LGBTQ Equality In Schools – Encouraging Diversity
The Law Of… Embracing Equality In Schools
Following the enforcement of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, the education sector has become more proactive in tackling the issue of LGBTQ inequality in education.
Gregg Burrough, Solicitor in Education and Community Care, explains how the education sector has dealt with adapting policies and procedures for LGBTQ students.
The Legal Struggle
People from all walks of life are now not only accessing legislation, but increasingly searching for it.
It appears that the age-old disconnect between law-makers and the wider population was never really an issue of inaccessibility, but a reluctance to apply existing laws to the evolving situations we face on a daily basis.
Equality laws have always been shadowed by contention where they are in relation to some of our most stigmatised communities. Despite these challenges, UK law has progressed in leaps and bounds in the last decade, arguably due to the momentum that has driven LGBTQ equality into the forefront of social changes.
Regardless of the city we are in, the Pride movement has swept across every inch of the country in recent months to remind us of the core principle at play; acceptance without exception.
Although the battle for this equality has been long and hard-fought, and is still far from complete, the incremental steps that have been taken to adapt our laws have now influenced the education sector with commendable speed and promise.
LGBTQ Inequality In Education
The majority of LGBTQ inequality in education manifests as bullying.
Statistics from a recent study commissioned by the LGBTQ Rights Charity, Stonewall, have shown that in schools:
The absence of a legal definition of bullying has made it difficult to address the issue through statute or Government policy when compared to issues such as race inequality and disability discrimination.
As troubling as the statistics are, there has been a reduction of homophobic harassment and inequality in schools in a relatively short space of time, which has inspired research into how this has been achieved.
On 27th June 2017, Stonewall published a detailed study after investigating levels of homophobic bullying and inequality in England's secondary schools. One of the most interesting findings is that these inequalities have fallen by almost a third in the last decade, and there's been a 10% drop in LGBTQ discrimination cases in the last 5 years.
Even more remarkable is that the progress is being made along two lines of common school policy; acts of inequality are becoming less frequent between students, and schools are becoming more proactive to prevent homophobic attacks on their students.
One in three schools also now have dedicated Pride societies for students and the number of schools that explicitly condemn such inequality within their policies has trebled since 2007.
"This comes as a welcome change from reliance upon the more conventional tendency to discipline such behaviour retrospectively", Gregg explains.
"The reluctance to address these issues also appears diminished in light of the broader statutory developments to bring LGBTQ into primary legislation."
The Remaining Challenges
Despite these recent statistics, Ruth Hunt (Chief Executive of Stonewall) still believes that LGBTQ discrimination and harassment in schools has a long way to go.
It is reported that 45% of gay pupils still face bullying in some capacity at school and even though the short-term trend is promising, levels of LGBTQ discrimination are still unacceptably prevalent.
Regional differences also present a great challenge in areas where social differences can be seen all too clearly in relation to homosexuality. The study sampled 3,700 students who were 11 – 19 years old. It found that despite the culture of schooling beginning to shift, isolated incidents and extreme cases can still present the danger of knocking such progress back two steps for every one taken forward.
"Nonetheless, the encouraging progress is still commendable and has provided many parents and students with the opportunity to consider whether behaviours seen in schools go beyond the grey legal area of bullying into more substantial categories of discrimination."
"Progress in schools has been achieved quicker than many had perhaps anticipated, and their successes now offer the opportunity for schools to lead by example and address educational inequality in its entirety."