Original article from UNESCO Asia-Pacific: http://ow.ly/PruI3014Mtj

Education is often likened to a journey of discovery and growth, but for too many young learners it is a dark trek marked by abuse and exclusion.

As a recent UNESCO Bangkok report found, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) students are often much more likely to be bullied than their non-LGBTI peers – and even the perception of being LGBTI increases this risk. For many, school life comes with threats of physical, verbal, psychological and sexual violence and social exclusion. Their motivation, academic performance and mental health suffer as a result.

UNESCO Bangkok’s #RoadtoInclusion campaign advocates for a better path for LGBTI learners. Launched around the 2016 International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), 17 May, the campaign aims to raise awareness about school-related bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression (SOGIE) and promote learning environments that respect diversity. To that end, young people, educators, policy-makers and activists from across the Asia-Pacific region were invited to share what inclusion and inclusive schools mean to them as well as their ideas on how to make schools more inclusive for LGBTI learners.

The response was overwhelming, with nearly 200 messages received from influential individuals and organizations in 19 Asia-Pacific countries. The messages were compiled into a Facebook album and were shared widely across social media. Campaign contributors helped share the messages within their own networks, resulting in these powerful messages of inclusion and empowerment reaching tens of thousands of people across the region.

The #RoadtoInclusion campaign is UNESCO Bangkok’s most recent advocacy effort aimed at addressing school-related SOGIE-based bullying, discrimination and violence in Asia-Pacific. Previous efforts include the #PurpleMySchool campaign, a social media-driven collaboration with UNDP aimed at raising awareness about SOGIE-based bullying and encouraging people to take actions at the school level to create safer spaces for LGBTI learners. Some 400 such actions were taken in more than 10 countries, and more than 16,000 people organized local initiatives using resources from the #PurpleMySchool campaign website.

UNESCO also worked with teachers, students and school principals to chalk rainbows in and around schools across Bangkok as a show of support for LGBTI learners. This was followed by school-based activities to discuss homophobia and transphobia in Thai classrooms, drawing on UNESCO’s and the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) Committee’s lesson plan, further adapted for the Thai context. Bangkok was also home to a week-long commemoration of the 2015 International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, where more than 20 government and civil society partners conducted public discussions, workshops and cultural performances in support of LGBT youth. Highlights of that inspiring week are captured in this video.

Evidence-based action is the cornerstone of all of UNESCO Bangkok’s advocacy campaigns. UNESCO has supported Viet Nam (forthcoming) and Thailand’s first-ever systematic study on this issue, as well ascurriculum analyses and school consultations in China. In 2015, UNESCO Bangkok published the first regional review of bullying on the basis of SOGIE, “From Insult to Inclusion,” drawing on more than 500 studies from 40 countries, and input from over 500 stakeholders from 20 countries through consultationsand outreach. The report provides UNESCO and its partners with a clear path for future interventions.

UNESCO’s advocacy also draws on programmatic experience and lessons generated from country programmes supporting teacher education, youth engagement and curriculum strengthening. For example, in Thailand, UNESCO is partnering with Plan International and Path2Health to pilot school-based prevention and response actions in 10 schools in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, with funding from the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of the Netherlands and from SIDA.  Likewise, in Cambodia, UNESCO has partnered with CamASEAN Youth’s Future (CamASEAN), an organization promoting minority rights, to train nearly 4,000 teachers on SOGIE and how to support LGBT students. The office also supports university campus-based activities on SOGIE in China.

Lessons learned from these programmes and others are being documented, with the potential to scale up successful approaches in other schools in the region, including through national consultations UNESCO will host in China, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam this year, as part of the Being LGBTI in Asia initiative, a collaboration with UNDP.

The destination is set, the momentum is strong, and UNESCO and partners are committed to the journey – to pushing ahead along the “Road to Inclusion” for LGBTI learners.

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For more on the situation in Asia-Pacific, see the full report, summary or infographic

For more on the Thailand study, see the research report, policy brief and infographic

For videos on the issue see:

• Bias & Bullying: Voices from Asia-Pacific classrooms (Video)
• You Are Loved (Video)
• Teachers Matter (Video)
• Imagine That (Video)