We must tackle the culture of bullying and intimidation of LGBTIQ people in schools

I believe that we have a lot to learn from the experience of other countries when dealing with similar issues

We must tackle this culture of bullying, intimidation and fear. There is zero tolerance towards it
We must tackle this culture of bullying, intimidation and fear. There is zero tolerance towards it

A recent study by the Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement has shed some light on the pain and suffering of young LGBTIQ  people in our education system.

I think this is a reality that still lives a bit in the shadows, and not enough has been done to tackle it. I do not think this is an issue relating to public, church or independent schools but it is one that has wider ramifications.

The first step of dealing with a problem is acknowledging it. It is crucial that young people feel safe in schools. It is pointless talking about education standards, curricula and all the things associated with education if we don’t have the basics right, and safety and comfort are the essentials. The study goes beyong LGBTIQ issues, but talks about the systematic issues in the educational institutions. The issues are wider. While 50% say that sexual orientation is one of the reasons why they felt unsafe, there’s 30% who also mention body size or weight.

We must tackle this culture of bullying, intimidation and fear. There is zero tolerance towards it. Perhaps the most shocking part of it all is how we have rationalised certain behaviour, such as sexual harassment, and allowed a situation where people who are being harassed almost have nowhere to turn to. Can we seriously just move along after reading this? What if it was our son or our daughter?

Introducing legislation against LGBTIQ abuse and introducing civil rights are all steps that are welcome. I have worked all my political life, and before, to see some of the things being introduced in law over the past years. However culture change is a much trickier problem. A simple law does not suffice, and this is where the battleground really lies. In many ways the safety concerns being raised by students in the report are on the same wavelength as those by raised by educators, underlining the fact that some changes need to be institutionalised.

This is a challenge we must address. The fact that we’re talking about young people, still in school, means the responsibility is even greater. Abuse at any age is wrong. But when young people face abuse it can be much more difficult to deal with it. Sexual harassment, intimidation, bullying and violence have no place in our society, let alone in our schools where young people should be focussing on finding their path and grow.

It is pointless talking about early school leaving, absenteeism, student engagements, academic achievement and a sense of belonging in education if we don’t have basic rights.

So, what are the next steps? I believe that we have a lot to learn from the experience of other countries when dealing with similar issues.

This doesn’t mean copying exactly what they’ve done, as the culture and the local scenario may be different. The nine recommendations in the report are a very good base. There is a lot to do and there is a lot to learn. Each and every one of us, including myself, have the responsibility to fight off the ignorance and wrongdoing. This means both in policy-making offices and in classrooms. We have to do better, because we are better than this.

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