South Yorkshire study: Gay students “told to change for PE separately”

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A study of approaches to LGBT students in Yorkshire by Sheffield Hallam University published today says some gay students are “being instructed to get changed for Physical Education (PE) away from other pupils”.

The report, Tackling Homophobia and Transphobia In Settings Supporting Young People, which is published to coincide with Anti-Bullying Week, interviewed students, teachers and youth workers about their experience in South Yorkshire.

Students at more than one school reported being instructed to change into and out of sports kit in “toilets and in other rooms located near to the regular changing facilities”.

The study says: “Perhaps not surprisingly, this made them feel singled out and excluded, and contributed to some not attending PE and/or school. When one group member had complained about this practice they had been told they were ‘causing a fuss’, whilst another in a different school was told it was for ‘their own safety’.”

Lead researcher Eleanor Formby, from the Centre for Education and Inclusion Research at Sheffield Hallam, said such behaviours could lead to homophobia becoming “normalised” by the time youngsters leave school.

She said: “I don’t think telling pupils who have ‘come out’ to get changed separately is official policy, but I fear that it may be routine practice in some schools and could lead to homophobia being normalised.”

One student said of agreeing to change separately: “At the end of the day it was partly my decision to do it coz’ I was scared of stuff that would get said or done.”

Formby added: “Staff often want to be able to tackle issues dealing with sexuality, but are often unaware of or unable to access training or resources that are on offer so they can deal with these issues appropriately and effectively.”

The study also highlights reports by some students of teachers making openly homophobic statements.

One student claimed a teacher told them: “If my son or my daughter was ever gay I’d take them into the back of my garden, tie them to the wall and shoot them with a shotgun.”

Formby said: “This study suggests that whilst many young people and staff strongly believe in equality for LGB groups, there is still a clear view among some that same-sex relationships are ‘different’, ‘unnatural’, ‘unfamiliar’ and therefore wrong”.

“It is concerning to me that young LGB people may still face these attitudes from both their peers and professionals who ostensibly should be working towards supporting and safeguarding their wellbeing.”

Earlier this month, a report on anti-bullying support for staff in Essex schools noted a student’s claim that one teacher had suggested they “act less gay” to avoid being bullied.

The South Yorkshire study recommends stronger senior management for LGBT awareness and support, the nomination of a school governor responsible for LGBT issues and an LGBT “champion” to promote them in the organisation.

The study’s data was drawn from:
• A self-completion questionnaire for young people, to which there were 146 responses from young people aged 13-21
• Eight in-depth group discussions with young people aged 11-20, involving 65 participants in total. Two of these took place within schools and six took place within youth work settings
• Nine in-depth interviews with professionals. Four of these were teachers and five were youth workers