LGBT Youth Scotland 26-July-2011) ‘74% of EAs surveyed make reference to homophobic bullying or sexual orientation in their Equal opportunities policy but only 36% of schools make reference to these issues.’ The essay will utilize the fictional scenario of a young boy who is subject to homophobic bullying (Appendix 1) to discuss wider issues and theories within social justice. The two continuations will also be discussed, one that is based on the deficit model – showing that the individual is the issue, and how it is the professionals role to help the individual conform to that schools perspective (Appendix 2). The second continuation is based on the social model- outlining that the school is to blame and it is the professionals role to reassess anti-bullying policies, the school’s curriculum relating to these issues and emphasise the importance of a no tolerance homophobia attitude within the school. (Appendix 3) This essay will also explore the three forms of justice; distributive, recognitional and associatal an analogy fundamental for educators to be familiar with in order to prevent social injustice in school. Finally this essay will relate the scenario to Allports scale of prejudice and other theories of power.

There is a stereotypical view in schools and the wider society of what qualifies an individual to be heterosexual. Butler (1990) outlines the ‘heterosexual matrix’ as ‘a stable sex [must be] expressed through a stable gender’ (p151) in allowance to adhere. The theory outlines that men should express only masculine qualities and women only feminine an idea that is still present in today’s society. The media, family, friendship groups and schools all communicate this message explicitly and implicitly to children. Butler’s (1990) theory also integrates heterocentrism which is the idea that heterosexuals are superior to homosexuals and that everyone should be heterosexual. This concept encourages children to accept heterosexual hierarchies thus supporting homophobia and homophobic bullying directly and/or indirectly. (Benjamin, 2001, p45) concludes how heterosexuality is perceived the norm and how this is rarely questioned by society in regards to being correct.

(Herek 1990, page number) explains that heterosexism is ‘an ideological system that denies, denigrates, and stigmatizes any non-heterosexual form of behaviour, identity, relationship, or community’ The fictional scenario in (Appendix 1) outlines how the boys perceive Callum’s behaviour to be ‘non-heterosexual’ and therefore actively deny, denigrate and stigmatize it by referring to his choice of subjects as ‘girlie’ and labelling him a ‘poofter’. This, although fictional, scenario can be related to the wider society as it is a realistic depiction of homophobic bullying within schools and can affect an individuals’ confidence and identity therefore providing confusion about sexuality and other aspects of their daily life.

Homophobia can be defined as “prejudice against individuals based on non-heterosexual orientation, and is characterized as intense fear or hatred of those who desire individuals of the same gender” (West and Eadie, 2004, Page number). However homophobic bullying within the primary school may not be due to severe prejudice but is often due to the lack of knowledge the children have about homosexuality. Society has altered the definition of words such as ‘gay’ to be perceived as meaning something is negative. Many students within the primary school may not understand the derogatory connotations or the sexual meaning of what they are saying (Connell, 2002, p15). This can be seen in the scenario when the boys refer to Callum as a ‘poofter’ (Appendix 1.) The boys express a hegemonic display of masculinity – society’s perception of what a man should be. (Connell, 2002, page 3) expresses that schools and the media encourage boys to act tough and dominant and to take ‘masculine’ subjects, play ‘masculine’ sports and eventually gain a ‘masculine’ career. Society therefore encourages boys to “engage in signifying practices through which they abject the ‘other’” (Davies, 2006, page number) the other being homosexual. Boys often use violence in an attempt to express dominance to express that they are not the ‘other’. This can be seen in the scenario when the boys display hegemonic behaviour by referring to Callum as a ‘poofter’ with the word ‘poofter’ being used to represent a form of weakness or lack of masculinity. Due to the modern society homophobic language is classed as normal discourse and is rarely questioned on grounds of political correctness (Benjamin, 2001). Therefore the casual attitude society has towards the use of homophobic language needs to be prevented as adults will use these phrases and children will repeat them in school unaware of their meaning.

