The aim of this research was to explore the attitudes and experiences of students, parents, teachers and school principals regarding homophobic bullying in second-level schools. One hundred and twenty five interviews were conducted in five second-level schools in the Greater Dublin Area using a method that reflected a grounded theory approach. Five codes or themes were identified using the data collected from the one to one interviews. Three focus groups were also conducted with students, parents and teachers after the interviews were finished to discuss the issues that arose from the initial analysis of the individual interviews. The five themes identified were heteronormativity, fear, stereotyping, pervasive terms, and religious influence. All of these themes were found to contribute to homophobic bullying on the part of students. The theme of heteronormativity was strongest in the boys’ single-sex voluntary school. The theme of stereotyping was strongest in the girls’ single-sex voluntary school. These themes can be related to narrowly constructed definitions of masculinity among boys, limited personal experiences of people who identify as gay or lesbian among both boys and girls, the influence of the media and the limited provision of sexuality education programmes in all of the schools in which we interviewed students. For their part teachers seem to accept that homophobic bullying is a normal part of the interaction of their students and consequently fail to address it unless it gets out of hand or is happening immediately in front of them. Many of the teachers and some parents who were interviewed identified the religious ethos of their school as an important factor in whether the school can address issues related to sexuality education or not. It is recommended that: Sexuality education be included as part of pre-service and in-service training for teachers; the Department of Education & Science issues clear guidelines to schools on their responsibility to address homophobic bullying among students and teachers; Boards of Management immediately engage in a process of consultation aimed at producing policies in their schools that incorporate both local school ethos and national equality legislation; the NCCA develop guidelines on how to represent sexual diversity in the various syllabi of the formal curriculum i.e. English, Science, French; further research be conducted to identify best practice from schools that have already begun to develop policies and programmes that include sexuality education and/or address homophobic bullying.
Dublin City University
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