The debate over the safety and welfare of transgender and gay school kids is something that is raging well beyond American borders.
A new UNESCO report on education bears an ominous message – violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students is endemic in schools. In some countries, as many as 85% of LGBT students experience targeted violence in school, leading 45% of transgender students to drop out.
The data on violence comes from all parts of the world. The proportion of students affected runs from 16 per cent in Nepal to 85 per cent in the United States.
Not surprisingly, the report shows that LGBT students are consistently more likely to report experiencing bullying or harassment than heterosexual students. At the same time, even heterosexual students are affected, both by the culture of violence in their schools and by the risk of being seen as LGBT. 33% of male Canadian students reported “verbal violence related to their actual or perceived sexual orientation including those who did not identify as gay or bisexual.”
Violence in schools has a destructive effect on the academic performance of LGBT students. They miss more classes, and they’re more likely to drop out. According to the report, LGBT students report lower academic attainment in Australia, China, Denmark, El Salvador, Italy and Poland. They feel unsafe in school. In the US, 70% of LGBT students surveyed reported feeling unsafe in school.
The harm runs deeper than academic success. Mental health impacts include anxiety, fear, stress, loneliness, loss of confidence, self-harm, depression and suicide. Combined with lower rates of school completion, this makes life after school more difficult for LGBT individuals, They face reduced employment opportunities, and a greater risk of joblessness and poverty. This begins at a young age; in the US, for example, LGBT young people are more likely to be homeless or in foster care than their non-LGBT peers.
The UNESCO report also provides key principles to guide education sector responses to homophobia and transphobia. In order to be effective in protecting students from harm, responses need to be rights-based; learner-centered; participatory; gender-responsive and transformative; evidence-based; age-appropriate; and context-specific and culturally sensitive.
Most countries, however, seem to be far away from the political will to implement education policies that will actually make a difference. How long will LGBT students continue to suffer?