It is important for educators to be aware of the three categories of social justice as outlined by (Gewirtz, 2006) in order to challenge social injustice within schools. The three forms of social justice are distributive, recognitional and associatal. Distributive justice is based on how material possessions are spread throughout society. Distributive injustice happens when individuals/ social groups are discriminated against based on their wealth, standard of living and the social status within society. This can be related to education as the school may not have the money to provide services such as LGBT Youth in order to prevent homophobia. Recognitional justice has links with cultural imperialism and the idea that one group has dominance over another. This form of justice aims to treat everyone as individual and unique and to respect them for who they are removing the idea that one social group is more dominant than another. Relating this to the scenario the decisions that Callum makes, such as his choice of subjects, are not respected and instead he is bullied due to his decisions not conforming to the social norm. The third form of social justice is associatal this is where individuals do not have power to make decisions about what they want to do anymore as society makes the decisions for them. This can be related to the scenario as the boys do not pass Callum the ball thus marginalizing him and removing his power to participate in society. Social Justice is based on providing the best opportunities for individuals to flourish and discover their own personal identity without fear of discrimination. However this concept unfortunately may never be achieved in society. Education can help to reduce and prevent social injustice as much as possible through school policies and by introducing equality within the curriculum, for example reading a story about a child with homosexual parents. All three of Gewirtz’ (2006) forms of justice are closely linked and if utilized within education can help educators challenge discrimination in the classroom.

(Gewirtz, 2006, page ) also explains that justice is ‘level and context dependent’ therefore outlining that there are different levels of social injustice and they should be dealt with in relation to their severity and the circumstances in which they occur. This theory can be related to Allports scale of prejudice (1954). Allport’s (1954) model arranges injustice into five areas; antilocution, avoidance, discrimination, physical attack and extermination. Antilocution is the first stage can be seen in the scenario (Appendix 1) when the boys stereotype Callum’s choice of subjects referring to them as ‘girlie’ and through labelling him a ‘poofter’. Although these events do not appear severe it can damage an individual’s self-esteem and if it is not addressed at this point can lead to later stages of prejudice. The second stage of prejudice is avoidance and can be seen within the scenario (Appendix 1) where Callum becomes withdrawn in class and contributes significantly less and also when he admits to considering faking illness in order to avoid the name-calling. The scenario outlines how the stages are getting progressively worse as Callum’s attendance may affect his performance and therefore his education will suffer due to the name calling. Discrimination is the third stage where individuals are treated unfavourably by those in a position of power. This can be seen in the scenario (Appendix 1) when the PE teacher says ‘Callum has been punished … there is no further need to discipline him’ therefore using his position of power to discriminate against Callum. Stage four is physical attack where violence towards an individual is used to express dominance. This can be seen in (Appendix 2) when Callum is physically attacked by the boys in order for them to further discriminate him. Genocide is the last and most severe stage of where the violence results in death of the individual or they commit suicide. This although viewed as extreme is common for those who suffer from homophobic bullying as shown in the survey by (Save the Children 28-July-2011) of where those surveyed 54% attempted suicide. The shocking figures emphasise the importance of educators challenging homophobic bullying at the first stage before it progresses to any of the other stages and creating policies that have no tolerance towards homophobic discrimination.

Another fundamental theory of social justice for educators to understand is the deficit and social models. The deficit model can be viewed in (Appendix 2) where Callum is perceived to be the problem as he does not conform to the social norms and the teachers do not address the situation until it becomes what they perceive to be serious. The teacher in (Appendix 2) instead attempts to try and assist Callum by helping him fit in with his classmates by changing his school subjects effectively removing Callum’s identity. In comparison the social model shows how it is the teacher’s role to reassess school policies and the curriculum to create a no tolerance attitude towards homophobia as can be seen in (Appendix 3) when the teacher deals with the issues immediately and arranges a speaker from LGBT Youth to come into schools and educate the pupils and indeed staff on the effects of homophobia and ways to prevent it. Therefore the social model accepts the individuals ‘difference’ and challenges society and the deficit model accepts society’s view and expects the individual to change thus discriminating against them. It is important that educators follow the social model and challenge homophobia and challenge homophobia policies whilst also incorporating it into the curriculum.

