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“Just because I think Dwayne Johnson is fit…”: Exploring the voices of young people who identify as LGBTQIA+

In part one of this blog we summarise the findings from our recent research project exploring the views and school experiences of young people who identify as LGBTQIA+.

Following the Black Lives Matter protests that took place during the COVID-19 pandemic I (Dulcie) joined the Equality and Diversity Working Party in my service to think about how Educational Psychologists (EPs) can support social justice. Through this I became interested in understanding more about the school experiences of young people who identify as LGBTQIA+.

Literature indicates that EPs are well placed to raise awareness of important issues including the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ young people in their school communities (Marks, 2012). However, in order to do this EPs need to be informed and confident to prioritise conversations about sexuality and gender equality (Marks, 2012).

To increase understanding of young people’s experiences researchers have argued that we should strive to prioritise hearing the narratives of young people who identify as LGBTQIA+ (Abreu et al, 2021). The research I conducted aimed to do this by hearing the perspectives of young people using a focus group approach.

How this research was conducted

I contacted a secondary school within the Local Authority where we work, that I understood had an established and highly thought of LGBTQIA+ youth group. We asked if any of the members within that group would be interested in sharing their views and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

My aim was to understand more about the school experiences of young people who identify as LGBTQIA+ and if they could identify what helps or hinders them in school. I conducted a focus group of 16 young people aged between 12-18 years old who all identified as being LGBTQIA+.

Research findings

Three overarching themes were identified through thematic analysis. Quotes from the young people are used to capture each theme and represent the voices of those who participated.

Challenges: “They call it the boys top set or the girls top set and in general it just doesn’t feel like you belong there”

The young people spoke at length about the challenges they had experienced in school. The challenges they outlined included:

  • Being left out in peer groups
  • Facing difficulties deciding when and who to come out to
  • Experiences of homophobia from school staff and peers
  • Microaggressions
  • Teacher’s use of gendered language
  • Challenges caused by the school environment such as using gendered toilets and changing rooms

What helps?: “I can’t explain how helpful it is to be listened to and feel heard.”

During the focus group the young people also discussed what had helped them to feel included in their school environment. Factors that they felt helped them were:

  • Having LGBTQIA+ representation in their lessons
  • Having unisex toilets and uniform
  • Having LGBTQIA+ role models in their teaching staff and peer group  
  • Teachers using their preferred pronouns and names
  • Feeling that their voices had been heard and acted upon

Moving forward: “Schools and staff should not shy away from using pronouns. Open the conversation and be ready to be corrected.”

The final theme identified from this research was about the changes the young people who participated wanted to see in education. The young people’s ideas for change were:

  • Environmental changes in school to include unisex changing rooms and unisex toilets (throughout the school)
  • Adaptations to be made in lessons to remove gendered expectations and to include more LGBTQIA+ representation
  • All teaching staff to feel comfortable and confident to using LGBTQIA+ terminology and pronouns
  • Having celebrations for pride month in school


A key learning point during this research has been if you’re not sure what language or pronouns to use, ask.

Having adults who felt confident and comfortable to ask the young people their perspectives and use appropriate language was repeatedly mentioned as being important. I acknowledge that in practice this is not always as simple as it seems and individual factors need to be considered. However I feel that as EP’s we are well placed to consider individual circumstances and facilitate a conversation to help create shared understanding between the young people, families and schools.

From the findings of this research we have created a webinar for schools along with the corresponding language document. The aim of this document is to help increase the confidence of education professionals who support students who identify as LGBTQIA+. We’ll explore this ‘language cheat sheet’ more in our second blog post, next week.


Abreu, R et al. (2021). LGBTQ student experiences in schools from 2009-2019: A systemic review of study characteristics and recommendations for prevention and intervention in school psychology journals.

Marks, C. (2012) Educational psychologists’ constructions of sexuality and the implications for practice, Educational Psychology in Practice, 28:1, 71-90, DOI:10.1080/02667363.2011.639346

3 Comments so far:

  1. Kate Smith says:

    Do I understand correctly that the webinar advises schools based on research that is based on the views of ONE group of LGBTQ+ youth? Who was your control group? Why just one group in one school?

    How are the views, feelings and safety of girls who have experienced sexual violence (approximately 1 in 9 girls) taken into account? These girls are a highly vulnerable group and are at risk for several negative outcomes (increased suicide rates, increased risk of drug abuse, PTSD, major depression, risk of developing hypersexuality amongst other risks).

    How will you guarantee the rights of girls who belong to certain religious groups (protected under the equality act) who cannot use mixed sex toilets or change in the presence of people of the opposite sex?

    How will girls’ human rights to dignity (article 1) and privacy (article 8) be guaranteed?

    What are your reasons for recommending to prioritise the needs of one protected group over other groups who are equally vulnerable and/or who also have protected status? What kind of safeguarding measures and risk assessments do you recommend for schools?

    Thank you.

  2. Dan O'Hare says:

    This is an interesting take on this piece from Dulcie and Hannah. Methodologically they seemed to be interested in exploring the voices of LGBTQIA+ young people, so the idea of a ‘control group’ doesn’t, in my opinion, fit at all with their approach.

    Similarly I don’t think anything in Dulcie and Hannah’s blog advocates for prioritising any one ‘groups’ needs over and above another. The findings of the focus group with the children and young people highlight challenges that they faced, things that helped them in school and the young people’s ideas for change.

    I also don’t see anything in the blog that suggests anything that remotely sounds like making people from particular religious groups change in front of other people and this just seems like a bit of a red herring. Dulcie and Hannah have represented the views of LGBTQIA+ children and young people whose ideas were to make environmental changes within a school setting to include spaces that don’t lead to non-binary young people feeling excluded. In my experience this includes rooms that say ‘Toilet’ (rather than Boys/Girls or Mens/Ladies).

  3. Kate says:

    This area of research is not done in a politically neutral space and it isn’t politically neutral.

    Views of LGBTQ+ groups are currently heavily being researched and their needs and wants are widely publicised. Research on how the proposed (or in many cases by now actual) changes impact on other vulnerable groups, some of them with protected characteristics, is sparse. This has led to the needs of these other groups often being ignored.

    I believe, that as a society, we need to find compromises and solutions that work for all affected parties. That cannot and will not happen if we focus on one affected group only.

    Changing rooms are mentioned in the blog and there are schools and sports facilities in which girls are expected to change in front of male bodied peers.

    I would like to emphasise that I am against any form of discrimination of LGBTQ+ children (anyone in fact). My point is that often the demanded/required changes for these groups conflict with the rights and needs of other vulnerable groups and that this needs to be mentioned and discussed. Solutions need to be found that work for all vulnerable and protected groups.

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