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UNE researcher documents homophobic bullying in WA schools

A research report by a lecturer at the University of New England has revealed a high level of homophobic bullying in Western Australian schools. Dr Tiffany Jones from UNE’s School of Education prepared the report, titled Discrimination and Bullying on the Grounds of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Western Australian Education, for the Western Australian Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC). It was launched last week by the Western Australian Equal Opportunity Commissioner Yvonne Henderson.

Among the report’s findings are that 82 per cent of sexuality-and-gender-diverse students in Western Australia do not classify their school as supportive of such diversity and 44 per cent consider their school to be actively homophobic, while 80 per cent of them attend a school with no protective policy against homophobia in place.

Dr Jones (pictured here) explained that wide-ranging consultation by the EOC in 2010 had identified a need to develop a policy to systematically address sexuality-and-gender-based bullying and discrimination in Western Australian schools as an urgent priority. A Steering Group and a Working Committee were established and, with the help of the EOC, they instituted the Challenging Sexuality Based Discrimination and Bullying in School Project.

“The purpose of this project is to develop a coordinated and coherent strategy across public and private schools to systematically address sexuality-and-gender-based bullying and discrimination experienced by students in schools,” Dr Jones said. “And as part of the project, the EOC asked me to research and prepare a report on the context for discrimination and bullying on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in Western Australian schools.”

Dr Jones reviewed the policies, programs and support mechanisms currently available in Western Australia, and compared the experiences of Western Australian students to those of students in other States using national statistical data and questioning students themselves.

“Discrimination and bullying were more pronounced in Western Australia than in States such as Victoria and NSW that have policies dealing specifically with homophobic bullying (rather than just general anti-bullying policies),” she said.

In her report she argued that, considering the established links between experiences of homophobia and increased risks of self-harm and suicide, Western Australia needed to take “a much stronger stance”.

Dr Jones has conducted postgraduate research on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, and has liaised with a range of government and non-government organisations about homophobic bullying in schools – including giving policy advice to bodies such as UNESCO.

The EOC report is available online here.

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