I am a teacher and students use homophobic language. What kind of approaches should be effective to make them realize that homophobia can harm others

I teach mathematics at a suburban Toronto area vocational school. Virtually all of the students at the school have learning disabilities, behavioural issues, or some other reason for NOT attending a “regular” school. Many of the students are immature / confused / angry. For the most part, these students do not make bigoted remarks regarding ethnicity or religion. However, “fag” and “gay” seem to be common put downs – used as synonyms for stupid or unpleasant. Occasionally, I will stop the lesson and try this approach: “You wouldn’t attack people based on their skin colour or religion, so why are you offending people based on sexual orientation?”. I have also ejected students from the classroom for persistent homophobic language. This is a workplace school, so I have also pointed out that a boss / co-worker may be gay / lesbian or have friends / family who are. They may severely mess up their career by being bigoted, rude and homophobic. Any better approach?

Thanks for writing to AlterHeros.
I’m glad to know you are concerned with your students’ homophobic talks. Unfortunately, some teachers aren’t at all; some are even telling homophobic jokes in their classes!

You wrote in your question that you are reacting to your student’s talks and that you tried to explain to them that homophobia can harm others but also themselves. It’s good that you explained the consequences that homophobia may have on them (for example, in their carrier) because it could make them think about it. Maybe you could explain to them what “fag” and “gay” really mean and that they use these words in a wrong way. You could also try to make them realize how someone who is homosexual can feel when he or she hears teens using the word “gay” as synonym of stupid or unpleasant.

I advise you to visit the Safe @ School project website. It could help you and give you ideas. You could also ask a local organization to come to your school to demystify homosexuality and homophobia by workshops and/or kiosks.
Good luck and don’t give up.
Sabrina, AlterHeros

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