“My grades fell dramatically. I started skipping school. I often stayed in bed and cried.” This testimony is typical of the experience of many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students around the world. These young people are often denied their right to education because of discrimination and violence based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
Homophobic bullying is a violation of learner’s and teacher’s rights and an obstacle to quality Education for All. UNESCO recognizes the scale of the challenge and is dedicated to stopping all forms of discrimination and gender-based violence in schools.
In a message on the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia/Transphobia (IDAHO), celebrated around the world on 17 May since 2005, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova declares:
“I reconfirm my deep personal commitment to strengthening UNESCO’s work to promote universal human rights for all, including the right to education and safety for LGBT people.”
What has UNESCO achieved since 16 May 2012? This was the date the Organization convened a high profile High Level Meeting to address homophobic bullying. The event coincided with IDAHO Day 2012 whose theme was “Combating Homophobia/Transphobia in and through Education”. The UNESCO meeting featured the launch of Good Policy and Practice in HIV and Health Education – Booklet 8: Education Sector Responses to Homophobic Bullying (GPP8) and the IDAHO Lesson Plan, activities to help teachers create safer learning environments, address discrimination and encourage respect and tolerance between and amongst learners.
A global leader
One year later, UNESCO has positioned itself as a global leader on the issue. Educational materials have been widely distributed and translated and Member States have conducted high-profile activities. The UNESCO booklet on Education Sector Responses to Homophobic Bullying has been downloaded nearly 4 000 times and is now available in English, French, and Spanish, with Portuguese, Chinese, Polish, Flemish, Italian and Korean versions in production. The Korean version includes a foreword by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, where he states:
“Homophobic bullying has not received the urgent attention it deserves. That is why I am grateful to UNESCO for this volume of good policies and practices. It fills a gap by demonstrating that many countries have existing policies and interventions in place to prevent and address violence and bullying in educational settings. These examples can constitute a framework for action to tackle homophobic bullying.”
Driving the debate
UNESCO continues to drive the international debate by presenting its work at high level conferences, most recently Breaking the Walls of Silence - Addressing Homophobia and Transphobia in Education – a conference funded by the European Commission. In the Asia-Pacific region, the Organization participated in the International LGBT regional conference in Bangkok on 29-31 March. UNESCO also contributed to the first ever LGBT National Community Dialogue in Thailand, hosted by the UN in the context of the Being LGBT in Asia initiative. In Southern Africa UNESCO supported a colloquium on homophobic bullying in education. This year, based on feedback from UNESCO Associated Schools and other partners, UNESCO has updated the IDAHO Lesson Plan and is promoting its use throughout its network of several hundred members.
While UNESCO and its partners have accomplished a lot in the past year to address homophobic bullying in education, there is still a lot to do. “UNESCO will seek to mobilize partnerships and resources at global, regional and country levels, to collect solid evidence on the nature, scope and consequences of homophobic bullying in countries where there is little or no data available,” says Ms Bokova. “On this basis, we can document and share best practices, raise awareness and build new coalitions – all with the goal to support country-level action to prevent and address Homophobic Bullying in educational institutions.
The theme of International Day Against Homophobia 2013 is cyberbullying, with the slogan “Fight the Homophobia Web Virus”.