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5. ABUSIVE OR OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE

Biphobic
Homophobic
Sexist
Transphobic

Q1 My teacher, who is a devout Catholic, told our class during Religious Education that being gay is a sin. She went on to say that I will burn in hell. When I said I would make a complaint she said I couldn’t because her belief was based on her faith so it was ok. Is this true? 

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Q2 Everyone at my school says “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” when they mean something is crap. When I asked my teacher why she never tells people off she said it wasn’t hurting anybody and that I should lighten up. What can I do?

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Q3 I'm trans and I get called names like ‘he-she’ - they even have a song going.  I asked my teacher to intervene but she said they're not saying anything offensive unless they use racist or homophobic terms like “faggot” or “paki”.  Is this right?

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Q4 My dad gave birth to me before he had his gender reassignment surgery. My teacher insists on calling him my mother and I have overheard staff saying that I am part of a same sex family. I am not. What can I do?

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Q5 My teacher told me to stop being a “big girl’s blouse.” What can I do?

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Q6 There is graffiti all over the boys’ toilets. Most of it is stuff like “Graham f**ks arse” and “Ben is a poofter”. Shouldn’t the school remove this?

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Q7 I have two mums. My non-biological mum has adopted me. My teacher knows they both have legal responsibility for me but she keeps asking me which one is my “real” mum. What can I do?

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Q8 When asked about my sexual orientation I referred to myself as queer and I got punished.  Surely that's wrong? 

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Q9 Boys in my class are always going on about how big their cocks are - the general idea is that you’re a man if you have a big one and get it into as many snatches as possible. What can I do?

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Q10 People in my class make jokes and inappropriate comments about our female P.E. teacher saying she’s a lesbian. Can I challenge this?

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Q11 People go round my school quite openly calling girls slags, bitches and ho’s. The teachers hear them but hardly ever say anything. Can anything be done about this?

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Q12 In French we had to write a paragraph about our significant others. I'm a girl and I wrote about my girlfriend.  When I got the essay back all my “elles” had been crossed out and replaced with “ils” as a correction.  How do I handle this?

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Q13 A teacher recently told me and my group of male friends to break up our “mothers’ meeting.” I feel angry but don’t know what action to take.

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A1

This is an unclear area and the response may vary depending upon whether or not you attend a faith school. Non-denominational maintained schools (comprehensives) and voluntary controlled denominational schools (faith schools) teach Religious Education (RE) according to the locally agreed syllabus and voluntary aided schools teach RE according to the beliefs of their faith. 

 

  1. Unfortunately, your teacher can make this statement quite legally under the Human Rights Act [1998] (Article 9, freedom of religion and belief). She could also draw on Article 10 which allows for freedom of expression. However, these are both qualified rights which means that she cannot say it if it interferes with the protection of the rights and freedoms of other people, such as you, and your classmates.

  2. Your rights under the Human Rights Act [1998] that such a statement interferes with include:
    • Your right to not be subjected to degrading treatment (Article 3)
    • Your right to a private life which includes the right to chose your sexual identity (Article 8)
    • Your right to not be subjected to abusive or insulting language (Article 10)
    • Your right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of your sexual orientation (Article 14).
    • Protocol 1, Article 2 could also be used which says that all children and young people have the right to an effective education where teachers facilitate the “transmission of knowledge and intellectual development.” If this is the only position your teacher is providing on homosexuality she is not allowing you, or the wider class, access to all the facts so that you can each make an informed personal decision about whether being gay is a sin. Print out a paper copy of the Act and highlight each of these Articles. Show this to your teacher. If this is unsuccessful see How to bring About Change.
  3. Some religions and cultures do believe that being gay is wrong. However, no religion or culture believes bullying (which includes homophobic, sexist and transphobic bullying) is ever acceptable. All schools, including faith schools, recognize that respect and dignity are important values. Bullying that is justified on religious grounds is frequently based on a misunderstanding of religious teachings.

  4. Whether or not your teacher is religious, and regardless of whether or not this incident occurred during an RE lesson, makes little difference. Unfortunately, she can make this statement quite legally. The subject must be dealt with appropriately in accordance with existing DCSF guidance (Safe to Learn, 2007). Haranguing or harassing you is not an acceptable way to convey a belief within an educational context, and this behaviour could constitute unlawful discrimination.