The Curriculum for Excellence aims to create confident individuals, effective contributors, successful learners and responsible citizens. This alternative approach to education will help the children develop their own identity and can include homophobia within the curriculum as the guidelines are not as rigid as the previous 5-14 curriculum.

‘It is one of the prime purposes of education to make our young people aware of the values on which Scottish society is based and so help them to establish their own stances on matters of social justice and personal and collective responsibility.’ (Scottish Executive. 2004, p.11)

Through educating children about social justice and providing them with information allows them to make their own decisions based on knowledge they have acquired rather than stereotypes they may have inherited of family or friends. Through open discussions about what could be perceived as ‘risky’ topics the children can discuss topics through fictional stories on topics that may be worrying them such as if they are homosexual. The curriculum for excellence will provide opportunities to discuss topics without fear that they may be labelled as that inequality. Although the suggestion of introducing no tolerance policies and incorporating homophobia and other social injustices within the curriculum are a step in the right direction homophobia may continue outside school in the wider society and may always be an issue. Education can help to provide the younger generations with information that can challenge their perception of social stereotypes but may not change them. However the Curriculum for Excellence will help provide children with equal opportunities and is therefore a stepping stone to achieving social justice in the wider society.

To conclude bullying of any form and on any basis within schools is a serious issue that can severely affect an individual’s life. Within schools there is a stereotypical view of what it is classed as ‘normal’ and the severe peer pressure individuals are under to conform to these social stereotypes or face discrimination of the majority group. Allports ‘Scale of Prejudice’ (1957) demonstrates the severity of bullying and how it can escalate into life threatening scenarios if not challenged when it first occurs therefore it is crucial for schools to implement no tolerance homophobia policies but also to challenge all areas of social injustice within schools. Educators who are aware of the three forms of injustice will have a well-informed view of social discrimination and will therefore have the knowledge to prevent and handle it in a successful way. The new Curriculum for Excellence will be a positive influence on reducing social injustice in schools and the teachers will have the flexibility to tackle challenging topics. Therefore education is making positive steps towards eradicating social injustice and through educating the youth of tomorrow may positively influence for the next generation.


Allport,G.W (1954) The nature of prejudice Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Benjamin, S. (2001) Challenging masculinities: disability and achievement in testing times. Gender and Education

Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge

Connell, R.W. (2002) Gender. Cambridge: Polity Press

Davies, B. (2006) Subjectification: The relevance of Butler’s analysis for education. British Journal of Sociology of Education.

Fraser, N. (2009) Scales of Justice: Re imagining Political Space in a Globalizing World. West Sussex: Columbia University Press

Gewirtz, S. (2006). Towards a Contextualized Analysis of Social Justice in Education. Educational Philosophy and Theory.

Herek, G. M. (1990) The context of anti-gay violence: Notes on cultural and psychological heterosexism. Journal of Interpersonal Violence

LGBT Youth Scotland. (2011). LGBT Young people and Education Fact Sheet. Available: http://www.lgbtyouth.org.uk/information-centre/fact-sheets.htm Last accessed 3rd August 2011.

Save the Children . (2011). Leave it out: Developing anti-homophobic bullying practice in schools . Available: http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/en/docs/Leave_it_Out_whole(1).pdf. Last accessed 3rd August 2011.

Scottish Executive (2004). ‘A Curriculum for Excellence: The Curriculum Review Group’. Edinburgh. Scottish Executive

West, C. Eadie, J. (ed) (2004) Homophobia and heterosexism. Sexuality: The essential glossary. Oxford University Press, New York


Appendix One

Scenario 1: Incident

Callum’s English teacher has become concerned that he appears to look increasingly fed up in lessons, and now tends to sit apart from other boys. On two occasions recently, he came in looking very unhappy after a games lesson. He has become withdrawn, and contributes far less to class discussions than he did at the start of the academic year.

