Jo Swinson MP writes…I want to stamp out homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools

Regardless of sexuality, all pupils should feel safe and accepted at school, but for far too many young people, bullying is a sad reality of their daily lives.  In particular, a survey conducted by Stonewall in 2012 found that more than half of young lesbian, gay and bisexual people said they experienced homophobic bullying at school, while over two-thirds reported that they heard homophobic language often or frequently.  Only three in ten said their school responds quickly to homophobic bullying when it occurs.

These statistics reveal the scale of the problem and that, while some are doing a fantastic job, not every school is doing enough to protect those who are the victims of this terrible abuse.

This morning I announced a new project to stamp out homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in secondary schools.  The new initiative seeks to understand fully how to reduce the prevalence and impact of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying among school-age children and young people.  As a first step, organisations are being invited to bid for funding to conduct a full review of available evidence and existing practices currently being used in schools to tackle this issue.

The harm from bullying and the toll it takes can be far greater than people realise. It can lead to children withdrawing from education, cutting their academic ability to excel and permanently affecting their life chances.  It can also lead to mental health issues and, in the most painful and tragic cases, to suicide. So while the cost is immediately about the child there is also a cost to us as a society.

As a Liberal Democrat Minister I’m proud of the real progress we’ve made in Coalition Government developing and promoting progressive policies for LGBT people.  Introducing equal marriage sent a clear signal that our society values all relationships equally.  But there is more to do, which is why I will be focussing on bullying in schools.  It’s completely unacceptable that young people are experiencing this type of derogatory treatment and with this new project we hope to be able to fully understand the issues and develop effective, evidence-based tools and best practice that will help schools and others to stamp out this harmful behaviour.

Further information can be found here.

* Jo Swinson is Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire, and was a Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Equalities Minister from 2012-15.

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  • What will you do about religious schools?

    For example, official Catholic Church doctrine on homosexuality, as taught in their schools, will encourage the perspective that it is wrong, thus deserving of mockery.

    Will you compel religious schools to go against the doctrines of their faith?

  • Are other forms of bullying ok?

  • Delighted to read this article: a welcome step forward and starting to fill in some of the gaps in the LGB&T Action Plan that was launched nearly 3 years ago.

    Sensible policies for a happier Britain, as someone once observed…

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Nov '13 - 1:32pm

    I thought that John, but it’s not her remit – she’s the equalities minister! So let’s not nit pick :). The idea of inviting organisations to bid for funding to help tackle this problem sounds like a good one. In the past I have felt that government funding has been given out on the basis of lobbying rather than through a proper process, so a proper process and communication of this process is good. Thanks Jo.

  • John Roffey 21st Nov '13 - 2:03pm

    @ Eddie

    Isn’t bullying inherent in the human psyche – it is used to establish a pecking order within a group – the chances of stamping it out are as likely to be successful as trying to change the colour of the sky.

    Bullying is a negative way of establishing a pecking order in the absence of a positive form. Plenty of competitive activity at school would give each person a chance to shine at that which they do best. [The paraplegic games demonstrates the power of competition].

    I would have thought that funding would be far more readily available for competition than for such a narrow approach. Isn’t this what happens at public schools?

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Nov '13 - 3:15pm

    John Roffey

    Isn’t bullying inherent in the human psyche – it is used to establish a pecking order within a group – the chances of stamping it out are as likely to be successful as trying to change the colour of the sky.

    Indeed. My recollection form school days, and from what I hear from young acquaintances, it’s much worse now, is that there’s aggressive sexually-based competition to establish a pecking order, and anyone who can’t do well in that FOR WHATEVER REASON gets treated pretty badly. The reason may be that they have homosexual feelings rather than heterosexual. It may, and I would say more often IS however, that they are heterosexual, but smaller, quieter, less physically attractive in conventional terms, more interested in other things, and so on. Part of the bullying of ANYONE who is not sexual top dog in this way is the throwing of homophobic terms.

    From this, while I don’t doubt the suffering of those who actually are gay, I think to single them out and give the impression it’s just about them, or that anyone who is bullied in this way must be gay, is wrong.

  • John Roffey 21st Nov '13 - 3:42pm

    @Matthew Huntbach

    Yes – however, why I suggested that competition was the best way to relieve this suffering was that achievement [that is in essence competition] provides a way to significantly reduce the focus on an individual’s sexual orientation.

    If you have been impressed by a writer/musician/singer/artist and you consult Wikipedia – you might be surprised to see that their sexual preference is uncommon – but you are unlikely to stop appreciating their skill because it is the case – you will recall them for their art.

    If however, the only notable thing about an individual is their sexual preference – then that is the only reason you will remember them.

    It is very unfortunate that competitive activities at school have become unfashionable – for only a wide range of these [which offers an opportunity for everyone to shine] is likely to reduce bullying to its minimum – for all sexual orientations [and for all other reasons I would think].

  • jenny barnes 21st Nov '13 - 3:57pm

    I would have thought that dealing with the bullying would be better than making children compete. Cooperation is also a natural human behaviour, in fact it’s probably more important to humans than competition. Except of course in a neoliberal social darwinist world.

  • Simon McGrath 21st Nov '13 - 4:24pm

    Of course we should stamp out bullying on the grounds of sexuality – but that should be part of stopping bullying altogether. So lets address these sorts of bullying within the larger context that bullying for any reason is equally unacceptable

  • John Roffey 21st Nov '13 - 4:29pm

    @ Jenny

    I am not offering my opinions from any category of ‘worlds’ other than the real one.

    As a male, I can only speak reasonably authoritatively from the male prospective. Males are competitive – it is the way they obtain the most desirable female – and this is an extraordinarily powerful force within them [particularly when young].

