Britain ‘more comfortable’ with homosexuality but two-thirds of gay students are bullied

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Britain has become substantially more comfortable with homosexuality in the last 20 years but homophobic bullying remains a problem for students.

According to a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, How Fair is Britain?, two-thirds of lesbian, gay and trans students have suffered homophobic bullying and 17 per cent have received death threats.

Almost half of secondary school teachers in England say that such bullying is common and only one in six believe their school is very active in promoting the rights of gay students.

The 700-page report said that attainment trends for LGBT young people were hard to measure but added that there were “signs that they are being penalised by unfair treatment and bullying in the education system, at school and beyond”.

In the workplace, the report said that LGBT people were twice as likely as other workers to report experiencing unfair treatment, discrimination, bullying or harassment at work.

However, the change in attitudes towards gay people was hailed as “emblematic” and the report’s authors pointed out that only 20 years separated Section 28, which banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools, and civil partnership legislation.

In 1994, nearly 70 per cent of those over the age of 55 and more than a third of young people said same-sex couples “are always wrong”.

But by 2008, just over 40 per cent of people over the age of 55 responded in the same way. Just 15 per cent of young people agreed.

Most people are now comfortable with or neutral about homosexuality in public life. Eighty-seven per cent said they would feel comfortable or neutral if their MP was gay and 73 per cent said they would feel the same way if their child’s teacher was gay.

The report also said that although most minorities were under-represented in parliament, lesbian, gay and bisexual people were more likely to take part in other forms of political or civic activity and are more likely to feel able to influence local decisions.

In other findings, the report said that there were “five great gateways” to equal opportunities – well-being, education, work, security and voice in society – and estimated that millions of people could be better off if these barriers are lifted.

In education, poor white boys were the worst performing group above traveller/Gypsy children. Chinese girls were found to have the highest levels of attainment. At GCSE level, students of Chinese and Indian origin do the best.

In health, the poorest can expect to live seven years less than the richest. Girls can expect to live until their ninth decades. Men’s life expectancy remains slightly lower than women’s but this gap is slowly closing.

EHRC chief executive Trevor Phillips said: “This review holds up the mirror to fairness in Britain. It is the most complete picture of its kind ever compiled.

“It shows that we are a people who have moved light years in our attitudes to all kinds of human difference, and in our desire to be a truly fair society – but that we are still a country where our achievements haven’t yet caught up with our aspirations.”