Anti-homophobia policy in schools saves lives
Schools without anti-homophobia polices may be risking their students’ lives, a La Trobe University report has shown.
Released today, Writing Themselves in 3 shows the link that a well-advertised school policy against homophobia, can have in preventing gay teens from suicide.
The report also says that parents play an essential role in determining how resilient same-sex attracted young people can be, but many need education and support to manage their own feelings of disappointment or apprehension.
Over 3,000 young people aged between 14 and 21 from across Australia participated in the third national report on same sex teenagers since 1998.
The report covers a range of issues from sexual feelings, sexual behaviour, how and homophobia in the community, Internet use, sexuality education and school experience, religion to rural living.
Associate Professor Lynne Hillier, from the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University and one of the report’s authors said today: ‘Of great significance is the finding that the three quarters of students who knew they attended a school with no policy or reported that they attended a homophobic school were at higher risk of a range of negative outcomes: suicide attempts, self-harm, feeling bad about their sexuality.’
The finding show that in 2010, 61% of young people reported verbal abuse because of homophobia, 18% physical abuse and 26% ‘other’ forms of homophobia.
The most common place of abuse remained school with 80% of those who were abused naming school, continuing the trend of increased levels of reported homophobic violence in schools (69% in 1998; 74% in 2004).
Professor Hillier said the report showed serious impacts on young same sex people, with 29% not being able to concentrate in class, 20% missing classes and 21% missing days at school with marks dropping for 20%.
‘Some young people used avoidance behaviour, for example, 18% hid at recess and lunch and/or did not use change rooms (16%) and toilets (9%). Worst still, 8% left school altogether,’ she added.
Professor Hillier said she was surprised by the findings given state schools in Victoria, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania are all covered under some kind of anti-homophobia or sexuality-based equity policy.
‘Schools do play an important role in the mental health of their students. If they do nothing, they will exacerbate mental ill health by allowing homophobia to flourish.
‘These findings are a wake up call to every Australian to rethink how well we support the young people in our lives and to put policy into practice.’
Writing Themselves in 3 recommends that all education authorities show leadership in this area with clear policies and adequate resourcing to ensure all Australian schools are supported in this work.’
The rise in homophobia appears to go hand in hand with a continuing trend in openness, according to the researchers.
In 2010, 98% of those interviewed had disclosed their same sex attractions to at least one person compared with 1998 where one in five participants had told nobody.
She said that the response of 13% of young people who reported the impact of homophobia on them was to fight back and become activists.
‘They are fighting back in ways not seen before, such as turning to the internet to fill the gaps that school and family will not fill and forming or joining activism groups on Facebook and other sites.
‘Their voices are stronger and they are demanding change.’
Key recommendations from the report are:
Public safety – police should link more with the gay community to help make reporting homophobic violence and abuse easier;
Education – Schools can make a major contribution to the health and safety of same sex students by effectively addressing homophobia. All education authorities should show leadership in this area with clear policies and adequate resourcing to ensure all Australian schools are supported in this work.
Sexuality Education – same sex material should be included into sexuality education programs, including the primary school curriculum.
Health services - health services staff should undertake training in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender sensitive service delivery; health professionals need training to take sexual histories in a non-judgemental manner with young people, and to understand the best options for information and referrals.
Rural - access of rural young people to appropriate and supportive services is an ongoing concern.
Further research - gender questioning young people are an emerging group which have not been the major focus of this research but their increased visibility indicates that as a group they warrant further investigation to better understand their health and support needs.
Chris Tanti, CEO of headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, says there needs to be more research pieces like this.
“This report says that same sex attracted young people are three times more likely to attempt suicide- this something we can’t ignore,” he said.
headspace provides a range of support for young people. Please visit headspace.org.au if you or someone you know needs help.
Writing Themselves in 3 can be downloaded from: www.latrobe.edu.au/ssay/
Associate Professor Lynne Hillier
Media and Communications Officer
Mobile: 0411 268 946
Work: 9479 5353
Where to get the report: For more information: The report Writing Themselves In 3 will be formally launched on Friday 19 November 2010 in Melbourne. It will be available for free from www.latrobe.edu.au/ssay/
Reference: Hillier, L., Jones, T. Monagle, M., Overton, N., Gahan, L., Blackman, J. & Mitchell, A. (2010). Writing Themselves In 3 (WTi3), the third national study of the sexual health and wellbeing of same sex attracted and gender questioning young people. ARCSHS: Melbourne.