HOMOPHOBIA is still a significant problem in schools, with teachers ill-equipped to talk about the issue of sexuality, a support network for gays and lesbians has claimed.
Rainbow Support Services (RSS) said it was recently forced to find accommodation for a 16-year-old boy and girl from the mid-west after they were forced out of their homes and schools after ‘coming out’ about being gay.
RSS co-ordinator Vanessa Buswell said the teenagers had to find work after they were “thrown out” of home. She said homophobia was a greater problem in schools than in the home.
A recent survey by Trinity College found 50% of gay and lesbian students were subjected to bullying in school. This compares with 16% who are bullied outside of school.
Despite the fact that the suicide rate among gay teenagers is six times higher than heterosexual teenagers, secondary schools in the mid-west have spurned approaches from RSS.
“We have written to 69 secondary schools in the mid-west letting them know about our services and we only got responses from five of these schools. In the 22 years we have been in the mid-west we have been only asked once to go into a secondary school to do a workshop on our helplines and that school was in Limerick. I am not surprised at the lack of response from schools given their ethos around religion,” said Ms Buswell.
Michael Barron of BeLonG To — the support organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered young people — said: “Teachers are still ill-equipped to talk about gay and lesbian identity. They can talk about inclusion and racism but not about sexuality. It is time to open up now particularly when the safety of students is at risk.”
Rose Tully of the Irish Parents Council said homophobic bullying was making it difficult for teenagers to become comfortable with their sexual orientation.
“I feel it’s important that students have available all the advice that is there. No parent or teacher wants to see a young person die by suicide by not having access to the available advice.”
The Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI) said a clause in the Employment Equality Act could cause problems for their members as it defends the right of schools to adhere to a certain ethos.
Gemma Tuffy said teachers might be concerned that by promoting advice in the schools it could expose them to action by management or parents.
She said ASTI had its own hotline for teachers who are gay and would like to extend this service to pupils.
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