Youngsters suffering homophobic abuse in school may be able to bring their aggressors to book, it was revealed today.
As a new initiative was launched encouraging schools to protect pupils from bullying, name calling and physical attack, teenagers were told they can seek redress from the Equality Tribunal.
Under the Equal Status Acts harassment is prohibited on a number of grounds, including sexual orientation, and schools are required to take reasonable steps to protect children in their care.
Niall Crowley, of the Equality Authority, said kids suffering homophobic bullying might have a case.
“Schools need to address their responsibilities under the Equal Status Acts by ensuring that codes of behaviour and anti-bullying policies are explicit in naming the issue of homophobic bullying and in identifying the practices and procedures in place to prevent this,” he said.
“Schools should ensure that their admission policies are welcoming to a diversity of students, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.”
The initiative was launched by soon to retire junior minister Sile de Valera.
“I consider it highly significant that the impetus for this initiative came directly from young people in response to their own experiences of bullying in school,” she said.
As part of the initiative, developed by the Equality Authority and BeLonG To, a youth project for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people, posters and leaflets and information material for principals will be issued to post-primary schools.
It encourages schools to create a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students and was welcomed by gay rights network, GLEN.
“This kind of initiative is vitally important. Schools have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the lesbian, gay and bisexual student population and to create a learning environment that is free of bullying and harassment,” said GLEN communications officer Adam Long.
“Homophobic bullying is a big problem in our schools and has consequences for the entire school community.
The posters set out a commitment from the school stating ‘Homophobic bullying is unacceptable in our school’. Booklets will be distributed with information to principals on homophobic bullying, the Equal Status Acts and actions schools can take to tackle harassment.
A flyer to publicise the initiative will be distributed nationwide.
Michael Barron, of BeLonG To, revealed the initiative was started by young people suffering homophobic bullying.
“Some of our own members have been bullied so badly that they have been forced to drop out of school early. This initiative is important because it is about young people supporting other young people to ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future,” Mr Barron said.
The campaign is being endorsed by An Garda Siochana, Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, Teachers Union of Ireland, National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, Union of Secondary School Students, National Parents Council – Post Primary, Parents Support and Pobal.
Researchers at Dublin City University found 79% of teachers who responded to their questionnaire were aware of instances of homophobic bullying in their school – 30% of these teachers had encountered it more than 10 times.
Some 90% said their schools’ anti-bullying policy did not include any reference to gay and lesbian issues.