Research finds experiences improving for LGB staff in education

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Rainbow flag

A study led by a researcher at Oxford Brookes University has found positive improvements in the experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) teachers and students in Further Education when it comes to inclusion, support and openness.

It is 30 years since the introduction of the highly controversial Section 28 Legislation. Part of the Local Government Act 1988, the clause banned the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities and in Britain’s schools. It wasn’t abolished in the UK until November 2003.

A recent School Report from Stonewall (2017) found that almost half of young LGBT people are victims of bullying. Their 2014 Teachers Report also showed that 86% of LGBT secondary school teachers had also experienced homophobic bullying.

New research published in the British Educational Research Journal (BERJ) entitled ‘The experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual students and staff at a Further Education college in South East England’, found a distinct lack of homophobia. The study also demonstrates a nuanced understanding of homosexually-themed language and an organisational culture of inclusivity and widespread symbolic visibility of the LGB community.

Dr Adam J White, a Teaching Fellow at Oxford Brookes University, carried out the study with Dr Rory McGrath from Solent University Southampton and independent researcher Bryan Thomas, an undergraduate student at the University of Winchester.

This progress needs to be continued and further work on ensuring equality for all LGBT young people and the staff who work with them is vital. The curriculum, role models and learning resources need to be reflective of the diverse communities within our schools and colleges.

Dr Adam J White, Teaching Fellow, Oxford Brookes University

Dr White said: “Historically schools and colleges have not been seen as great places for non-heterosexual people, with their experiences often typified by forced silence, victimisation, and harassment. It is not surprising that education has been seen as hostile for LGBT teachers and students given it was only 30 years ago when Section 28 came in. Thankfully, society’s view towards homosexuality and same-sex relationships has been changing and they have been changing quickly.

“We wanted to understand how this social change influenced the experiences of staff members and students at a Further Education college in the South of England and interviewed LGB staff and students to understand how they experienced education today.”

The interviews examined a variety of themes such as ‘outness’ (the degree to which LGB persons are out and to whom), homophobic bullying, language and overall environment within the college.

Dr White continues: “Interestingly, this particular college was seen as an inclusive space where students and staff could be themselves, with all but two staff members being completely open about their sexuality. Many compared the college environment to the school, with a suggestion those in the latter may not feel as comfortable being so open.”

The visibility of gay identity was particularly important; staff members wearing rainbow ribbon on their lanyards and same-sex couples holding hands on campus were visual reminders of acceptance.

Dr White added: “Of course this will not be the case everywhere and at every school or college in the country but it is positive to see. This progress needs to be continued and further work on ensuring equality for all LGBT young people and the staff who work with them is vital. The curriculum, role models and learning resources need to be reflective of the diverse communities within our schools and colleges.

“Who knows, we may be on the cusp of schools and colleges that are completely inclusive of LGBT staff and students?” 

This month is LGBT Pride Month celebrated worldwide each year, marking June 1969 when the Stonewall Riots took place in Manhattan.