    My observances of the female world is that, in the main, they are far more ready to compromise and cooperate. However, if it is males that are most prone to bullying others [as I suspect to be the case] then I maintain that it is better to provide competitive activities at least for the males – so that this high octane force is channeled into a positive competitive activity rather than negative bullying.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Nov '13 - 7:07pm

    John, I accept bullying is part of human nature, so it will never be eradicated entirely, but it doesn’t mean progress can’t be made – we have made a lot of progress with attitudes towards race, sex and sexuality over the past century.

    Regarding promoting competition to reduce bullying: I’m not aware of any significant link between the two, but if there is then perhaps the experts will tell us, or you could contact them to inform them of your insight and possibly evidence too!

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Nov '13 - 7:14pm

    “It’s also highly likely that the children responsible for homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying are the very same who are responsible for other forms of bullying.”

    All the more reason why we should be telling these children that *all* bullying is wrong.

  • So bullying aimed at the people Matthew H (imho accurately) describes as the smaller, quieter ones, is not an equalities issue? A person can be genetically predisposed to be smaller and quieter so how is this different to bullying someone who is genetically predisposed to have darker skin?

    I think one of the hallmarks of liberal thinking is to recognise unfair and unequal behaviour wherever it is found in specific situations. Running down a checklist of particular groups who are generally recognised to be unfairly treated in general most often is not liberal, it is just “right-on” and even the Labour party can offer that.

  • John Roffey 21st Nov '13 - 9:01pm

    I think I should make it clear that I am not against attempts to lessen bullying, but anyone who keeps in touch with the news must realize that the vast majority of crimes of violence and aggression are founded in the [frustrated] male drive [although women seem to be increasingly active in these areas in recent years] – which cannot be eradicated, unless anyone is suggesting a program of castration.

    In wealthier elements of society [I mentioned public schools] this energy is channeled into a range of pursuits from chess to rugby – activities that not only allow each individual to shine, but also require males to contain this energy for success and for it to be used in constructive achievement. In truth taking part in an activity that does require restraint is the best long-term solution, unless the Party wishes to advocate religions to provide an ethical and moral framework for this restraint.

    It is no coincidence that the most heavily disadvantaged areas of society [where opportunity is lacking] are the areas of the highest and most extreme forms of violence – and I suspect that these are the worst areas for school bullying.

    My point is that unless there is an outlet for this energy – a particular measure might succeed for a while – but a different form will soon spring up elsewhere. The root cause needs to be addressed – and that, in truth, requires more money to provide opportunity. Failing this we will see a continuing rise in mental health problems amongst children who cannot deal with the pressures they are experiencing.

    I don’t think any research is needed for these views – they have been known to civilizations for thousands of years.

  • Richard Dean 21st Nov '13 - 9:57pm

    The one thing that bullies look for is something different about someone, something they can use to focus a bullying group’s attention on, By focussing on sexuality in this way, I wonder whether the actual effect will be to intensify the differences between children, and so intensify the bullying that Jo is trying to understand and reduce?

  • @ Richard

    I am not sure if your comment was in response to my post. If it was, I would suggest that if there is a desire to solve a problem – or at least minimize it – this will not happen unless focus is placed upon the root cause.

  • Richard Dean 21st Nov '13 - 10:23pm

    @John Rolley
    Not really, though I do agree that Jo’s focus looks a little like its motivated to garner support rather than really finding and tackling root causes. On the other hand, sexual development is a highly stressful process for many people, and the usual lack of help in that area could certainly be an exacerbating factor in bullying.

  • jenny barnes 23rd Nov '13 - 9:31am

    @ John. You sound like a gender essentialist, talking about fundamental mental differences between males and females.. Try Cordelia Fine to get some balance.

  • All bullying is unacceptable, but it worse when the school organisation itself can be send messages that can be seen by bullies as a justification. The government may not be able to control individual bullies but they should have no tolerance for bodies running schools.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Nov '13 - 12:43pm

    Richard Dean

    By focussing on sexuality in this way, I wonder whether the actual effect will be to intensify the differences between children, and so intensify the bullying that Jo is trying to understand and reduce?

    Yes, I think this is very much the case. There has been this heavy lobby on homophobic bullying pushing this message again and again. But I think it’s being done a very simplistic way that doesn’t get into the way kids think. Kids are fascinated with sex, so if you tell a bunch of them “Some boys like to have sex with other boys, and some girls like to have sex with other girls, and there are probably a few like that in this class”, what are they going to do? They will go “OOOHH, who is it?”, look around, and pick on the small, quiet shy kid and say “It’s HIM” or “It’s HER” and they’ll mock and bully that kid, in some ways not meaning to be harmful, just out of kid-like curiosity. The great likelihood is that any kid who actually is gay will join in the mockery, because that’s his/her defence – that’s how bullying works, if you’re in the middle you join the bullies in order not to be the bullied.

    So if the kid does go to teacher for help (most of the time they won’t) and teacher follows the line that is so often urged, which is that if bullying uses homophobic terms, it must be “homophobic bullying”, so the kid being bullied is gay, then what? The kid is not gay, actually is frustrated because being small and quiet s/he doesn’t get a look-in on the sexual competition, and now teacher is JOINING IN WITH THE BULLIES in saying that s/he’s one of those people who like sex with people of their own gender.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Nov '13 - 12:57pm


    For example, official Catholic Church doctrine on homosexuality, as taught in their schools, will encourage the perspective that it is wrong, thus deserving of mockery.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church writes the following about homosexuals “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” How does this fit with your claim that it teaches that homosexuals are deserving of mockery?

    Meanwhile, might one not also consider that the promotion of aggressive sexual competition in the entertainment world encourages the perspective that anyone who is not pushing themselves forward sexually is deserving of mockery?

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