Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teenagers say they face a barrage of bullying, threats and ridiculing whilst at schools across the Harrogate district.
In October, the county council published the ‘Growing Up in North Yorkshire’ which found that LGBT pupils were most likely to have been bullied at or near school in the last year.
And, at their fortnightly LGBT meeting in Harrogate, teenagers across the district confessed that daily persecution from classmates was still the norm at high schools.
The group, which meets in secret in Harrogate, raises awareness of the issues affecting the LGBT community as well as supporting one another as they battle persecution over their sexual identity.
Each teenager who attended the meeting, one as young as 13, said they had faced some sort of bullying after coming out with many turning to self harm.
One girl said: “I’m still getting bullied by the immature students. So far I’ve been told to go kill myself multiple times.
“At first it really got to me but now I don’t listen to them. I just want to get the grades I need and leave.”
A teenage boy said he is deliberately avoided by his fellow students and the teachers are powerless to intervene.
He said: “The children tell me to move on to the other side of the corridor to them and say they feel uncomfortable in the changing room because of me.
“A lot of the time when they bully me they think it’s just a joke but it’s not. It gets sorted for a week by teachers but then it starts all over again.
“They tell me they will handle it but they never do, they would rather ignore it because when it gets so bad they know they can’t do anything about it.”
Just under 20,000 pupils were surveyed for the report, with 1,195 (6 per cent) identifying themselves as LGBT, with 41 per cent of them enduring bullying in the past year.
Only 66 per cent of LGBT pupils rated their safety at school as ‘very good or good’ compared to 81 per cent of year 10 pupils with fears that this could impact their educational experience and levels of mental health problems.
County Councillor Val Arnold, chairman of the task group behind the report, said that the data revealed most young LGBT people feel their school life is affected ‘by hostility or fear’.
She said: “This survey showed that North Yorkshire has a significant number of young people in the LGBT community and more who are questioning their sexuality but unfortunately the data also clearly shows that their sexuality makes them a vulnerable group.
“Listening to the local LGBT groups you can vividly see the potential adverse impact of sexuality on individual outcomes.
“They describe in a similar way to the Growing Up in North Yorkshire survey, the negative impact on young people’s mental health through the use of undermining language and bullying behaviour. “
The detrimental impact of being constantly targeted and vilified on individual student’s success at school was highlighted by one member of the Harrogate group.
He said: “I ended up beating up the person who was bullying me. I got expelled because of it and, because I lost my temper so badly I started to kick the teacher which made things worse.
“So then I was home-school for half a year, finished in 2009 and went to college. It’s clear that as you get older people become more comfortable with you.
“In my group at college it was all adults who just accepted you because they’re grown up. But during high school there’s a lot more criticism that you face because they haven’t matured yet.”
MESMAC charity member Thomas Snape criticised the difficulty young people in Harrogate faced reporting these instances of hate crime to their schools or
In an October report published by North Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Julia Mulligan revealed hate crime was still prevalent in the LGBT community due to ‘years of persecution and intolerance’.
However, the report explained that the crime was still ‘widely under reported’ within the LGBT community and Mr Snape has called for a change in reporting
He said: “Part of the problem with this is that there is no formal mechanism to report a Hate Crime in a school or college environment.
“Schools and colleges need to be used as Hate Crime reporting centres so that young LGBT people have easy access to to report any homophobia that they suffer.
“Someone in the schools and colleges needs to be the go to person and it needs to be promoted in a supportive and positive way, so that pupils know there is someone who will listen and move things forward when necessary.”
Since it was created, more than 50 young people have attended meetings at the Harrogate group which is co-run by Mr Snape and Sarah King, part of the County Council’s Prevention team.
Ms King explained many of the teenagers found the group essential to help them cope with the stress of coming out in Harrogate whilst in a safe and accepting environment.
Despite the amount of young people who have attended the group, she admitted that Harrogate still had an ‘old fashioned attitude’ when it came to the LGBT community.
She said: “A lot of people need this group because when teenagers across the district come out they may feel like they are the only one and they need other people to talk to.
“In Harrogate, many people are still quite old fashioned. That’s why this group is here, it’s not necessarily to try and stick out, it’s so people can feel accepted coming in.
“However, some people in Harrogate find it difficult to accept that they are different because of their attitude. But people can come here for less than an hour and feel welcome.
“It’s nice for me because I see them change, people who were quiet come in and you can just watch them blossom. They come into their own.”
Although all the teenagers agreed with the importance of the group’s presence in Harrogate, many of them expressed their concerns that, because of their covert location, some people were still tackling their issues alone.
One teenage girl said: “It’s quite scary not knowing who to turn to. After I came out, I was looking around the area but the closest group I could find was one in Leeds.
“I didn’t know anyone else that was gay before coming here but when I found this group you start to feel like everyone else and we know that we are never alone here.
“We are there for each other but when it comes to bullies, they don’t realise the full extent of what they are saying and that it can lead to self harm.
“I have self harmed and when you read that 54 per cent of LGBT girls in North Yorkshire have as well then even just thinking about that is scary.”
Ms Arnold said she hopes the report will raise awareness of the issues faced by LGBT young people whilst guiding schools to take a more proactive approach in reducing bullying.
While she hopes the early age approach will reduce negative experiences, and allow them to fully participate in the local community, she admits there is still ‘much to be done’.