Teenagers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer do not feel safe in Irish schools and many are skipping school in order to avoid negative treatment.
The findings are contained in a survey of more than 1,200 LGBTQ+ second level school students in Ireland, which was carried out by an organisation that supports LGBTQ+ teens, in conjunction with Columbia University.
The Belong To online survey asked a representative sample of second level students who identify as LGBTQ+ about their feelings of safety at school, as well as about instances of discrimination and experiences of harassment.
Around 76% of respondents said they did not feel safe at school, with many reporting experiences of bullying and physical, verbal, and sexual harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The survey found an increase in the proportion of LGBTQ+ students who are avoiding certain school spaces and experiencing feelings of isolation and exclusion, compared with a similar study conducted three years ago.
School bathrooms were the spaces that students were most likely to avoid, due to concerns for their safety, followed by PE classes, sports facilities, locker rooms and lunchtimes.
Almost 60% of LGBTQ+ students reported hearing homophobic remarks from school staff.
One in three said they sometimes stayed away from school in order to avoid negative treatment due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
On a more positive note, virtually all of those surveyed said they knew at least one school staff member who was supportive of LGBTQ+ identities.
Belong To has called the findings alarming and depressing. The charity said they show that the harassment, abuse and exclusion of LGBTQ+ students remains rife throughout second-level schools in Ireland.
"This research highlights the urgent need for educators, parents, schools, policymakers and politicians to listen to LGBTQ+ students and to learn from them," said Belong To CEO Moninne Griffith.
The organisation has called on the Government to integrate LGBTQ+ awareness and inclusion training into teacher training courses and to implement actions committed to under the National Youth Strategy.
"We must prioritise the safety and well-being of LGBTQ plus students who are seriously at risk. We can see the positive impacts when LGBTQ+ students feel supported by staff and we are grateful to inspiring teachers and schools across Ireland who have worked on school safety and inclusivity for years and have saved lives through these interventions," she said.
Belong To said that the number of schools participating in its awareness initiatives is growing and that 75% of all secondary schools took part in its Stand Up Awareness Week in 2021.
It said that when schools put in place strong supports LGBTQ+ students are more likely to feel accepted by their peers and have an increased sense of belonging. They are then likely to miss school to avoid victimisation.
According to the survey, in the past year, 86% of LGBTQ+ students felt deliberately excluded or "left out" by other students; more than 70% said they had been the subject of mean rumours or lies; almost 60% said their peers never intervened when hearing homophobic remarks; and a similar proportion said they never reported incidents of LGBTQ+ bullying to school staff or a family member.
Comparing the outcome of this latest survey with findings from a similar study conducted in 2019 the research shows a sharp increase in the number of students, including trans students, who report feeling unsafe because of their gender expression.
It also found an increase in the overall number of LGBTQ+ students reporting that they feel unsafe in certain school spaces, such as bathrooms.
The research also found what Belong To called a "stark" increase in the rate of verbal harassment of trans and other students on the basis of their gender expression, rising from 44% in 2019 to 62% now.
The frequency of homophobic remarks in general was mostly unchanged.
Belong To said its study is the largest-ever research into the experience of LGBTQ+ youth attending schools here.
Stand Up Awareness Week is taking place this week in schools across the country.