Dr James O’Higgins Norman, joint of director of the Anti-Bullying Centre at DCU, told a conference on cyberbullying that research shows homophobia is endemic in Irish schools and is the result of a culture that values conformity.
“There is a heavy, almost oppressive culture in our schools that requires people to conform. Our schools don’t always do a good job of celebrating diversity. We would make a link between that and homophobic bullying because it seems to be related to something to do with maintaining the boundaries of normality in our schools.
“To be perceived as a normal boy or girl you had to act in certain ways within the school system and if you didn’t there was a stronger likelihood that you might suffer from homophobic bullying and that translates from the school setting onto the internet,” he said.
Teachers “acquiesce” in this behaviour by adopting a “boys will be boys” attitude and behaving as if it is normal.
“There is a need for some kind of education with teachers to make them realise that this is not acceptable behaviour. It is the last boundary of tolerance in our school system.
“Nobody would accept racist terms, or derogatory terms related to a person’s mental status or learning disabilities, but teachers, particularly in single sex boys schools seem to think it is okay for boys to call each other queer, faggot, poof, gay or whatever it might be,” said O’Higgins Norman.
The problem of homophobic bullying has a wider effect on the entire school population and does not just affect people who identify as LGBT.
“It tells all of us that there is a certain normative script that you must follow and you have to fit into that. It is a form of bullying that affects everyone and causes them to check their behaviour and fit in within the school system.
“The amazing thing is that they do a Leaving Cert in May and those same kids come into university in September and all of a sudden all that homophobia is gone. It just seems to lift.
“What happens between May and September? They are not in school anymore. There is something very challenging there for our school system in terms of how we cope with difference and educate young people.”
The conference also heard from media law consultant David Allen that there is no need to introduce specific legislation dealing with social media and cyberbullying because it is already covered in Irish law.