The English teacher has had a private word with Callum, and was unable to find out very much except for a vague reference to an argument on the bus involving some name-calling. He asks Callum’s guidance teacher to look into it.

The guidance teacher puts a notice on the staffroom noticeboard asking for information, and the PE teacher comes forward with information about the incident. Apparently some other boys called him ‘poofter’ when he missed a goal a few weeks ago, and the label appears to have stuck. Further name-calling led to an incident on the bus in which Callum had to be restrained from hitting another boy. The PE teacher assures the guidance teacher that Callum has been punished and that there is no further need to discipline him.

Callum tells his guidance teacher that other boys were surprised when he chose music and French as S3/4 options. They made a lot of comments about him choosing ‘girlie’ subjects, and he tried to withdraw from music, where he was the only boy, but this wasn’t allowed. He used to like football, but now nobody passes him the ball. He gets called a lot of names in the changing room, and other boys are making obscene gestures at him. He tells the guidance teacher that he has considered faking illness on days when he has PE lessons so that he does not have to face the name-calling.

The guidance teacher does his best to reassure him. He asks Callum whether he feels that he might be gay, and when Callum insists that he’s not, tells him to stop reacting to these taunts and the problem will disappear. “You really have nothing at all to worry about. You’re a perfectly normal 14 year old boy, and I’ve seen that you get on quite well with the girls in my social studies lessons

Appendix Two

Deficit Model

The guidance teacher speaks to Callum’s PE teacher and asks him to work with Callum on his football skills. Callum takes the sessions and although his football skills improve he is still taunted by the boys in his class making obscene references to the extra help he is receiving off the male PE teacher.

The name calling continues and results in Callum’s self-esteem being lowered further, he begins to miss classes and falls behind with his work. The boys begin to bully him further pushing him and hitting him and telling him to stop being ‘gay’ trying to get a reaction from Callum. When Callum retaliates to the name calling the boys find this amusing and provoke him further physically attacking him. Callum stops going to the extra PE sessions and is called to the guidance teachers office. The guidance teacher asks if the name calling has stopped and if the boys have left him aloneCallum says that it has and says that his poor attendance was due to illness.

Callum is spotted with a male friend at the weekend in the same shopping centre the boys are at and they provoke him and his friend calling them homophobic names and making obscene gestures. The boys then attack Callum and his friend leaving Callum hospitalised. Callum’s mother goes into the school to discuss what has happened in an attempt to understand why the attack occurred. The guidance teacher outlines that there were some incidents involving the boys and Callum but she thought that if Callum ignored the comments the boys would leave him alone. Callum’s mother asks why the school did not inform her about these incidents or address them straight away. The school suggests that maybe Callum’s mother should move Callum to another school in order to stop the homophobic bullying.

Appendix Three

Social Model

The guidance teacher insists that she meets with Callum once a week for five minutes to discuss his general well-being. The guidance teacher speaks to all of Callum’s teachers and asks them to monitor the behaviour within class. She reports the homophobic bullying and has discussions with head-teacher on reviewing the schools equality policies, ensuring that a no tolerance homophobia attitude is portrayed within the school. The head-teacher applies to have LGBT Youth Scotland to come into school and inform the children about sexuality and how not everyone is heterosexual.

The boys are monitored closely and in PE when they say ‘I’m not having Callum on our team he’s a queer’ the PE teacher stops the lesson and asks the boys if he thinks there language is acceptable within school and how these words could make Callum feel. The PE teacher then explains to the boys that now he has told them that this is inappropriate language and behaviour if they do it again they will have a 30 minute detention of which they will read the schools equality policy and explain how and why they have not met it. The boys stop insulting Callum as they realise that their words are hurtful Callum’s attendance improves and he participates more in class without fear of being criticised.

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