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Standing Up to Homophobia

Standing Up to Homophobia

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Published by Senthorun Raj
My feature in Sydney's Child explores the impact of homophobia in schools and the varied policy responses to address the issue.
My feature in Sydney's Child explores the impact of homophobia in schools and the varied policy responses to address the issue.

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Published by: Senthorun Raj on Aug 04, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Once in a PE change room I had someone throw their testes in my face, witha massive crowd around them all laughing and pushing me around... It was the most demoralising moment of my life. — Jack* 
omophobia haunts our schools: sometimes in change rooms, other times inplaygrounds, and now even in cyberspace. When I hear the kind o experiencerecounted by Jack, I am reminded o how being dierent can easily makeyou an object o derision to others. While my own experiences did not involve thekind o physical humiliation endured by Jack, the pervasive silence around my beingsame-sex attracted meant it was diicult or me to eel completely comortable inembracing who I was.
Standing Up
Senthorun Raj
writes about measuresbeing taken to address bullying ofhomosexual students in our schools.
High school is not just about education. It is a place o managing studying withsocialising, while also coming to terms with adolescence. When attraction and emotionare added to the equation, things become a whole lot more conusing. For me, theconusion was that i all the other boys were eyeing the girls, why was I not? I neverelt comortable asking why, because I was unsure o what the consequences would be.So what did I ear? The answer was simple: homophobia.Homophobia is a ear o sexuality-based dierences, resulting in the marking outand stigmatising o any act or expression that does not conorm to our normativeexpectations about heterosexuality, reproduction, masculinity and emininity.Historically, these belies have been given social currency through a range o culturalelds. These include: religious scriptures that condemn homosexuality as immoral;psychology manuals that reerred to it as a mental disorder; and punitive legislationthat made same-sex relationships criminal.Homophobic bullying emerges rom these archaic legacies by recuperating thesedierentials o power. This bullying is made maniest through physical harassment, viliying words or intimidating conduct that attempts to shame young people or theirperceived sexuality. It is oten dicult to identiy the more subtle maniestations o homophobia, particularly in speech. Homophobic speech does not always requiremalicious intent. For example, ‘That’s so gay’ is common vernacular, and oten themotivation behind the statement is not to viliy gay or lesbian people in pejorativeways. However, despite its intent, this kind o rhetoric singles out same-sex attracted
If all the other boys were eyeing the girls,why was I not? I never felt comfortableasking why, because I was unsure of what theconsequences would be. So what did I fear?The answer was simple: homophobia.
people as dierent by making theirsexuality synonymous with a deciency.Heterosexist and homophobic languagecan cause long-term mental harm, asindividuals can internalise the belie thattheir desire or sexuality is somehow odd,or even perverted.Experiences o homophobic bullying in Australian schools refect some o thesecomplexities.
Writing Themselves In 3
,a 2010 national study pioneered by DrLynne Hillier about the sexuality, healthand wellbeing o same-sex attractedand gender-questioning young people,highlighted the systemic problem o homophobia in a disparate range o secondary schools across Australia.Homophobia is oten considered to bea niche problem. The report, however,indicates that same-sex attractedpopulations are not marginal, with about10 per cent o young people identiying asnot solely heterosexual. What is most concerning in the reportis that incidents o homophobic bullyingare on the rise. The original
WritingThemselves In
report, published in 1998,recorded that 46 per cent o participantshad experienced verbal bullying, while13 per cent had experienced some ormo physical abuse. In 2010 this hadincreased, with more than 60 per cento the young people surveyed havingexperienced some orm o verbal abuse,while 18 per cent had suered physicalassault. Approximately 80 per cent o allharassment, discrimination and abusethese young people had endured hadoccurred in school-based contexts.On casual observation, the increaseseems counterintuitive, given the rangeo legislative reorms aimed at promotingequality, and the increasing visibility o sexual and gender minorities in society.Such trends, however, can be explainedwhen considering that a shiting socialclimate encouraging young people to‘come out’ at an earlier age has led to acorresponding need to regulate same-sexattraction