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Education key in countering discrimination of LGBT persons

30 September 2013

In a side event at the 2013 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, the Netherlands Helsinki Committee explored the role of education in the discrimination of LGBT persons. Education shapes the attitudes of young people with respect to sexual diversity. School policies which promote an open attitude towards the expression of sexual orientation and which counter harassment, bullying and discrimination can  greatly contribute to safety for LGBT persons. Lack of security for these persons is an issue that affects society as a whole, the NHC emphasized.

The large LGBT survey by the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union, published in May 2013, shows a high degree of discrimination at schools. For example, an average of between 83 and 97 % of respondents had heard negative comments or seen negative conduct because a schoolmate was perceived to be LGBT. FRA Director Morten Kjaerum at the presentation of the report said that “according to the data collected, LGBT people start facing difficulties early at school, where they regularly experience bullying and harassment. For this reason, anti-bullying policies should be developed and implemented and teachers should be trained about how to better tackle bullying against LGBT students.”

Michael Barron informed the participants in the side event about the campaigns of Belong To in Ireland to address bullying in schools. Ireland’s recognition of the right to be free from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is only recent; homosexual behaviour was only decriminalized in 1993. Now, Belong To has obtained the cooperation of the National Association of School Principals for its work to counter bullying, and the government has given explicit support to addressing this issue. To view Mr Barron’s presentation, click here. An ad produced by Belong To can be viewed here, as well as a video outlining 10 years of their work available here.

Mr Barron has also cooperated with the Council of Europe and UNESCO in anti-bullying initiatives, and he referred to good practices in several European countries, including France, the UK and Sweden.

Nazariy Boyarskiy of the Centre for Civil Liberties and co-chair of the Coalition for Combating Discriminaton in Ukraine spoke about the situation in his country. No attention is given to sexual diversity in education. Teachers who express LGBT identity are routinely dismissed from their jobs. The introduction in Russia of repression of ‘LGBT propaganda’ has led to a more aggressive attitude by some politicians, media and members of the public towards LGBT persons.

Dmitry Dubrovsky, Professor of International Relations, Political Sciences and Human Rights Program at the Smolny Institute of St. Petersburg State University highlighted increasing limitations on academic freedom in Russia, where using the term “LGBT’ in scientific publications has become difficult. Mr Dubrovsky recounted the initiatives of the Alliance of Straights for LGBT Equality, including the Children 404 project, allowing LGBT youth to express and seek contact with respect to their sexual orientation.

The holding of the side event was supported by the European Union, the USA, Switzerland and Norway.