Homophobic Bullying

© UNESCO/J. Liang

Many millions of children and young people are exposed to violence including bullying in and around educational settings, which undermines their rights including to quality education in a safe environment and efforts to achieve education for all children and young people.

A student is bullied when s/he is exposed repeatedly over time to aggressive behaviour that intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort through physical contact, verbal attacks, fighting or psychological manipulation. Bullying involves an imbalance of power and can include teasing, taunting, use of hurtful nicknames, physical violence or social exclusion. A bully can operate alone or within a group of peers. More

What is homophobic and transphobic bullying?

Bullying on the basis of perceived sexual orientation or gender identity is a specific type of bullying and is defined as homophobic bullying. Studies show that it is not only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth who experience homophobic and transphobic bullying, but also learners who are perceived as not conforming to existing gender norms and stereotypes even if they do not identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.  As such homophobic and transphobic bullying are a form of gender-based violence.

What is UNESCO doing at global level?

UNESCO’s activities in relation to homophobic and transphobic bullying in education build on its broader work on preventing and addressing discrimination and violence in schools, including gender-based violence.

In December 2011 UNESCO convened the United Nations’ first-ever international consultation to address homophobic bullying in educational institutions with UN agencies, NGOs, ministries of education and academia from more than 25 countries around the world. The findings of the consultation were amalgamated into a publication: Good Policy and Practice in HIV and Health Education – Booklet 8: Education Sector Responses to Homophobic Bullying.

UNESCO presented the publication and its findings during an international meeting in Paris in May 2012, on the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia/Transphobia (IDAHO). To view the meeting in French and English click here (for French only click here and  for English only here).

The theme for IDAHO in 2012 was “Combating Homo/Transphobia In Education and Through Education.” To help mark the day in schools, UNESCO and the IDAHO Committee created a lesson plan for teachers and facilitators comprised of four activities for primary and secondary school levels.

In 2013 UNESCO, with the financial support of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands, launched a three-year project called “EDUCATION AND RESPECT FOR ALL: Preventing and Addressing Homophobic and Transphobic Bullying in Educational Institutions.”

The project will conclude in 2016 with an international high-level meeting of Ministers of Education at UNESCO headquarters. The aim of the meeting will be to catalyze responses by Member States to homophobic and transphobic bullying in educational institutions. To that end, it is envisaged that a policy statement will be developed and agreed upon. In addition, during the meeting, the first issue of a global report on the status of homophobic and transphobic violence in education will be launched. The report will review evidence gathered by the project on the scale and nature of the problem and take stock of progress made in the response.

Activities implemented in the context of this partnership will be linked to broader anti-bullying initiatives that UNESCO is currently leading such as the ‘Teaching Respect for All’ initiative, and to quality learning initiatives such as comprehensive sexuality education (CSE).

UNESCO’s activities in the field

The objectives of our activities in the field are to:

  • collect solid evidence on the nature, scope and consequences of homophobic and transphobic bullying in educational institutions in countries where there is little or no data available, particularly Asia-Pacific and East and Southern Africa;
  • document and share best practice for action;
  • raise awareness and build coalitions at national, regional and global level, for example through the organization of regional consultations that will be bring together governments, civil society and academia; and,
  • facilitate action in selected countries to prevent and address homophobic and transphobic bullying in educational institutions.

© 2005 GALA/Z. Muholi

For example in November 2013, for the first time in Southern Africa, UNESCO organized a regional conference in collaboration with the South African NGO Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA). It brought together representatives from seven countries and was the opportunity to launch a study on sexuality, diversity and violence in schools that is conducted by GALA, UNESCO and HIVOs in five countries: Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. Looking at school-related gender-based violence in general, the study is also exploring the prevalence, nature and consequences of violence targeting gender non-conforming students, for the first time ever in that region except for South Africa.

© UNESCO/J. Liang

In Thailand UNESCO and Plan International Thailand commissioned in 2013 a study on Bullying targeting secondary school students who are or are perceived to be transgender or same-sex attracted: Types, prevalence, impact, motivation and preventive measures. The research was conducted in five provinces by Mahidol University. Research findings are used to provide in-service training for secondary education teachers on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) into the national manual on sexuality and HIV gender, sexuality and human rights in three sites. Viet Nam is another country in Asia where a survey will be conducted to expand the knowledge base and use the results for action planning. UNESCO will support the integration of SOGI-related into the national manual on sexuality and HIV prevention for pupils and the guidelines for teachers produced by the ministry of education.

The research is also available in Thai.

Other materials prepared on this groundbreaking research include:

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