The findings by equality campaigning charity Stonewall are particularly concerning among trans pupils, of whom nearly one in 10 (9%) have received death threats at school, while 84% say they have self-harmed and 45% have tried to take their own lives.
Stonewall’s chief executive, Ruth Hunt, welcomed progress in schools, but said the report should act as “a wake-up call” to schools and politicians, showing how much more still needs to be done to improve LGBT pupils’ experiences.
The Stonewall School Report 2017, conducted in partnership with the Centre for Family Research at Cambridge University, found that schools are much more likely to condemn homophobic bullying than in previous years.
Nevertheless, fewer than a third of bullied LGBT pupils (29%) said teachers intervened when they witnessed the bullying and four out of 10 are never taught about LGBT issues at school.
The desperate situation of some LGBT students is revealed in comments they have contributed to the report. Amy, an 18-year-old pupil at a single-sex secondary school in the south-east, said: “I started getting death threats online after I came out. I told my head of year, but they just told me to come off the internet. It carried on for years.”
Ben, 17, who is studying at an FE college in the north-west of England, said: “The bullying went on for over five consecutive years. I ended up developing severe mental health issues and being sectioned twice.”
Thirteen-year-old Louis, who is at school in the south-west, said: “They poured milk on me while asking if I liked it. They said I should kill myself because I had no friends.”
The percentage of pupils who are bullied for being LGBT is down from 55% in 2012 to 45% this year. Use of homophobic language has also decreased, with just over half (52%) of LGBT students hearing homophobic slurs “frequently” or “often” at school, down from 68% in 2012.
And seven in 10 LGBT students report that their school says homophobic and biphobic bullying is wrong, up from half in 2012 and just a quarter in 2007.
Launching the report, Hunt said: “Stonewall has worked alongside governments and schools over the last decade to combat anti-LGBT bullying and create inclusive learning environments for young people.
“Our school years are one of the most formative periods of our lives, and we owe it to young LGBT people to ensure they don’t face discrimination or bullying because of who they are, but are supported to flourish and achieve.
“While our new School Report shows an improved experience for pupils in many ways, it also needs to act as a wake-up call for schools, government and politicians on just how far we still have to go.”
The Stonewall report, published on Tuesday, found that just one in five LGBT pupils (20%) have learned about safe sex in relation to same-sex relationships. It also reveals the isolation some pupils feel, with more than half (53%) saying there isn’t an adult in school they can talk to about being LGBT. As 14-year-old Will put it: “I felt alone because I had no one and it scared me.”
Others felt they had no choice but to leave, like George, 16, a pupil at a faith school in Scotland: “I lost confidence and the power to succeed and get the best qualifications. I left because I was scared and I didn’t belong in that environment.”
Max, 17, meanwhile, endured bullying from his entire class. “For the first few months after I came out, entire classes would chant ‘chick with a dick’ at me; in PE people would pull down my shorts and pants, groups petitioned to ban me from using the toilets and changing rooms and joining PE lessons.”
In the absence of sufficient information and support in schools, LGBT pupils go online, with 96% reporting that the internet has helped them to understand more about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, though nearly all (97%) complain of seeing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic content online.
Hunt called on the government and schools to include LGBT issues and same-sex relationships as part of new compulsory sex education. “This will not just provide LGBT students with the essential resources and information needed to make safe, informed decisions as they grow up, but will also help to create an inclusive and respectful learning environment.”
She went on: “Our report shows that schools are increasingly willing to address LGBT issues within the classroom. Forty per cent of LGBT young people today say they have never been taught about LGBT issues at school – a sobering statistic, but one showing progress from 2012, when 53% reported the same.”
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