  5. Safe to Learn states clearly that bullying behaviour is totally different to religious belief. It also says that anyone (including your teacher) can hold any view they wish but that it is always unacceptable to express views that degrade or belittle others. Homophobic bullying is unacceptable in any context.

  6. Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) you should be protected from any activities that could harm your development (Article 36). Having a teacher tell you that you will  burn in hell may well harm your development. Equally, Article 16 of the UNCRC calls for the protection of your good name. Schools have a duty to uphold all of your rights. 
  7. Under the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document 2006 (STPCD) your teacher is supposed to promote the general progress and well-being of all her pupils, including you. She is also supposed to ensure that you are free from bullying and harassment. It is therefore particularly unacceptable that she should then be the bully.

  8. The Education Act [1996] requires schools to take all “reasonably practicable steps” to make sure that where controversial issues (such as being gay and being Catholic) are brought to pupils’ attention a balanced presentation of opposing views is offered – so whilst it may be little comfort to you your teacher should have added “but not all Catholics think this”.

  9. You might like to point out to your teacher that a report conducted by Stonewall (Living Together, 2007) found that the majority of “people of faith” support laws to protect the rights of lesbians and gay men, and want to see anti-gay discrimination tackled. 84% of religious people disagree with the statement, “homosexuality is morally unacceptable in all circumstances”.

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A2

You can tell your teacher that it does hurt people, particularly those who are LGBTQ or have friends or family who are. This phrase is particularly hurtful since it is often the only context where the word gay is used.

  1. Failure to challenge homophobia means that your school is in breach of The Gender Equality Duty [2007] since it reinforces homophobic attitudes.

  2. The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation Regulations) [2007] states that everybody has a right to an education, regardless of their sexual orientation. Using the term gay in a derogatory or abusive manner demeans everyone, and can be particularly damaging for LGBTQ students. Seven out of ten gay pupils who experience homophobic bullying (which can include verbal abuse) state that this has had an impact on their school work according to The School Report.

  3. Under government guidance known as Youth Matters [2005] and Every Child Matters [2003] all pupils have the right to enjoy school, to be safe, to be healthy, to make a valuable contribution and to achieve. These aims become far harder, and in places, become impossible for those pupils who are, or care for people who are, LGBTQ if such attitudes go unchallenged. For example, a pupil who is gay is unlikely to feel safe about being out when they hear the term gay used in this manner.

  4. If your school has, or is seeking, Healthy School status this attitude is incompatible. If you feel your teacher continues to be dismissive after you have highlighted the above arguments speak to their superior.

  5. Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) education is intended to develop the personality and talents of all children and young people (Article 29). By allowing the word gay to be used in this way it is very difficult for any LGBTQ student to be fully themselves. Your school has a duty to protect human rights.
  6. Under the Human Rights Act [1998] everyone has the right to freedom of expression (Article 10). However, where language that is insulting or offensive to a group of people is used this right may be restricted. Schools use this argument to challenge all racist language. Ask your teacher/school to do the same for homophobic language. Article 14 of the Human Rights Act [1998] also allows for freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Print out a paper copy of the Act and highlight each of these Articles. Show this to your head teacher. If this is unsuccessful see How to bring About Change.

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A3

No, it is not. The term and song are clearly intended as an insult and are upsetting you.

  1. Under The Gender Equality Duty [2007] your school has a legal obligation to fulfill where your teachers should be actively promoting inclusion for children and young people who do not fit gender stereotypes (whatever their sexual orientation). Name calling and invented songs single your gender identity out and imply that it is inferior. It is not. You teacher must stop this.

  2. Explain to your teacher that the phrase “he-she” is discriminatory and abusive. Whilst it may not be racist or homophobic it is transphobic. No one form of discrimination is any more acceptable than another. Under the Human Rights Act [1998] everyone is entitled to express their views freely (Article 10). However, offensive language that is insulting to a particular group would be an example of where this right can be restricted. This is why teachers are able to come down hard on racist language. Encourage your teacher to use the same argument for dealing with transphobic language. Article 14 of the Human Rights Act [1998] also allows for freedom from discrimination on the grounds of gender and “any other status” – this could include your trans identity. Print out a paper copy of the Act and highlight each of these Articles. Show this to your head teacher. If this is unsuccessful see How to bring About Change.

