In Europe, more than 50 per cent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students said they have been bullied at least once, based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
A survey by the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) says of more than 17,000 youngsters aged 13 to 24, more than half reported being bullied.
“Everyone says you can be whoever you want, you can be free, you can express yourself at school…then if you try to be different, you get backlash”, said one 19-year-old student participating in the survey.
The study highlighted widespread discriminatory attitudes, with 83 per cent of students reporting that they had heard negative comments about LGBTQI students, while 67 per cent said that they had been the target of critical comments at least once.
Further findings from UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report indicated that nearly six in 10 students “never reported bullying incidents to any school staff” and fewer than two in 10 did so systematically.
“Many teachers lack the confidence and knowledge to support LGBTQI learners”, the report said, noting that action by teachers and other academic staff in response to negative remarks and bullying were “vital” to an inclusive education system.
“Education is about more than just maths and words”, said Manos Antoninis, who directed the report. “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”.
In a call for action to tackle the global problem, report co-author, the International LGBTQI Youth and Student Organisation (IGLYO), said that although many countries had adopted a more inclusive approach to all students, “many LGBTQI students still feel unsafe and unwelcome in school”.
There remained “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”, said Jonathan Beger, Interim Executive Director of IGLYO.
Echoing concerns for LGBTQI individuals, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay warned about the increasing risks they face, as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions continue.
“Younger people in particular, because of the persistence of prejudice in their family or social environment, are sometimes threatened with being driven out of their homes and finding themselves in distress or destitution”, Ms. Azoulay said. “Furthermore, as the work of voluntary organizations is more complex, LGBTI people are likely to lack contacts and trusted people to talk to.”
Abuse at home
Refugee members of the LGBTQI community also face particular risks, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said, noting that same-sex relationships remain illegal in more than 70 countries.
In a call for an end to the daily abuse and indignity faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people, UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi also warned that in six countries, couples of the same gender face the death sentence.
He urged countries “to keep their doors open to LGBTIQ+” people in need of refuge, and added that for many, the discrimination starts at home.
This was the case for the UNHCR’s first trans advocate, Bianka Rodriguez from El Salvador.
Ms. Rodriguez was “held at gunpoint, abused by her own mother and bullied out of school because she was trans”, the High Commissioner explained.
She now works to ensure fair laws for people who are harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in her country – and she will continue “to protect and advocate for LGBTIQ+ forcibly displaced people around the world” – Grandi said.