Homophobic and Transphobic Violence in Education

UNESCO recognises that no country can achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 - to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all - if students are discriminated against or experience violence because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

UNESCO’s objectives in supporting education sector responses to homophobic and transphobic violence are to:

  • collect solid evidence on the nature, scope and impact of homophobic and transphobic violence in educational settings, particularly in regions and countries where there is little or no data available;
  • document and share best practice for action;
  • raise awareness and build coalitions at national, regional and global level, and;
  • facilitate action in selected countries to prevent and address homophobic and transphobic violence in educational settings.

Violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression is often directed at lesbian, gay and bisexual students (homophobia) and transgender students (transphobia), and others whose gender expression does not fit into binary gender norms, such as boys perceived as effeminate and girls perceived as masculine. As such, it is a form of gender-based violence.

It includes physical, sexual and psychological violence and bullying. A student is bullied when exposed repeatedly over time to aggressive behaviour that intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort through physical contact, verbal attacks, fighting or psychological manipulation.

UNESCO’s Actions  

In May 2016, UNESCO brought world leaders together for the #OutInTheOpen International Ministerial Meeting: Education Sector Responses to Homophobic and Transphobic Violence. The event featured the launch of the first UN Global Report on violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression and concluded with a group of countries affirming a Call for Action by Ministers for an inclusive and equitable education for all learners in an environment free from discrimination and violence, including discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

Since then 56 countries have joined to support the Call for Action by Ministers from Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America and the deadline for countries to express their support remains open.

In 2011 UNESCO convened the first-ever UN international consultation on homophobic bullying in educational institutions. The findings were presented in the publication Good Policy and Practice in HIV and Health Education – Booklet 8: Education Sector Responses to Homophobic Bullying (Chinese, English, French, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, RussianSpanish), launched in Paris on the International Day Against Homophobia/Transphobia (IDAHOT) 2012. On the same day, UNESCO and the IDAHOT Committee published a  lesson plan for teachers and educators (French, German, Chinese and locally adapted in Lesson Plans for teaching about sexual and gender diversity for Thailand).

Through a three-year programme launched in November 2013 and supported by the Government of the Netherlands called EDUCATION AND RESPECT FOR ALL: Preventing and Addressing Homophobic and Transphobic Bullying in Educational Institutions, UNESCO supported regional and country-led activities in Asia-Pacific, Southern Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean, including:

Improving the evidence base and documenting best practice

Raising awareness and building coalitions

  • Seminar at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on LGBT children and young people’s right to education, on the occasion of Human Rights Day 2014 and the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • Regional consultations on education sector responses to violence based on sexual orientation and gender expression/identity in educational institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Asia-Pacific in June 2015.
  • Launch of the School Rainbow campaign, with more than 2,000 students chalking rainbows around school gates in Bangkok, Thailand, in a sign of support for sexual/gender diversity.
  • Launch of the Be Myself social media campaign in China on the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia 2015, encouraging young people to be their true selves, to respect differences and be kind to each other. 
  • As part of the 2015 UNESCO/UNDP initiative Being LGBT in Asia, the #PurpleMySchool social media campaign was launched, promoting safe spaces for LGBTI students in schools.
  • UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, becomes one of 12 heads of UN entities to endorse an historic statement on 29 September 2015 calling on States to act urgently to end violence and discrimination against LGBTI adults, adolescents and children.

Supporting the implementation of country-level activities addressing violence based on sexual orientation and gender expression/identity in education

  • Support in China for a strategy workshop and training of trainers in May 2013 to promote LGBT education. The Gay and Lesbian Campus Association of China (GLCAC) released a ground-breaking report  report on university textbooksin October 2014, entitled “Homosexuality Contents in University Textbooks”.
  • As a result of a regional meeting in Bangkok in June 2015, Technical Working Groups involving China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand are formed, comprising representatives from government, civil society organizations, and academia.
  • UNESCO supported the Mexican NGO, Demysex, to develop a manual to raise the awareness of teachers about issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity, homophobia and transphobia.