A Melbourne researcher has urged schools to improve their response to anti-gay bullying, saying schools without specific anti-homophobia policies have higher rates of students self-harming.

La Trobe University PhD student Tiffany Jones said her research shows that explicit anti-homophobic bullying policies could save gay students’ lives.

“With kids getting abused and self-harming because of homophobia, a strong clear message that this should not be happening must be sent through policy in every sector and school,” Jones said.

“My research particularly highlights the importance of distinct policy documents that directly mention homophobia and GLBTIQ issues using ‘safe and supportive schools’ and ‘anti-discrimination’ frameworks, such as the policies at the state level in the Victorian government education sector.

“Educational institutions should not rely on general anti-bullying policies or broad inclusion statements to tackle this issue — these are simply too vague to highlight and combat systemic homophobia.”

The Victorian Government currently funds school anti-homophobia network Safe Schools Coalition Victoria (SSCV). Its program has been rolled out in around 40 schools and the group hopes to reach 200 schools in the next few years.

Using 2010 Australian research, Jones found that in schools with no anti-homophobia policy, just over 47 percent of same-sex attracted and gender-questioning (SSAGQ) students had thought about suicide, while 22.1 percent had attempted it.

In schools with a specific anti-homophobia policy, the number dropped to 30 percent of SSAGQ students having thought about suicide, and 12.7 percent attempting it.

Jones addressed a UNESCO conference in Rio de Janeiro last year to discuss best practice policies to deal with homophobic bullying on an international scale.

“It is clear that there are links between supportive school environments, supportive policies for GLBTIQs and supportive sexuality messages,” Jones said.

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