Introduction formed between two LGBT groups in Ireland for


Despite the
improvements made to school policies in the last two decades, homophobia and
transphobia are still apparent in educational contexts. Blumenfeld and Raymond
(1998) define homophobia as “the fear of being labelled homosexual and the
irrational fear, dislike or hatred of gay males and lesbians” (Norman et al.,
2006, p. 36). Transphobia is defined as “an underlying fear of those who appear
different from the traditional norms of masculinity and femininity (Wilson, Griffin
and Wren 2005, p. 310). Homophobia and transphobia are not solely affecting the
students but teachers are also subjects of this hostile attitude. According to
the Department of Education and Skills, homophobic and transphobic bullying
occurs in different forms; intimidation, isolation, cyber-bullying,
name-calling, physical aggression and damage to one’s belongings. (DES, 2013). This
essay will explore how homophobia and transphobia transpire through primarily
direct verbal and physical abuse, also through teachers’ views and training, in
addition to policy and the patronage of schools. Additionally this essay will
discuss preventative measures and possible solutions that could pave the way
towards safe and supportive schools where young people can grow in a holistic
manner.  It will primarily focus on three
studies; Minton (2008), Maycock (2009) and Formby (2014). In addition, the
results of these studies will be discussed in relation to Festinger’s (1954)
Social Comparison Theory and Bronfennbrenner’s (1979) Ecological Systems

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Literature Review

The purpose of a
study carried out by Minton (2008) on one hundred and twenty three young
Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) people in Ireland was to measure the
scope of young people being targeted of homophobia in Ireland. Additionally, it
examined the experiences of young people coming out and uncovering support.
Minton’s study found that homophobia was more of an issue with and for boys at
school. Smith (2014) also found this to be true after exploring a wide variety
of studies. Smith (2014) states that young LGB people are at a higher risk of
bullying in school, particularly LGB males who are more subjected to bullying. Contact
was formed between two LGBT groups in Ireland for Minton’s study, in which
surveys where distributed on three websites on investigating homophobia in
Ireland,, and The target takers of the survey were secondary school students. As 12
is the most common age that Irish young people come out and with school found
to be the one of the most difficult experiences for LGBTQI individuals (Higgins
et al., 2016), this was an efficient platform for Minton (2008) to explore.

The second study,
carried out by Formby (2014) investigated the impact of homophobic and
transphobic bullying on education and employment. An online survey was
circulated across European countries with focus given to results from five of
these countries, Poland, Croatia, Ireland, Denmark and Italy to gather data on
the subject. This study found that peers were not just the ones carrying out
the bullying, teachers were also guilty of bullying of a homophobic and
transphobic nature towards the students in schools. The study also found
homophobia and transphobia exhibited in the curriculum with participants
worried about the invisibility of LGBTQ in education including suitable sex
education (Formby, 2014). While Formby’s sample size was slightly more than
Minton’s (2008), at 187, it is relatively small for a study on numerous
countries. Despite this, it is mixed methods with having a balance of closed
questions and open questions. Minton also gathers some qualitative data through
some open-ended questions. It is interesting to see the comparisons between
countries in Formby’s study. It gives valuable information on how countries are
almost similar when it comes to LGBT students having negative experiences in
school. (Formby, 2014). Though some participants did not disclose their
country, therefore the results cannot be generalised which Formby herself

Maycock’s et al.,
(2009) study, on the contrary, was one of the most significant studies carried
out on LGBT people in relation to mental health. With over 1, 100 participants
on the online survey and forty individuals who participated in focus groups,
this mixed-methods study provides valuable quantitative and qualitative data.
The main aim of this study was to identify and find responses of suicide among
LGBT people in Ireland, in particular young people. It points out that
homophobia and transphobia are problematic in schools in United Kingdom
(Maycock 2009). It also refers to a national study carried out on the
implementation of Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) in secondary
schools stating that there are only two lessons in the resource pack on sexual
orientation for schools on RSE in Ireland and they are not compulsory. This
shows an indirect stigma towards people who identify as LGBT by assuming that
all students are heterosexual, therefore education on sexual orientation is
optional (Maycock, 2009). Macintosh (2007) is in line with these findings too,
the curriculum in school regularly refers heterosexual as normal and refers
homosexual as the other. Homophobia and transphobia in schools is evident in
these findings.

