We didn't know but we should have - bullying in school

We Didn’t Know About the Bullying But We Should Have

Homophobic bullying is rampant in most schools leading to suicide and a range of other tragic outcomes. How might we make our schools safe for all – and – what would leadership of a Safe School sound like?

Trigger warning: This post discusses suicide and homophobic bullying.

This is a really hard post to write. Thoughts and memories have been running through my mind, stopping me from sleeping. Now though I have to let them be free.

Suicide as a thought, an issue, an awareness – has always been close to me as a gay man. 

To this day I’m still not sure how I got here – given the life I experienced at a number of homophobic schools in rural Victoria.

As I got older, I came to know more and more queer people and it seemed nearly everyone had been touched by suicide:

  • having lost a loved one or a friend, or contemplated or tried it themselves.

Nowadays, the utterly tragic loss of LGBTIQ lives continues.

AND YET in so many ways, little seems to have changed in schools.

The place where LGBTIQ young people feel the most unsafe – is school – according to successive Australian research reports dating back to 1998. 

Take that in for a moment. School – the place where young LGBTIQ people are compelled to attend – is where they feel most unsafe.


There’s much more support nowadays for LGBTIQ people (in terms of programs and initiatives) across Australia.

Support for Marriage Equality is high. 

In my state, we have a Premier (Daniel Andrews) and a government that supports the Safe Schools Program and LGBTIQ communities.

AND – we have some institutional support within the education department.

I’d hoped that this shift towards acceptance and support – would start to impact on our schools.

I was hoping to hear some good news on this front – when I had the opportunity to talk to Roz Ward from the Safe Schools Coalition.

Had the situation changed in schools? Did LGBTIQ young people now feel more safe in school?

The answer – NO.

School continues to be the most unsafe place for LGBTIQ young people.

The positive?  

  • A greater number of LGBTIQ young people feel more positive about their sexualities and gender identities;
  • A greater number feel that they have a right to feel safe at school; AND
  • LGBTIQ young people along with their friends are generally the ones driving change in schools.

That is, young people are making their schools safer for LGBTIQ people because their teachers and education leaders (for the most part) aren’t.

Take that in – LGBTIQ young people and their friends are stepping up while the adults in their schools are stepping back. 

  • Perhaps they’re looking the other way, perhaps they’re claiming it isn’t an issue in their school, perhaps they’re anti-LGBTIQ. 

Now I do recognise that there are wonderfully supportive teachers and leaders who are standing by their LGBTIQ students (and families) but unfortunately this is still on a small scale.

  • The overwhelming majority of educators however, aren’t stepping up for LGBTIQ young people or their families. 

SO I’ve been shuffling these disturbing bits and pieces, trying to find a way through –

when we learnt of the suicide of a young indigenous boy in Queensland, Australia – due to constant bullying inside and outside school (see related articles below).

The school principal’s response could be summed up as, we didn’t know about the bullying:

In relation to bullying, let me be very clear: no allegation of bullying against this young person was made to our school. Neither the school nor his family ever came to us to say there was a problem of any kind. If they did, we absolutely would have stepped in.” (SBS Report)

And this school leader’s response highlights some of the problem we’re dealing with – in terms of making schools safer for LGBTIQ young people.  

Unless schools and their educators show through their everyday words, actions, and/or programs that:

  • Feeling safe and welcome at school is a priority for all their students – including those who are LGBTIQ;
  • LGBTIQ people, their lives and experiences, have worth and value;
  • That silence, erasure, and moralising about LGBTIQ people, their lives and experiences is absolutely inexcusable: potentially costing or damaging LGBTIQ lives;
  • Young people can be LGBTIQ – and can be ‘out’ at school;
  • A lack of visible LGBTIQ young people in their school is a sign of homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia within their school community;
  • Homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia – from any member of the school community is completely unacceptable; 
  • So-called ‘neutrality’ is actually taking a position for the homophobic status quo in schools;


Who would dare to come out at school with all the risks this can entail – let alone speak up about the abuse they’re copping to their teachers or education leaders.

I realise that fears of legal action are probably impacting on the words being spoken by the principal.

But just imagine the difference if the school principal had actually said:

We didn’t know about the brutal abuse suffered by …..BUT we absolutely should have.

That lack of knowledge is an indictment on us as a school community – and it’s cost us the precious life of our student.

We can’t continue on – business as usual – we must change the homophobic culture in our school community. 

So we’re talking to the Safe Schools Coalition – to see what actions we can take to make our school safe for all our children.

So that every child, no matter their sexuality or gender identity, feels comfortable being themselves at our school,

– AND has no hesitation in reporting physical and verbal abuse to us because they know we’ll take action. 

Now THAT would be community-driven SCHOOL LEADERSHIP.

And it would not only help save LGBTIQ young people’s lives.

It would show LGBTIQ young people that there’s a future for them – filled with acceptance, love, support and opportunities.

We stand with our LGBTIQ students - bullying in school

LGBTIQ Resources for Educators

Check out my LGBTI Resource Page

Inspiring Educators Who Push The Edge for Justice

I host a podcast called Pushing The Edge with Greg Curran where I chat to educators are driven by their concerns for social justice. Listen in ITUNES or your favourite podcast app.  Pushing The Edge with Greg Curran

Bullying-related Research

Bullying-related Articles

LGBTIQ Support Services





We didn't know but we should have - homophobic bullying in school