Growing up as an LGBT person can be particularly hard. Anti-LGBT bullying is still widespread in schools, with our 2017 School Report finding that 45 per cent of LGBT pupils are bullied because of their sexuality. This combined with a lack of visible lesbian, gay, bi and trans role models can give young people who might be questioning their identity the impression that it is “wrong” or “bad” to be LGBT.
Many of the young people we spoke to for this research explained how being bullied in school, and feeling like they couldn’t be themselves, prevented them from continuing in their education.
Sam, a 17-year-old young man, told researchers: “I knew I was not going to continue in education and that I wouldn’t be able to. I can’t deal with the negative energy tied to my sexuality.”
Others said how having trouble at home or being rejected by family because of who they were made it harder for them to focus on work or education. Previous Stonewall research found only two in five LGBT young people have an adult at home they can talk to.
Adela, a 23-year-old bi/pan woman from Wales, said: “At 16, I went to live with my partner. That was good for a while, but we split up when I was 19 so I didn’t have anywhere to live. I wasn’t working or looking for a job at that point. It’s not what your main focus is.”
Mental health impact
Being bullied, rejected by family or friends and feeling different to others affects mental health and self-confidence – previous research found that 52 per cent of LGBT people said they’ve experienced depression in the past year.
Mental health challenges can also have an impact on education, like struggling to concentrate on studies or having to take time off school due to mental health reasons.
The young people also explained that once they had been shut out of education, work or training, re-entering became more difficult. Some told us this was because they couldn’t find support that was LGBT-inclusive, while others feared they would encounter the same discrimination again.
Changing the narrative
There are three key steps education leaders can take to make schools and colleges LGBT-inclusive:
- Make sure education includes LGBT people throughout everything it does – from anti-bullying policies to inclusive teaching – so that young people know that there’s nothing wrong or bad about being LGBT, and can feel accepted as who they are.
- Think about how they can make their careers guidance LGBT-inclusive, so that young people know that being LGBT should never be a barrier to pursuing goals. This could include hearing from LGBT role models, as well as discussing what rights LGBT people have in the workplace.
- Schools and local authorities must ensure mental health support is available for LGBT young people who need it, and that counsellors have training in the specific needs of LGBT people.
This may sound daunting but there are many small changes that can make a difference and Stonewall is always here to help. Through our School, College and Children and Young People’s Services Champions programmes, we work with primary and secondary schools, colleges and local authorities to help them create LGBT-inclusive environments for their students and young people using their services.
By making simple changes to be more inclusive, we can make sure that every LGBT young person is supported through their education and into training and work.