  3. The national framework for PSHE should underpin individual schools’ equal opportunity policies by providing a context for pupils to learn the effects of stereotyping and discrimination, and give pupils the skills to challenge the prejudice of others assertively.

  4. Under government guidance known as Youth Matters [2005] and Every Child Matters [2003] all pupils have the right to enjoy school. It is very hard to enjoy school if you are not recognized, or if you fail to see images or hear of people that look similar to you. Your school should invest in books for the library that include trans people, mention trans lives wherever possible, display posters depicting trans people around school and advertise and allow access to trans supportive web-sites on the school premises. This is backed up with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which says that education should develop all children an young people’s personality and talents to the full (Article 29). It also says that you should be protected from activities that harm your development (Article 37).

  5. If your school has, or is seeking, Healthy School status this may need reviewing if your school fails to act in this way since your emotional health and well being are not being taken seriously.

  6. Under The School Inspections Act [1996] Ofsted is required to examine how far the education your school offers meets the needs of all of its pupils. If you feel your needs are not being met point this out, anonymously if need be.

  7. The Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL), that the government is keen to roll out to all secondary schools, calls on teachers to ensure inclusion by using materials that show positive images of gender and sexual orientation.

  8. You may wish to look at LGBT History Month for some resources to show your teacher or the lesson plans on the Schools Out site.

  9. This web-site may be useful for your teacher as it talks of ways to deal with transphobic bullying - www.gires.org.uk

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A4

Tell your teacher that you find his or her language offensive and disrespectful because it fails to recognize your family.

  1. Under Ofsted guidance (Sex and Relationships, 2002) teachers are supposed to give positive information about LGBTQ families. This would include the fact that some babies are born to parents who identify as LGBTQ at different stages in their lives. This may be before, during or after the birth of their child, but that they are just as capable of parenting as their heterosexual peers.

  2. Under government guidance known as Youth Matters [2005] and Every Child Matters [2003] all pupils have the right to enjoy school. It is very hard to enjoy school if you or your family is not recognized, or if you fail to see images or hear of families that look similar to yours. Your school should invest in books for the library that include trans people, mention trans lives wherever possible, display posters depicting trans people around school and advertise and allow access to trans supportive web-sites on the school premises.

  3. If your school has, or is seeking, Healthy School status this may need reviewing if your school fails to act in this way since your emotional health and well being are not being taken seriously.

  4. If your father has a full Gender Recognition Certificate and this teacher refers to him as a woman you father has a case for Sexual Discrimination under the Gender Recognition Act [2004].

  5. Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) you have the right to privacy and protection from attacks against your family (Article 16).  Equally, under the Human Rights Act [1998] you have the right to respect for your private and family life (Article 8). This teacher is being disrespectful. Article 14 also gives you freedom from discrimination on the grounds of birth. Print out a paper copy of the Act and highlight each of these Articles. Show this to your head teacher. If this is unsuccessful see How to bring About Change.

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A5

Tell your teacher that you find his or her language offensive.               

  1. The term is clearly meant as an insult and as such is sexist because it uses femininity in a derogatory way. Under the Human Rights Act [1998] everyone is entitled to express their views freely (Article 10). However, offensive language that is insulting to a particular group would be an example of where this right can be restricted. This is why teachers are able to come down hard on racist language. Encourage your teacher to use the same argument for dealing with sexist language.

  2. The term may also be intended to be homophobic or transphobic (depending on your real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity).

  3. Suggest to your teacher that the phrase “big girl’s blouse” is a gender stereotype. Regardless of who this is aimed at it is inappropriate.

  4. The national framework for PSHE should underpin individual schools’ equal opportunity policies by providing a context for pupils to learn the effects of stereotyping and discrimination, and give pupils the skills to challenge the prejudice of others assertively.

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A6

Yes the school should remove this immediately as a visible sign that such language (not to mention vandalism) will not be tolerated.

  1. Under government guidance known as Youth Matters [2005] and Every Child Matters [2003] all pupils have the right to be safe. Where such graffiti is left visible many pupils (regardless of sexual orientation) may feel unsafe.

