Beyond our homes, educational institutes are the primary spaces where we not only spend most of our time but also develop our basic understanding and critical thinking. However, these same institutions can be a difficult and toxic space for students who do not identify as cis-gendered and heterosexual. Bullying, harassment, and exclusion of LGBTQIA+ individuals in educational institutions is a worldwide problem. There are several socio-political and cultural factors that aid this discrimination.
So let’s take a look at these factors and try to determine the ways in which healthy conversations around queer identities can take place.
Prejudice rooted in cultural beliefs
The homo-negativity and trans-negativity faced by young adults at educational institutes are most often driven by stigma and prejudice; rooted in deep cultural beliefs about gender roles, masculinities, and femininities. Bullying manifests itself in the form of teasing, name-calling and public ridicule, rumours, intimidation, cyberbullying, and physical and sexual assault, among others. Subtle forms of violence, microaggressions, the everyday discrimination, often unconscious and unintentional, also take place through discriminatory education policies, regulations, curriculum, teaching materials, and teaching practices. Furthermore, trans students face additional obstacles with gendered uniforms, official documents that don’t reflect their gender identity, deadnaming, and single-sex facilities such as toilets and changing rooms.
Lack of policy and practices
In 2021, a gender-neutral teacher training manual on the NCERT’s website that aimed at educating teachers on gender diversity and inclusivity of transgender children was taken down following outrage from some groups stating that “it does not conform to their gender realities and basic needs.” A major reason that adds to this continued discrimination of LGBTQIA+ persons at educational institutions is a lack of comprehensive sexuality education. A lack of policies and practices that affirm and support LGBTQIA+ persons, and a failure to implement strategies results in students continuing to face bullying, exclusion, and discrimination in school, putting them at risk and limiting their education.
Very few countries have education sector policies that address homo-negative and trans-negative violence or include sexual orientation and gender identity in their curriculum. Furthermore, very few countries collect data on the nature, or impact of such violence, which contributes to low awareness of the problem and a lack of evidence for planning effective responses. While we do see a gradual recognition of the vulnerabilities faced by LGBTQ+ individuals, the progress is uneven. There is still a lack of accurate information that is free from judgments and misconceptions.
Also read: The Ins And Outs Of Body Image And Consent
What does the data suggest?
UNESCO conducted research among 371 people in the 18-22 age group from the LGBTQIA+ community in 2019. Of the respondents, 50-60% said that they were mostly victims of physical bullying at their respective educational institutions. While only 18% of participants reported the incident to concerned authorities. The report also found that as a result of this discrimination and bullying, 73% of the respondents had reduced social interactions with their peers, 70% suffered from anxiety and depression, 53% reported having skipped classes and about 33.2% said bullying played a key role in them discontinuing school.
We must understand that homophobia and transphobia at educational institutions are not just perpetrated by the students, but by faculty members as well as all authorities who are involved. Students from the LGBTQIA+ community don’t just face discrimination but a full-on erasure of their identity, as, despite complaints and raising awareness, the issues are not addressed by the concerned institutions.
What needs to be done?
The response to homophobia and transphobia and the violence and harassment in educational settings also reflects majorly on the larger human rights situation of a country. We need to understand that addressing bullying and harassment faced by members of the LGBTQIA+ community is not something “special” or something that governments and authorities need to be rewarded for. It is but handing them their basic human rights and freedom to express themselves, and their sexual and gender identity. It is the most basic human right. Hurtful and invalidating experiences occurring in a repeated manner over time can result in severe emotional trauma for the younger generation.
Also read: Understanding The Basics Of Gender And Sexuality
There is an urgent need to actively engage in healthy conversations around queer identities. And this has to start at educational institutions. There needs to be trained personnel on campus for the students to talk to. There is a need for more constructive and supportive resources, like queer-friendly counsellors, gender-neutral living spaces, host events on queer issues, as well as diversity among the faculty members. Policies that are brought out, need to be all-inclusive and take into account different identities of individuals to reduce the trauma and stigma around queer identities.