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HBT language.

Unacceptable language

Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) language is, unfortunately, commonplace in schools and other education settings.

Ninety-six per cent of gay pupils hear homophobic remarks, such as as ‘poof’, ‘lezza’, ‘tranny’ or ‘bender’ used in school. Almost all (99%) of young people have heard the word ‘gay’ used as an insult or to describe something negative. The term 'it's so gay' is often used to describe something as uncool, bad or wrong. The young people using this language may not realise what they’re saying is offensive or consider it HBT language. Often, it is ignored or dismissed as ‘banter’. This is completely unacceptable.

Research shows that HBT language is distressing and damaging to young people, particularly those who are coming to terms with their sexual or gender identity. A young person who hears ‘gay’ used to mean something negative is highly likely to assume that being gay is wrong. It can also be a form of bullying or harassment.

Challenging HBT language

We advise that schools challenge all HBT language. There should be clear and consistent consequences for students who use this language. This should be in line with how you would respond to a similar use of other derogatory language – for example, a racist comment.

It’s important to help young people understand why HBT language is unacceptable. Some will use terms such as ‘that’s so gay’ without making a connection to the gay community and the fact that this could be offensive.

When challenging this kind of language, it is good practice to explore with the young person what they have said and how it might hurt someone’s feelings.

  • Ask them if they know the real meaning of the word they have used, as they may not.
  • If they don’t know, explain the meaning to them, and help them understand why it can be offensive to use the word in that way.
  • If they do know, explore with them why the word they have used is offensive and how it could be hurtful. For example, if a young person has used the word ‘gay’ in a negative way, you could explain to them how a person who identifies as gay could feel upset or unsafe if they constantly hear the word used in that way.
  • Remind the young person that HBT language is unacceptable and that the school will not tolerate it.

As well as directly challenging HBT language, you can address this issue more widely through short assemblies, as well as posters or leaflets around school.

You could ask students to create their own posters, or have a competition within your school to involve students in how to respond to the issue. That way, they will learn that everyone has a responsibility to speak up and say it’s not okay.

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