  2. The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation Regulations) [2007] says that all students have the right to an education regardless of their sexual orientation. Where a student does not feel safe their education is likely to suffer.

  3. If your school has, or is seeking, Healthy School status, failure to immediately remove such graffiti is incompatible.

  4. Government guidance known as Safe to Learn, 2007 also calls for the fast removal of homophobic graffiti.

  5. Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) you have the right to a “clean environment so that you can stay healthy” (Article 24). Failure to remove such grafitti makes this difficult. Equally, Article 29 of the UNCRC says that education is intended to develop the personality and talents of all children and young people. By allowing such vandalism to be visible it is very difficult for any LGBTQ student in particular, but also those who may have friends or family who identify as LGBTQ, to be fully themselves. Article 19 ensures that children and young people are properly cared for and protected from abuse. Your school has a duty to protect human rights.

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A7

It is inappropriate and may be illegal for your teacher to ask you this question.

  1. Under The Human Rights Act [1998] you can demand the right to respect for your private and family life (Article 3). Effectively asking which parent gave birth to you is an invasion of your rights. This is backed up in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and Article 16.

  2. If your non-biological parent has adopted you your school has a legal obligation to treat them exactly as they would a biological parent. This includes not asking if they are a “real” parent.

  3. If your non-biological parent holds Parental Responsibility for you your school has a legal obligation to treat them exactly as they would a step parent. This includes not asking if they are a “real” parent.

  4. Point out to your teacher that such a belief is based on the stereotype that all families are headed by one man and one woman and that any other family structure is weird or inferior. This is not true. The national framework for PSHE should underpin individual schools’ equal opportunity policies by providing a context for pupils to learn the effects of stereotyping and discrimination, and give pupils the skills to challenge the prejudice of others assertively.

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A8

Yes it is. You are entitled to identify your sexual orientation any way you like (including not at all).

Your teacher may have felt, mistakenly, that you were being homophobic since the term queer has a long homophobic history. Explain that this was not your intention. Feel free to direct your teacher to the definition of queer in this toolkit.

  1. Under the Human Rights Act [1998] you have the right to choose your sexual identity in any way you like (Article 8). However, your teacher might argue that this only applies in your private life and not while you are at school. Article 14 gives you freedom from discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexual orientation. (Article 14 can only be used in a court of law if you think that other breaches of your human rights have occurred as well – i.e. you need at least two Articles to have a claim).

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A9

Inform your teacher about what is going on. Make it clear that you are unhappy with the situation. Such statements are sexist, homophobic and transphobic.               

  1. It is sexist because it assumes that heterosexual sexual relationships are based exclusively around vaginal penetration initiated by a man. Referring to a vagina as a snatch is deeply disrespectful to women and ignores female sexuality, and possibly, issues of consent.

  2. It is homophobic since it assumes being a man is centred around having sex with women. This has the potential to leave those men who are bisexual, gay or not sexually active feeling lesser as people, or under pressure to conform to this type of behaviour. (NB. Research has shown that the average age for first having sex is 16 for boys and 17 for girls).

  3. It is transphobic since it assumes being a man is about having a penis. Not all men have a penis and this does not make them lesser as men. Gender is based on identity and is not necessarily defined by your genitals.

  4. The Gender Equality Duty [2007], which your school has a legal obligation to fulfil, promotes the inclusion of children and young people who do not fit gender stereotypes regardless of sexual orientation.

  5. The School Inspections Act [1996] requires Ofsted to evaluate the quality of the education provided in your school. Failure to challenge why such attitudes can be damaging affects the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of all pupils.

  6. For all of the reasons laid out in points 1-3 this type of attitude can impact on the well being of all students (regardless of gender). Under government guidance known as Youth Matters [2005] and Every Child Matters [2003] all pupils have the right to enjoy school, to be safe, to be healthy and to make a valuable contribution. These aims become an impossibility if such attitudes go unchallenged.

  7. If your school has, or is seeking, Healthy School status, such attitudes are incompatible. Point out to your teacher that this attitude relies on a sexist, homophobic, transphobic stereotype that men with (bigger) penises have women queuing up to have sex with them.

  8. The national framework for PSHE should underpin individual schools’ equal opportunity policies by providing a context for pupils to learn the effects of stereotyping and discrimination, and give pupils the skills to challenge the prejudice of others assertively.

