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International Consultation on Homophobic Bullying in Educational Institutions


Last month in Rio De Janerio, UNESCO convened the first ever International Consultation on Homophobic Bullying and Harassment in Educational Institutions. The event, attended by experts from more than 25 countries around the world, enabled the collective sharing experiences; identification of good practices; and agreement on next steps to address the issue. 

This unprecedented event was one of a number of significant developments made in 2011 concerning human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity. For example, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted its first-ever resolution on Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity (A/HRC/17/L.9/Rev.1) and Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in 2011 declared homophobic bullying of young people “a grave violation of human rights” and urged States to take the necessary measures to protect their citizens from violence and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity

"The historic event constituted a significant shift in educational discourse wherein UNESCO’s human rights focus can now be seen to extend to include all LGBTIQ students’ rights”.

Tiffany Jones, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University.

Addressing homophobic bullying in educational institutions is guided by principle that all humans have the right of universal access to education of high quality regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Homophobic and transphobic bullying, violence and stigma and discrimination undermine this universal human right. As a form of gender-based violence, homophobic bullying and harassment also undermine the right to health. Significant correlations have been found between harassment and bullying and negative health outcomes such a depression, low self-esteem, decreases in health seeking behaviour and increased engagement in high risk sexual behavior – thereby perpetuating HIV transmission. 

There is increasing evidence that lesbian, gay, transgender, intersex and queer students face harassment and bullying in educational institutions. The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society’s 2010 report on the sexual health and well-being of same sex attracted young people in Australia found an alarming 80% of young people experienced abuse at school. This appeared to be an increasing trend, as lower levels were reported by youth in previous two surveys (74% in 2004; 69% in 1998).[1]

Currently there is limited available evidence of the prevalence of homophobic and transphobic bullying in the region. The following participants identified the need, with support from UNESCO, to gather robust evidence as a crucial next step: 

The next important step is to establish evidence…we should do a bigger survey on homophobic bullying in school and consequences together with thorough review on policies and practices regarding protection at school” – Anh Tu Hoang, CCIHIP Vietnam. 

The most valuable thing I learned was the importance of establishing the problem. Developed countries in terms of addressing homophobia in educational institutions all have solid evidence of the scale and severity of homophobic bullying… in China, there is almost no study on homophobic bullying” – Vincent Trang, Aibai Culture and Education Center. 

“ I identified the need for the Pacific to have research and databases so that the island nations are able to advocate with necessary resources…as there has been no research done in this area of the Pacific” - Resitara Apa, Samoa AIDS Foundation Acting Chief Executive Officer, Pacific Sexual Diversity Network Secretariat.

Participants also agreed that – whilst much work is still to be done in the Asia Pacific Region in both quantifying the issue and in establishing relevant policies and programmes, promising initiatives are underway. This includes efforts in Thailand to create safe and supportive environments for secondary school LGBTIQ students so that equal learning opportunities are offered to all, as well as in China through university campus experiences.

Participants from the region also indicated that the consultation was a success, firstly - it has gained traction on the issue globally.

The consultation also established the next steps to effectively address homophobic bullying in educational institutions as highlighted in the Rio Statement on Homophobic Bullying and Education for All. This included the importance of establishing policies that ban homophobic bullying in educational institutions and having institutional structures in place to arbitrate and rectify these situations as they arise.  It is essential that educational institutions be able to receive and respond to complaints, offer counseling, and have referral systems and safe spaces that promote sexual diversity.

Homophobic bullying and harassment in educational institutions is an issue of safety. UNESCO and partners are committed to jointly advocating for the rights of LGBTIQ students and ensuring education for all. 

by Stephanie Gater


Hillier, L, Jones, T, Monagle, M, Overton, N, Gahan, L, Blackman, J, Mitchell, A  2010 “Writing themselves in 3, the Third National Study on the Sexual Health and wellbeing of same sex attracted and gender questioning young people”, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University.