or gender nonconormity.Homophobic bullying also operateson a psychological level. Individuals whoare assaulted or allegedly ‘faunting’same-sex aection, or instance, do notsimply have physical scars. As recentschool graduate James* recollects:“I did not want to stand out... I I heldhands with my boyriend, the otherswould give me a look, just a look, butthat was enough.” Young people likeJames are oten coerced into modiyingtheir behaviour in heterosexual socialenvironments, reusing any orm o contact in public spaces or ear o shameor intimidation.In general terms, homophobic bullyingcreates spaces where individuals areorced to manage how they expresstheir sexual identity. As a young Tamilteenager, my sexuality was not an isolatedpart o my identity. But my amily had noopenly gay or lesbian members. In act,the issue was never even mentioned. Ibegan to wonder i the term ‘gay’ evenexisted in Tamil. When ‘coming out’,then, I had to negotiate where my culturaland ethnic background sat in relation to
To Homophobia
Heterosexist andhomophobic languagecan cause long-termmental harm, asindividuals can internalisethe belief that their desireor sexuality is somehowodd, or even perverted.
my sexuality, especially as there was noculturally appropriate way (at least thatI was aware o at the time) to expressit. Unlike racially motivated orms o bullying or marginalisation, or example,I could not easily seek support romamily members who could empathise
 August 2011
“I did not want to standout... If I held handswith my boyfriend, theothers would give me alook, just a look, but thatwas enough.”
with the experience. Rather, being same-sexattracted, I was completely unaware o anyothers who shared my ‘unique’ position.The lack o support (including access toinormation and resources) is o particularconcern, as homophobic bullying erodes theintegrity o young people’s mental health.This oten includes depression and, ingrave circumstances, suicide. In quantiedterms, Suicide Prevention Australia broadlyestimates that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) youngpeople are between three-and-a-hal and14 times more likely to attempt suicidecompared with their heterosexual peers. In
Writing Themselves In 3
, o the participantswho reported that they had experienced verbal abuse, approximately 30 per centwere reported to have sel-harmed, with 16per cent having attempted suicide. Whatexacerbates these tragic circumstancesis that all these young people lackedpeer-support networks and adequatepastoral care.It is clear that the eects o homophobic victimisation also extend into adulthood.The Family Acceptance Project’s young-adult survey, conducted by San FranciscoState University this year, reported thatmany young adults aged 21 to 25 who werebullied in schools were at much greater risko sexual-health problems. Much o this wasdue to their being unable, or eeling unsae,to access inormation about same-sexrelationships, without ‘outing’ themselves. With this in mind, it is clear thathomophobia has no place in society. Myown desire or social justice has led me to anadvocacy role where I lobby or substantiveequality or gay men and lesbians and theiramilies. Our schools are just one reminderthat such equality has yet to be realised.In its recent consultation ondiscrimination aced by sexual and genderminorities, the Australian Human RightsCommission expressed concern thatapproximately 80 per cent o LGBTIstudents elt their school was eitherhomophobic or did not actively seek toaddress homophobic bullying.The Federal Government last yearreleased the National Sae SchoolsFramework, which emphasised theneed or clear and accountable policiesin promoting student wellbeing. Whilea number o schools and some State-based departments o education havehad disparate programs or policies onhomophobic bullying, they have lackeda holistic and comprehensive approach.Primarily, Australian curriculums attemptto engage with the issue o same-sexattraction in the context o sexual health,usually in personal development, healthand physical-education subject modules.However, policy responses to theaorementioned problems are improving. Victoria and NSW recently introducedthe Sae Schools Coalition and the ProudSchools program respectively, to specicallyaddress homophobia in schools. AndrewBarr, ACT Minister or Education, alsorecently announced the development o training modules to promote targetededucational-policy initiatives addressingsome o these concerns. Other Stateand Territory jurisdictions have yet toimplement comprehensive policy measuresto address homophobic bullying specically,although the Pride and Prejudice program,which was pioneered by anti-homophobiacampaigner Daniel Witthaus and whichhas goals in line with the State initiativesmentioned above, has been supported bythe Tasmanian Government. While the programs introduced by Victoria, NSW and the ACT are largelyin their inancy, the dierent projects
continued on page 24
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