Valuing and protecting LGBTI diversity for safer schools

  • Posted in:
August 10, 2016
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This blog post is a part of the UNGEI #YouthLeads blog series, running from August 8 – 12. For daily blog notifications follow us on twitter at @UNGEI.

Submitted by Niluka Perera.

Growing up as a gay boy wasn’t a pleasant experience for me in a country like Sri Lanka especially in school. I had no access to information that would help me to understand my sexuality and no support from school that could have eased my difficult journey to understand myself. What remains in my mind from the health science lessons at school is that “homosexual behavior” is one of the ways to contract “AIDS”.

It is 2016 and the 21st century, yet young LGBTI students across the world still get beaten up, bullied, sexually assaulted, stigmatized or discriminated against in the schoolyard. LGBTI students are often targeted, and because of poor attitudes and misconceptions, those that have decided to embrace themselves with pride and be true to themselves in their expression of sexuality or sexual orientation or gender identity are most vulnerable to school related violence. LGBTI youth still decide to end their lives so young because they have no support from school, from peers or from their families. It is the first time that the world is seeing the largest population of young people in its history, yet we have not taken appropriate and effective steps to ensure that every young person, every young student has a welcoming and protective school environment where they can be themselves and yet aspire to achieve the full potential of life.

Integrating Comprehensive Sexuality Education into Curricula

Integrating comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) into school curricula is one of the most effective ways to address school violence issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. CSE brings a holistic approach to understanding one’s sexuality and gender identity, dynamics in relationships, gender-based violence, sex and sexual debut and social interactions; however integration of CSE remains a missing piece of curricula globally.

Engaging with the community outside of the school environment

Resentment towards what is not considered normal or acceptable finds its origin in early childhood. Influenced mainly by parents and family and fueled by social interactions, these resentments tend to take root deeply within young people.  Such feelings not only give birth to a strong sense of self-loathing among young LGBTI people that continues for a lifetime, but also legitimatizes the violence against LGBTI students in school settings. Rules and regulations may keep violence away from schools yet true acceptance, respect and integration requires bringing together communities and families, schools and technology in bringing understanding, acceptance and respect for LGBTI rights. Therefore, CSE cannot be effective unless a collaborative approach is adopted to merge both schools and communities – such as by engaging community leaders and families for example.

While it is important to continue our advocacy on CSE integrated curricula across the world, it is clear that we also need to explore interventions that would bring communities and families, schools and technology together. Such interventions would not bind CSE in to the school environment but would mainstream the discussion and assist LGBTI students to be safe and secure in the school environment, as well as the wider community.

Teachers can take action now

What is lacking at the moment is a sense of urgency and willingness to mainstream the discussions on LGBTI communities. Teachers need to play a vital role in introducing the concept of acceptance, respect and integration and bridging the gap between the school and families. Such interventions would not only empower LGBTI students to embrace their lives with pride but also encourage other students to support LGBTI students in the process.

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About Niluka

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 15.49.32Niluka is a young gay activist from Sri Lanka and a member and Project Officer of Youth Voices Count – a network of young gay and bisexual men and young transgender people in Asia and the Pacific. Young people and their rights have always been his passion for Niluka and since 2010 he has dedicated his advocacy towards the rights of young gay, MSM (men who have sex with men), and transgender youth. Niluka currently serves as a member of the MSMGF and UNAIDS Global Platform to fast track HIV and human rights responses among gay, bisexual men and MSM. An active advocate, Niluka is also a member of The Global Fund’s Community, Rights and Gender Advisory Group. Niluka is an English Honors graduate from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka and also holds a diploma in International Relations from the Bandaranaike Center for International Studies, Sri Lanka. 

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