culture, norms and Festinger’s Social Comparison Theory

Social comparison
theory, Festinger’s theory (1954) is that “people get a sense of validity and
cognitive clarity by comparing themselves in significant domains against an
objective benchmark provided by the individuals they are comparing themselves with”
(Festinger, 1954). This theory could explain the reason behind homophobia and
transphobia in schools. Students see the teachers ignoring all sexualities
albeit heterosexual, therefore the students compare other students who identify
as LGBT to what is considered the norm, they make a downward comparison and
view these students as worse than them and consider them to be out of their
normal living sphere and bullying occurs. On the flip side, students who are
LGBT could become clinically depressed if they have an upward comparison
according to Festinger’s theory, they see themselves outside of the cognitive image.
(Festinger 1954). According to Kaufman and Powell (2014) heterosexuality is the
norm and the only way to be accepted and live as a human being is to be
heterosexual. In schools, the rules are related to being heterosexual and only
heterosexual. Uniforms in mixed schools are an example of this. Girls are
considered to be feminine and are obliged to wear skirts. Boys are masculine
human beings and it is obligatory for them to wear trousers as part of the
school uniform. Rules such as boys are forbidden to enter girls changing rooms
and bathrooms and vice versa convey a message of transphobia. These rules all
come down to Festinger’s theory, that of uniformity. According to Festinger
(1954) peoples’ personal beliefs can be changed due to persuasion by others to
conform to uniformity (Festinger, 1954) girls do it this way, boys this way.
Participants in Formby’s (2014) study stated that subject choices portrayed
transphobia and homophobia as some subjects are only in boys’ schools and some
only in girls’ schools. Festinger’s theory explains homophobia and transphobia
in schools. These people go against the norm and counter to consistency of
gender and sexuality.

Direct Homophobic and transphobic bullying, verbal
and physical

One of the biggest
studies done on this area by Maycock (2009) demonstrates that homophobia and
transphobia is conveyed through bullying. More than half of school LGBT
students surveyed in Maycock’s study had experienced being the victim of name
calling due to their sexual orientation by other students. Minton et al, (2008)
found that students of the LGBT community are at risk of bullying in schools
and this study also shows to what degree theses students experience harassment
such as name calling and nasty mocking. A student’s sexuality is one of the
main reasons for being a victim of bullying in schools, with 24.8% of the
students who completed the survey experienced this once a day. This was higher
than bullying occurrences due to a student’s race or colour which was 1.1% and
religion which was 0.0% once a day. 99% were of Irish or Western European
ethnic backgrounds. (Minton, 2008). This study also found that verbal abuse due
to student’s sexuality was more common in schools with 34.3% of students
experiencing this regularly, comparable to Maycock’s findings. Students who are
LGBT are more prone to bullying than heterosexual students (Formby, 2015 and Minton,
2008). This research gives an idea of the extent to which homophobia and
transphobia is apparent in schools, however, a limitation the study found
itself was that the study was done online and some surveys were distributed to
two LGBT clubs, BeLonG to in Dublin and one in Cork. This perhaps encouraged
people who were LGBT and victims of bullying to complete the survey. (Minton,
2008). This study also found that it was not solely other students carrying out
the bullying in schools, parents, teachers and co-workers were among other
culprits condoning in this sort of behaviour (Minton, 2008) similar to Formby’s
findings (2014).

