“Studies show that lesbian, gay and bisexual people show higher levels of anxiety, depression and suicidal feelings than heterosexual men and women.”

This quote is taken directly from the NHS website. It seems that as a society, we are well aware that the mental wellbeing of our LGBT+ brothers and sisters (and of course non-binary siblings) is vulnerable.

These mental health conditions can be linked to, or caused by, hostility or rejection from family parents and friends; bullying and name-calling at school; danger of violence; casual homophobia and negative portrayal of gay people in the media.

Virgin Unite, LGBT, Pop n Olly, mental health

Virgin Unite, LGBT, Pop n Olly, mental health

In some medical cases, doctors talk of prevention rather then cure – this could well be the ideal solution in tackling what is almost an epidemic amongst the LGBT+ community.

We can prevent homophobia, discrimination and prejudice developing if we catch it early enough. This is why it’s vital to start educating children at primary and junior age, teaching them about equality and diversity, and introducing equality lessons which cover LGBT+ themes in an age appropriate way. We must teach new generations to respect one another, regardless of preferred identity or orientation.

“I am increasingly supportive of the proposition that education of any kind, if it is devoid of a strong universal human rights component, can be next to worthless” - Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, February 5, 2015

The Ofsted handbook talks about 'promoting fundamental British Values', and how it is considered best practice to enable students to distinguish right from wrong and allow them to understand the importance of identifying and combatting discrimination.

Our schools, with the ongoing support of parents and guardians, are responsible for combatting discrimination. Whether direct, indirect, perceptive, association, harassment or victimisation. Failure to do so can have detrimental results to children's mental health, which can stay with them into adulthood.

Virgin Unite, LGBT, Pop n Olly, mental health

Virgin Unite, LGBT, Pop n Olly, mental health

Looking at Stonewalls 'The 2014 Teachers Report' we learn:

  • Almost half of primary school teachers say that pupils at their school have experienced homophobic bullying or name-calling.
  • Seven in ten primary school teachers hear pupils use expressions like ‘That’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’ in school”

Seetal, a Primary school teacher, from an Academy in London says, “I work in a primary school so the bullying that occurs is using the word gay as something derogatory, rather then for something specific. However, children become very upset if they are called.”

It also seems that children whose behaviours do not conform with gender expectations are also being bullied:

‘Among those primary school teachers who are aware of homophobic bullying in their schools, half say, boys who ‘behave or act like girls’ and 15 per cent say girls who ‘behave or act like boys’ are bullied.’ Children were being teased and questioned for having same-sex parents.

It seems that if not stopped early enough, homo, bi and transphobia can continue right up into junior and secondary school.

‘Homophobic bullying is commonplace in Britain’s secondary schools and colleges. More than half of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people experience homophobic bullying at school.’

Virgin Unite, LGBT, Pop n Olly, mental health

Virgin Unite, LGBT, Pop n Olly, mental health

The report shares cases of homophobic bullying experienced by students first hand. 17-year-old David shared, “I’ve been bullied since I was in Year 6. I’ve been called numerous names in the corridor, I’ve been hit. A lot of people have argued with me about how being gay is wrong. I’ve had a death threat sent to me…”

Failing to eliminate this dangerous kind of discriminatory bullying is not only unfair, but it is unlawful. Sex/Gender, Sexual Orientation and Gender reassignment are all protected characteristics under the 2010 Equality Act. This Act was created to protect people from discrimination in their workplace and in society, but it is important we don’t forget that the act encompasses children as well as adults – and they deserve to feel equally protected in their space, in their schools. We must uphold their rights as much as we do anyone else’s, whilst teaching all children that regardless of their individuality, prejudice or bullying of any kind is not ok. By halting discriminatory ideas and behaviours in earlier years, we may very well be helping to save the lives of future LGBT+ young people and adults.

Virgin Unite, LGBT, Pop n Olly, mental health

Virgin Unite, LGBT, Pop n Olly, mental health

Helpful tools and advice

  • Pop’n’Olly, regularly produce LGBT+ and equality educational resources for children, parents and teachers. Their videos and books are currently being used in classrooms across the UK and beyond. Their simple, yet informative animations and explanations also come with lesson plans, allowing their work to be easily integrated into everyday studies such as english, drama and (social studies?). The stories are designed to ‘usualise' LGBT+ characters and themes, rather then highlighting them as something different, enabling students to comfortably learn about diversity, equality and respect.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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