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I’m being harassed because of my sexual orientation or gender identity. What is homophobia and transphobia, and how can I make the harassment stop?

In a perfect world, people would accept each other for who they are. But the reality is that many people do not accept lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people because they are not educated about sexual orientation and gender identity or are uncomfortable with something they’re not used to. Unfortunately, this plays out in lots of places, including school. It can be called different things, including harassment and bullying.

Transphobia is the fear of, dislike of, or discrimination against transgender people and people thought to be transgender, regardless of their actual gender identity. Transphobia can lead to bias and even violence, which can make coming out as transgender even harder. Homophobia is the fear of, dislike of, or discrimination against people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual or thought to be lesbian, gay or bisexual. When this discrimination, fear and dislike is specifically directed at bisexual people or people thought to be bisexual, it’s called biphobia.

Students who experience harassment in school often feel very isolated and are afraid to tell anyone what’s happening. They may feel like they will be further harassed if they tell, or they may not want to tell people because it’s embarrassing. Some students stop going to school because they think it’s the only way to avoid the harassment. This can affect learning, grades and social relationships. That’s why it’s important to tell someone.

It’s never OK to harass another person. No one has the right to hurt another person, emotionally or physically. And no one should be discriminated against because of race, gender, age, physical or mental abilities, sexual orientation or any other part of their identity.

Here are some ways these phobias can have an impact on how people treat others:

  • Calling a guy a “fag”
  • Writing insults on the locker of a girl who is rumored to be bisexual
  • Pressuring or forcing a guy to have sex with a girl to prove he’s not gay
  • Raping a girl who identifies as lesbian to “turn her” heterosexual
  • Stripping the clothes off of a transgender person to reveal that person’s genitals and challenging their identity
  • Hitting or hurting someone because she or he is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender

This type of behavior is always wrong.

If you are being harassed, here are some steps you can take:

1.Find a teacher or administrator that you particularly trust or who has reached out to you in the past. Talk to them about how you are feeling, specifically what it feels like when students make homophobic or transphobic comments and when teachers don’t say anything.

If your teacher or administrator seems interested and asks how to help, here are some suggestions:

  • Ask the teacher or administrator to research the school’s harassment policy and share it with the rest of the faculty. If the policy doesn’t specifically include harassment based on perceived or actual orientation or gender identity, ask the teacher or administrator to consider advocating for an updated policy. You could get other students involved in this, too.
  • Help organize a training for teachers on LGBTQ issues at school. Ask the speakers who come to the training to talk about homophobia, transphobia and the differences between sexual orientation, sexual identity, gender identity and what it means to be transgender.
  • Ask the teacher or administrator to talk to teachers about the harassment taking place and their required role in responding to the harassment.
  • Help start a gender and sexualities alliance (GSA) so that an entire team of students can challenge the climate at your school and begin to address homophobia and transphobia.

2. Do some research. If your state school system has adopted “Safe Schools” laws, then this harassment must be stopped by the school administrators. Check out’s Sex in the States to review the laws in your state. Be sure to follow the links in the “Sources” for each state for updates.

3. Go straight to the top and talk to your principal. You could try to talk with the principal about this harassment or bullying and ask that it be addressed in a staff meeting with teachers. If you want to do some research on this topic before you talk to your principal, try these websites: Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and Lambda Legal.

Think through all the adults you know who support you. Pick one and tell them what’s happening at school. Legally, it is the school’s responsibility to create an environment where everyone can get an education and where no one is harassed. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in any federally funded program—including public schools—and it provides protection on the basis of gender identity, as well.

For more information and support, check out:

Bending The Mold: An Action Kit for Transgender Youth” has more ideas for you and your allies to make your school safer and more inclusive for all students. Check it out!

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