Relationships and Sexuality Education

Relationships and
Sexuality Education (RSE) in Ireland only has two lessons in the resource pack
that actually discusses sexual orientation, despite RSE being a mandatory
subject for all students at junior cycle level, the contents of curriculum is
not compulsory and according to Maycock et al (2007) the wider school
community, parents and teachers can influence what parts of the curriculum are
taught (Keating, 2016). An important finding from the
Ombudsman for Children in 2012 indicated that students felt that they would
have been more comfortable reporting homophobic bullying if the issue of
homophobia had been discussed (DES, 2013a). Bronfenbrenner
model (1979) explains how individuals behave based on the social context. It
explains why homophobia and transphobia exists in schools. A social context
such as a school can influence an individual to bully. Brinkman (2015) suggests
that the influence affecting a child to bully is bidirectional and not one
directional like the Bronfenbrenner model explains. Brinkman states “a child is
being impacted while simultaneously impacting the surrounding systems.” (Brinkman,
2015, p. 40). As research shows this is true.

Migliaccio and
Raskauskas (2016) found that bullying can occur if students are not subjected
to or educated on the different cultures and diversity. Allan et al (2008)
Drawing from data taken from a nationwide study in the United Kingdom on
primary schools, Allan found that homophobia and transphobia are learned by
children early on in their lives, they learn there are ‘boy’ activities and
‘girl’ activities deriving from Butler’s theory (1991) and that the term ‘gay’
can be used to refer to something unpleasant or something that does not
function properly and family members who identify as homosexual are
surreptitious. Lack of education or miseducation on
homosexuality and transsexuality leaves the platform open for bullying to
occur. It is not discussed in education, therefore the inclination is these are
not normal and it is something to tease someone about (De Palma Ungaro, 2017).

Teachers and Patronage

Only up until
recently were teachers not allowed to teach or could lose their jobs in a
Catholic school if they identified as LGBT. In Formby’s (2014) study one Irish
respondent said that unless he hid his sexuality as a gay man, it would be
impossible to find a teaching position in most schools are they were controlled
by the Catholic Church. This law has since been lifted, however, teachers who
identify as LGBT still feel uncomfortable in the present day as a fear of being
left out of different responsibilities within the school or distress that they
could lose their jobs next year if they are in temporary employment. This is
evident in interviews carried out by the Journal newspaper of gay teachers in
Ireland. Although not a psychological based study, or study in that regard, it
still is first-hand accounts from gay teachers in Ireland about their negative
experiences, which shows homophobia and transphobia present in schools. The
article was written before Section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Act was
amended in 2015. 

At present teachers
of the LGBT community are allowed to work in schools regardless of the schools
ethos. A LGBT teacher can still be declined a job if a priest or someone on the
selection panel who is homophobic or transphobic deliberately gives less points
at interview stage to that teacher. The law is written down and protects you
legally, however, physically a gay teacher is not protected in reality. From
this, it is clear homophobia and transphobia is still expressed in schools. A
recent study carried out by Neary (2017) has found that this is the case for
LGBT teachers in Ireland. Neary (2017) found that LGBT primary teachers and
second-level teachers in Catholic schools have to promote the teaching of the
Catholic ethos daily and therefore constructing a difficult path to achieve a
normal professional lifestyle. According to Neary (2017) other studies found
this outcome too for LGBT-Q teachers such as (Connell, 2015; Epstein and
Johnson, 1994; Gowran, 2004 and Gray, 2013).


In 2013, the
Department of Education and Skills Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and
Post-Primary Schools were issued, requiring all primary and second level
schools to include homophobia and transphobia in their anti-bullying policies
and to document and implement prevention and education strategies. Despite this
as aforementioned RSE is not mandatory in schools (Maycock et al, 2007). This
brings a stigma towards LGBT people and sends the message that heterosexual is
the norm and it is the only aspect that is compulsory to study. This defeats
the purpose of including homophobia and transphobia in the anti-bullying
policy. In the DES (2013) document, schools are encouraged to avoid
gender-stereotyping school subjects and activities and it suggests gender
neutral toilets. The discretion is on the school, whether or not schools are
enforcing this is an area for review.




