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Media Release: Study shows Thai schools have a long way to go in promoting acceptance of sexual and gender diversity, and school safety

Schools generally have no specific anti-bullying policies and they need appropriate training related to sexual and gender diversity

Bangkok-26 November 2013

There is increasing evidence that, in all regions of the world, many people are threatened by violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. This can begin at a young age, in the form of bullying, violence and harassment. Not only are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) students disproportionately targeted for bullying in Thai schools, but merely the perception of difference invites harassment, a new study has found.

Plan International, UNESCO and Mahidol University partnered to conduct a year-long study involving 30 secondary schools in five Thai provinces, with over 2,000 students sharing their experiences. Findings from the report, Bullying targeting high school students who are or are perceived to be transgender or same-sex attracted: Types, prevalence, impact, motivation and preventive measures in 5 provinces of Thailand, will be released on 4 December at a stakeholders’ consultation in Bangkok.

The in-depth study provides an unprecedented look into homophobic and transphobic bullying in Thai schools and its toxic effects on victims, from absenteeism to depression and even attempted suicide. Schools’ failure to tackle this threat to students’ right to a safe learning environment is also noted.

“Thailand is widely known as a place with tolerance and respect of people from all walks of life including the LGBT community” said Plan International (Thailand) Country Director Maja Cubarrubia. However, despite that she says, “LGBT youth and those that are believed to be LGBT here are suffering from bullying at schools, just like everywhere else in the world.”

“This study aims to build understanding about the nature, scope and impact of bullying against youth who are LGBT or who are believed to be LGBT, and measures that can, and must, be taken to prevent or respond to bullying,” said Ms Cubarrubia.
Focus group discussions and interviews with students, teachers and administrators, as well as surveys among students in five provinces formed the basis of the study.

Nearly one-third (30.9%) of self-identified LGBT students reported having experienced physical abuse, 29.3% reported verbal abuse, and 24.4% reported being victims of sexual harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. Around two-thirds of victims said they did not report these incidents or even talk about them with anyone.

The report paints a troubling picture of the impact of this bullying has on teens. Nearly one-quarter (23%) of those bullied because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity/expression were depressed, as compared to only 6% of those that had not been bullied at all. This depression can lead to self-harm. Most alarmingly, seven percent of those bullied because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity/expression reported having attempted suicide in the past year.

“The effects of bullying clearly can be traumatic and long-lasting, “said Justine Sass, the Chief of UNESCO Bangkok’s HIV Prevention and Health Promotion Unit. “We have seen evidence that bullying based on perceived sexual orientation or gender identity/expression can have significant negative educational outcomes. This is not even to mention the links between school-based bullying and depression, anxiety, loss of esteem and confidence, withdrawal, and social isolation.”

“We are simply failing to support these young people’s right to Education for All in a healthy, safe learning environment,” Ms Sass said.

A lack of measures to address bullying in general, let alone harassment targeting LGBT students, worsens this situation, the report found. The report outlines measures schools can take to address this situation, including a rethink on what constitutes bullying and measures to promote acceptance of sexual diversity.

“Schools must have policies on school-related gender-based violence, and especially on bullying targeting students who are or are thought to be LGBT. School curricula need to be revised and any terms and explanations that have bias against sexual and gender diversity need to be removed. Channels of assistance also needed for students who are bullied – hotlines, web boards, or mobile applications, for example. Teacher training programs at universities should have sexual and gender diversity contents so that future teachers can have a better understanding of these issues”, Dr. Pimpawun Boonmongkon, principal investigator of the study at Mahidol University emphasized.
Findings from the report will be the focus of a special consultation at the Montienthip Room at the Montien Hotel in Bangkok on December 4 from 8.30-16.30.

- Details on the study as well as a complete agenda (in English and in Thai) for the consultation meeting.

- Full Media Advisory (in English and in Thai)

For press inquiries or additional information, please contact:

UNESCO Bangkok Media and Communications Officer Noel Boivin at 
Plan International Thailand’s Communications and PR Manager Apiradee Chappanapong at
The principal investigator of the study at Mahidol University and Director of the Center for Health Policy Studies, Dr. Pimpawun Boonmongkon at or +66 81 914 7717, or co-investigator Timo T. Ojanen, Mahidol University, at