This week, we launch our annual report: Life in Dumfries and Galloway for LGBT young people. Since 2015, LGBT Youth Scotland in Dumfries and Galloway have carried out an annual survey to understand more about how young people perceive the experiences of the LGBT young people living in the region. 371 young people, from every secondary school in D&G, participated in the study.
The survey showed that many more young people were out at school, home and in the community than ever before in D&G. However, 17% of respondents told us they had to keep their gender identity or sexual orientation a secret to avoid negative consequences, with 10% not out to anyone. We know that hiding one’s identity can have a negative effect on mental health, so it is important that young people get information and support around coming out. Fear of negative reactions and bullying are common reasons for young people not coming out, so it is important for schools, youth groups and the wider community to continue to improve awareness and directly tackle discrimination.
Two thirds of young people told us their school have a group for LGBT pupils and allies (a Gender & Sexual Orientation Alliance or GSA). Students who attend a GSA are more likely to report that they feel safe in school and are less likely to be absent. In early 2020, LGBT Youth Scotland, along with members of the D&G Council Time for Inclusive Education Steering Group, brought GSAs from across the region together for a networking event. Pupils and teachers indicated they would welcome further opportunities for connection. Covid-19 has made this impossible to do in person, but we plan to facilitate opportunities for groups to meet again in 2021.
This year’s survey shows that D&G teachers are including LGBT identities and themes in more subjects than ever before, with over half of the respondents saying their school do so. All state schools will be expected to teach LGBTI equality and inclusion by May 2021, so there is an opportunity for the D&G schools that are already integrating LGBT themes to share their experience and practice with schools that have yet to do so.
It is encouraging to see that, in the region’s youth groups, negative language towards the LGBT community continues to decline year on year. However, in schools, this year’s survey showed a substantial increase from 2019 in pupils experiencing or witnessing bullying. 81% of respondents had heard other pupils use negative language towards the LGBT community and less than half of respondents had heard this language challenged.
For many young people, bullying is not just experienced in school. The 2020 Online in Lockdown research carried out by the TIE (Time for Inclusive Education) campaign revealed that young people across Scotland witnessed an increase in online bullying during the period of lockdown, with particular prejudice around race, LGBT identity and body image. Teachers and youth workers across Dumfries & Galloway must be confident in challenging discriminatory language to ensure that all young people are safe, respected and included. Many pupils shared their experiences and provided comments which illustrate that, for many young people, Dumfries and Galloway is not perceived as an inclusive and positive place to grow up. The report provides recommendations for D&G Council and schools which can lead to improvements in the experiences of LGBT young people in the region.
Kerry Riddell, Partnership Manager South for LGBT Youth Scotland, said: “This research is so useful in helping us to understand the experiences of LGBT young people in Dumfries and Galloway and we’re grateful to the schools who participate. It’s encouraging to see that more schools in D&G are including LGBT identities as part of the school curriculum and setting up GSA groups. However, the responses from pupils tell us that much more needs to be done to challenge homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language. Bullying in school doesn’t just make life hard for a young person now but can have a negative impact on their life long mental health.”
“It’s vital that young people better understand the impact of prejudice-based bullying and for effective support to be available for those who experience it. LGBT Youth Scotland can provide training and support to teachers to develop confidence and skills to challenge negative language and provide a more inclusive curriculum and as a result, improve LGBT young peoples’ experience in D&G schools.”