Bullying appeared to
be the most prominent form in which homophobia and transphobia is manifested in
schools, in particular verbal bullying (Minton, 2008; Maycock; 2009 and Formby
2014). Homophobia and transphobia also appeared through the curriculum,
patronage and school rules (Higgins et al; 2016). Despite homophobic and
transphobic bullying introduced in a nationwide anti-bullying policy (DES,
2013) research suggests that this form of bullying is still apparent in schools
(Formby, 2014). Research implies that if school communities were educated on
sexual orientation and gender identity, the less homophobia and transphobia will
exist, according to the GLEN study (Higgins et al., 2016). The more students
come across people in same sex relationships and transgender people the more it
will become normal for them. The stigma towards LGBT people needs to be
removed. Education is required for all teachers. They must react to the
language in the correct way following policy (Higgins et al., 2016). It would
be interesting to carry out surveys and see the results post marriage
referendum in 2015.


Evident from the
literature review change needs to be made in Irish education due to homophobia
and transphobia being apparent in schools, through bullying, policy, patronage
and the curriculum. Moving forward there needs to be more research done on
homophobia and transphobia in schools in order for people to be aware that it
is a serious issue. Training needs to be mandatory for each staff member in all
schools on the issue and how to provide support to these students. (Higgins et
al., 2016). It is necessary for sexuality education to be compulsory along with
education on sexual orientation and gender identity. (Maycock, 2009). This
would help eradicate the conundrum of homophobia and transphobia.



Allan, A., Atkinson, E., Brace, E., DePalma,
R., & Hemingway, J. (2008). Speaking the unspeakable in forbidden places:
Addressing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality in the primary
school. Sex Education, 8(3), 315-328.

B. S. 2015. Detection
and Prevention of Identity-Based Bullying: Social Justice Perspectives. Hove:
Psychology Press.

Department of Education and Skills. (2013). Being LGBT in schools: A resource for
post-primary schools to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying and support
LGBT students. Dublin: GLEN and BeLonG to Youth Services.

Ungaro, R. (2017). Foreword: queer teaching–teaching queer. Irish Educational
Studies Vol. 36. No. 1, 3-8.

L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human relations, 7(2),

S., & Morgan, M. (2016). All Together Now! Pilot Project on Homophobic and
Transphobic Bullying In Primary Schools.

Kaufman, J. S., Powell, D. A. 2014. The Meaning of Sexual Identity in the
Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

E. (2013). The impact of homophobic and transphobic bullying on education and
employment: A European survey 2013.

E. (2015). Limitations of focussing on homophobic, biphobic and transphobic ‘bullying’to
understand and address LGBT young people’s experiences within and beyond
school. Sex Education, 15(6), 626-640.

L. (2007). Does anyone have a band-aid? Anti-homophobia discourses and
pedagogical impossibilities. Educational Studies, 41(1),

Maycock, P., Kitching, K., & Morgan, M.
(2007). Relationships and sexuality education (RSE) in the context of
social, personal and health education (SPHE): an assessment of the challenges
to full implementation of the programme in post-primary schools. Crisis
Pregnancy Agency, Department of Education and Science.

P., Bryan, A., Carr, N., & Kitching, K. (2009). Supporting LGBT lives: a
study of the mental health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender people. Dublin: GLEN.

Migliaccio, T., Raskauskas, J. 2016. Bullying as a Social Experience: Social Factors, Prevention
and Intervention.
London: Routledge.

S. J., Dahl, T., O’Moore, A. M., & Tuck, D. (2008). An exploratory survey
of the experiences of homophobic bullying among lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgendered young people in Ireland. Irish Educational Studies, 27(2),

Neary, A.
(2017). Lesbian, gay and bisexual teachers’ ambivalent relations with parents
and students while entering into a civil partnership. Irish Educational
Studies, 36(1), 57-72.

Smith, P. K.
(2014). Understanding school bullying: its
nature & prevention strategies. Los
Angeles: SAGE.

Wilson, I., C. Griffin and B. Wren 2005. The interaction
between young people with atypical gender identity organisation and their
peers, in Journal of Health Psychology 10 (3): 310.