LGBTQ+ task force launched as scale of bullying at school is revealed

A Theirworld poll for Pride Month shows how many LGBTQ+ youth feel unsafe – but our new global youth task force will campaign for safer schools.

Schools should be safe and tolerant places for young people to learn – regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Sadly, that’s not always the reality.

To mark Pride Month in June, Theirworld is reinforcing our support for safe and inclusive education for LGBTQ+ children and youth.

A new survey for Theirworld has revealed the shocking extent of bullying and discrimination that young LGBTQ+ people face at school and university. And we have launched a global youth task force on safe schools and learning opportunities for LGBTQ+ youth.

The poll, by global research company YouGov, of more than 500 LGBTQ+ youth aged 16 to 24 in the United Kingdom spotlighted many of the challenges.

  • Almost half of those surveyed (47%) said they have been bullied and/or discriminated against at school or university because of their sexual orientation.
  • One in four (25%) said they were singled out due to their gender identity.
  • Half of those who experienced bullying or discrimination (49%) never reported it. Of those who did report it to staff, 72% said they responded badly.
  • One in four (27%) said they felt or currently feel unsafe at secondary school.

The young LGBTQ+ people surveyed recounted harrowing experiences of being locked in toilets, punched, kicked, verbally and sexually abused, and even driven to suicidal thoughts.

"In-person harassment, physical punching and pushing, discrimination against my disability (I’m autistic) and my gender identity.”

Survey respondent describes their experience at school.

One student said: “I was regularly beaten up, I was stalked home, I was spat on. I was sexually assaulted.”

Nirvana Yarger, 26, a primary school teacher from London and a Global Youth Ambassador for Theirworld who identifies as queer, said the research showed a worrying regression in attitudes towards LGBTQ+ young people.

She added: “I was a classroom teacher from 2020 to 2022 and felt there was a more inclusive atmosphere towards being an LGBTQ+ member in schools. I’m now married to a woman and, if I were still teaching in a school, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable telling the children, whereas, back then, I would have.

“If an adult teacher feels that it is unsafe in 2024 to have their sexual orientation known, I can’t imagine how much worse it must be for our young people.”

Theirworld President Justin van Fleet said: “Education is the most powerful weapon we have to create more tolerant, safe and equal societies where everyone can participate and reach their full potential.

“All young people deserve a safe place to learn, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. However, LGBTQ+ youth face higher rates of bullying and discrimination than their peers in schools around the world.

“To mark Pride Month, we have launched a global youth task force on safe schools for LGBTQ+ youth. The task force will focus on issues of safe campaigning in challenging contexts and allow LGBTQ+ youth leaders and their allies to have a powerful platform and network to advocate for more inclusive education policies in communities around the world.”

The task force builds on Theirworld’s previous work on this issue. Our report Safe Schools: The Hidden Crisis called for sustained efforts to reduce the victimisation of marginalised groups. Our free online hub The Key also includes activist resources on Education and the LGBTQ+ Community.

Meanwhile, Justin van Fleet has been named on PoliticsNY’s LGBTQ+ Power Players list, which honours members of the LGBTQ+ community in public service, education and advocacy, nonprofit and community development, or corporate industry.