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Voices Against Bullying in Thailand

As reflected in the Millennium Development Goals, the Dakar Framework for Action and the Yogyakarta Principles, bullying poses a significant threat to the universal right to education.

Bullying is a recognized form of violence that also undermines other fundamental rights such as the right to health, safety, dignity and freedom from discrimination.

Although the Thai Constitution law states that every child has the right to receive quality education in a safe environment, there are no specific rights or anti-discrimination laws concerning sexual orientation or gender identity. Without such protection, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) students may be subject to an increased risk of experiencing homophobic or transphobic bullying.

There has been no systematic data collection of the prevalence and impact of homophobic bullying in schools in Thailand, but the global evidence available suggests it is widespread and pervasive. The global evidence also indicates that homophobic bullying can lead to increased absenteeism and declines in academic engagement resulting in lower grade point averages and higher drop-out rates.

In an effort to address these issues, UNESCO and Plan International Thailand entered into a partnership with the Center for Health Law at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at Mahidol University to initiate research to investigate the issues of bullying, violence, and victimization related to homophobia/transphobia among LGBT secondary school students in Thailand.

The goal of the research is to gain insight on the scope of homophobic and transphobic bullying in order to design appropriate and effective strategies for intervention. Data collection will include the use of focus group discussions, key informant interviews, and school-based surveys, and will be undertaken at secondary schools in the five selected provinces: Ubon Ratchathani, Khon Kaen, Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Nakorn Si Thammarat.

The first technical advisory board meeting for this study was recently held at UNESCO Bangkok and included youth representatives from regional community-based organizations and included MPlus in Chiang Mai, Rainbow Sky Association in Ubon Ratchathani, Andaman Power in Phuket, Health and Opportunity Network in Chonburi, and Rainbow Sky Association Bangkok. Secondary school students from these five provinces were also invited to participate.

The meeting gave youth volunteers from the selected provinces the opportunity to contribute by commenting and providing feedback on questionnaires and discussion guides. During the meeting, youth also shared their experiences of being bullied. Some openly shared personal experiences of harassment that they attributed to their sexual orientation. One youth attendee explained, “at school I was looked down on and called names. My teachers would punish me and my peers couldn’t accept me. I didn’t even want to look at their faces or go to school.” One representative recalled cases where effeminate boys were forced to ordain as novices in temples, supposedly to change them into ‘straight’ men. While another noted that “bullying is a continuing problem particularly among gender role non-conforming young men…mostly this issue is not talked about or ignored (or not taken seriously) by school administrators and teachers”.

By including youth perspectives, the technical advisory board was able to gain insight into the current challenges and concerns of LGBT students which will be incorporated into the design of research instruments to better capture the diverse experience of LGBT youth in schools. As one youth representative explained, “we want everyone in school to be able to study together in harmony without discriminating each other.” The research may be an important first step in the realization of this dream.

Related Links:

Plan International Thailand

Addressing homophobia in and through schools: Promising examples from Thailand, UNESCO Bangkok