2 min

Don’t ignore the homophobia

Researchers and other so-called experts on schoolyard bullying apparently never notice the prevalence of homophobia among youth. On the speakers’ circuit and in publications and interviews, few people credited as leaders in the field mention homophobia, almost as though terms such as “faggot” and “dyke” are never used as weapons among youth.

Most school administrators and education activists are similarly silent on the issue, even though all students are potential victims of homophobic violence.

Even at conferences on bullying, speakers only occasionally mention homophobic forms of bullying. In March, Ottawa hosted the second national conference on bullying, organized by Child And Youth Friendly Ottawa (CAYFO). A not-for-profit established in 1997, CAYFO also organized the first such conference which was held in 2002.

I attended both conferences along with approximately 500 other people. Delegates were, I believe, genuinely concerned about bullying and eager to hear about effective programs and interventions.

At this year’s conference, I gave a presentation on homophobic bullying. Afterward, several people told me how homophobia is rarely addressed in spite of being common in schools. These conversations confirmed for me that the topic of homophobia must have a higher profile in such national and international forums, and also in school administration.

Unfortunately, programs and policies on bullying continue to focus on the management of behaviour. Codes of student conduct are practically the default strategy of supposed prevention of school violence. Especially in schools south of the border, surveillance cameras are similarly legitimized. Politically, these strategies are meant to demonstrate to concerned parents and inquiring journalists that school boards are taking action.

It’s not enough and it ignores key information.

Bullying is certainly about behaviour, and codes of conduct are a necessary component of school administration. However, mere management of behaviour fails to deal with the underlying causes of bullying. Negative perceptions of difference, for example, need to be more adequately addressed. Bullies target those who are deemed to be “different” or inferior in one way or another. Leaving out how difference is a precursor to bullying is a significant oversight, especially when bullying routinely incorporates verbal abuses such as “faggot,” “dyke” and “queer.”

CAYFO has demonstrated much-needed leadership in gathering interested parties from around the world to discuss and provide resources on bullying in schools. But the experts at the podium mostly failed to acknowledge homophobic bullying as endemic in all schools. It was as though it did not exist, or was relevant only to a “special interest group” of students. In actual fact, all students are potential victims of homophobic violence, regardless of actual sexual orientation.

To express concern about bullying and yet continually fail to mention homophobia is a benign contradiction at best, hypocritical at worst. Either way, researchers, educators and other “experts” have the responsibility to confront all forms of bullying in schools, including homophobia. Programs and policies on school violence will continue to be compromised as long as they are preoccupied by mere behaviour while disregarding specific forms of violence such as homophobia.