Over half of LGBTQI students in Europe bullied in school, says UNESCO report

Today, International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia, the International LGBTQI Youth and Student Organisation (IGLYO) and UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report released findings from research and surveys on the situation of LGBTQI students.

According to the study, over eight in ten people surveyed reported having heard negative remarks addressed to someone else because of being perceived as LGBTQI.

Everyone says you can be whoever you want, you can be free, you can express yourself at school. And then if you try to be different, you get backlash

A 19-year-old, pansexual, non-binary intersex student participating in the IGLYO survey

Fifty-four percent of LGBTQI people have experienced bullying in school at least once based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or variations of sex characteristics, according to a survey of more than 17,000 children and young people aged 13 to 24. The survey also showed that 83% of students had at least sometimes heard negative comments towards LGBTQI students, and 67% had been the target of negative comments at least once.

Interventions by teachers and other school staff upon hearing negative remarks and bullying are vital to an inclusive education system. But many teachers lack the confidence and knowledge to support LGBTQI learners. The majority of students (58%) never reported bullying incidents to any school staff and fewer than 15% of respondents systematically reported their experiences of bullying to any school staff.

Education is about more than just maths and words. Schools have to be inclusive if we want society to be inclusive. If children are being taught that only a certain type of person is accepted, that is going to affect the way they behave towards others

Manos Antoninis, Director of the GEM Report, UNESCO

Despite changes in many countries’ national discourse, many LGBTQI students still feel un-safe and unwelcome in school. There is a real fear that the isolation and permanent shift to online interactions this past year will have turned the dial up on bullying and marginalisation as well.

Jonathan Beger, Interim Executive Director of IGLYO

The accompanying analysis by the Global Education Monitoring Report at UNESCO confirms that discrimination against LGBTQI students is a global phenomenon. In the USA, 12.5% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students reported not going to school at least once in the previous 30 days because they felt unsafe at or on their way to and from school, compared with fewer than 4.6% of heterosexual students. In New Zealand, LGBTQI students were three times as likely to be bullied as their peers. In Japan, 68% of LGBTQI persons aged ten to 35 experienced violence in school. In seven Latin American countries, LGBTQI students could identify at least one supportive teacher or school staff member, but most students had a negative experience of teacher attitudes to sexual orientation and gender expression.

Curricula and learning materials either ignore entirely or misrepresent and pathologize LGBTQI identities. Fewer than one in five respondents to the survey reported having been taught positive representations of LGBTQI people in school. A recent review found that nearly half of the 47 Council of Europe member states did not address sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or variations of sex characteristics in the curriculum, seven made it optional and only 19 made it compulsory.

Providing a safe learning environment is a crucial step in achieving inclusion for LGBTQI learners, which was recognized in the commitment made by 56 countries in 2016 under the UNESCO-convened Call for Action by Ministers for inclusive and equitable education for all learners in an environment free from discrimination and violence.

In line with that Call for Action the report contains recommendations for policy makers to ensure inclusion for all learners. The criminalization or pathologizing of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and variations of sex characteristics and the denial of equal rights to LGBTQI learners must end to tackle the threats and bullying against LGBTQI students.

UNESCO and IGLYO also call on governments and schools to roll out the teaching of human rights education and other subjects, including history and social studies, to introduce LGBTQI people, their history and experience in teaching programmes. These efforts must be complemented by training and empowering teachers to deliver inclusive curricula so they can impart knowledge and address incidents and threats effectively.

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