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A10

Yes you can. Whether or not your teacher is a lesbian is not the issue here. Homophobic remarks are always unacceptable.

  1. Safe to Learn, 2007 states clearly that homophobic behaviour that degrades or belittles others is unacceptable in any context.

  2. Your teacher has protection under The Equality Act [2007] and could take your school to court if she wished if such remarks are not stopped. You could point this out to her. She does not need to identify as lesbian.

  3. Under The Human Rights Act [1998] your teacher also has the right to respect for her private and family life whatever her sexual orientation, and freedom from discrimination

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A11

Yes. Your teachers should never allow such language to go unchallenged in their presence. If you feel your teacher is not responding speak to their superior.

  1. Failure to challenge such language is a breach of the Sex Discrimination Act [1975].

  2. Under the Human Rights Act [1998] everyone is entitled to express their views freely (Article 10). However, where language is offensive or insulting to one group of people this right can be restricted. Schools use this reasoning for not tolerating racist language. Ask you teachers to do the same with sexist language.
  3. Article 14 of the Human Rights Act [1998] also allows freedom from discrimination on the grounds of gender. Print out a paper copy of the Act and highlight each of these Articles. Show this to your head teacher. If this is unsuccessful see How to bring About Change.

  4. Failure to challenge such language makes achieving (or maintaining) Healthy School Status an impossibility.

  5. Under government guidance known as Youth Matters [2005] and Every Child Matters [2003] all pupils have the right to be healthy, to enjoy school, to feel valued and to be safe. Failure to challenge such language will make many pupils (regardless of gender) feel unsafe which makes enjoying school far harder. It sets a harmful tone within a school which may result in some pupils being targeted for more extreme forms of sexist abuse such as rape or other forms of physical violence, as well as coercing other pupils into engaging in particular forms of behaviour that may be harmful to their well being.

  6. The School Inspections Act [1996] requires Ofsted to evaluate the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of all pupils, as well as what type of contribution your school is making to the general well-being of its students. Such language is incompatible with fostering a culture of caring, respect, and equality. As such, it stops pupils from achieving their full potential.

  7. Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) all children and young people have the right to be protected from abuse (Article 19). By allowing terms such as slag to go unchallenged your school is failing in its duty to protect human rights.

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A12

Speak to your teacher and explain that your significant other is indeed another girl. Ask that your teacher looks at your work again to see whether you did it correctly. If your teacher is dismissive of your relationship you are entitled to complain that your teacher is being homophobic.

  1. Attitudes of this kind are unacceptable within all members of the school community, staff included. If your school has, or is seeking, Healthy School status, this behaviour is incompatible. If you feel your teacher continues to be dismissive after you have highlighted the above arguments speak to their superior.

  2. Your school has a legal obligation to challenge homophobia under The Gender Equality Duty [2007].

  3. Under government guidance known as Youth Matters [2005] and Every Child Matters [2003] all pupils have the right to enjoy school, to make a valuable contribution and to achieve. Your chances of doing this in French will be far harder, if not impossible, if your teacher’s homophobia goes unchallenged.

  4. Article 14 of the Human Rights Act [1998] allows freedom from discrimination on the grounds of gender and sexual orientation. You could also try arguing that your Article 10 right to free expression has been breached. Highlight these two rights on a paper copy of the Act which you can download from the web and show it to your teacher in the first instance. If this is ineffective see How to Bring About Change.

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A13

Tell your teacher that you find his or her language offensive.            

  1. The term is clearly meant as an insult and as such is sexist. It also demeans the work of mothers. For both these reasons it could be challenged under the Sex Discrimination Act [1975].

  2. Under the Human Rights Act [1998] everyone is entitled to express their views freely (Article 10). However, offensive language that is insulting to a particular group would be an example of where this right can be restricted. This is why teachers are able to come down hard on racist language. Encourage your teacher to apply the same thinking and refuse to engage in sexist language.
  3. The term may also be intended to be homophobic or transphobic (depending on you and your friend’s sexual orientation or gender identity, real or perceived).

  4. Point out that you are free to associate with whoever you chose so long as you are not interfering with the rights of others. This is a human right - Article 15, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

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