Bullying and Violence Make Schools Unsafe for LGBT

To raise awareness about the bullying faced by LGBT students, UNESCO, UNAIDS and other groups organized an awareness event at a Bangkok school in May 2014. Photo: UNESCO

By Lisnaree Vichitsorasatra
Staff Reporter

BANGKOK — When Angsanil Kaewmusi, attended school back home in Uthai Thani province, she couldn’t enter a restroom without being hounded.

A woman at heart, the 19-year-old doesn’t like to stand up when she goes to the bathroom. It was after she would enter a stall in the restroom and close the door that boys would start splashing water into the toilet.

“Sometimes they’ll insult my parents,” she said, referring to taunts from her classmates. Boys would sometimes squeeze her chest, thinking it was acceptable because they think she is the same sex. After facing frequent verbal and physical abuse at her school, she relocated to Bangkok, where she says she is happy now.

Toilet anecdotes were in ready supply among reports of discrimination and violence against third-gender students in a UNESCO report deeming educational institutions in Asia unsafe for the LGBT community, where the majority have experienced violence or bullying, the consequences of which can be dropping out or suicide.

Discussions about rights, equality and tolerance often get lost in abstraction or an inability to relate.

So imagine having to hold your bladder for hours at a time awaiting the chance to run home to release it – every day.

“I know a 13-year-old student in seventh grade. He’s learned to hold it in since he was in fourth grade and has to run home every day to go to the toilet,” said Thomas Guadamuz, a researcher on LGBT issues at Mahidol University.

Angsanil spoke Thursday at the Foreign Correspondents Club at the launch of “From Insult to Inclusion,” a study UNESCO says is the first of its kind in the region. It found bullying to be pervasive in many forms, including physical, verbal and psychological. Cyberbullying has become more prominent with research revealing that “online and offline harassment are closely interlinked, with harassment online often associated with violence offline.”

One of the main problems is that the schools themselves do not protect the rights of LGBT students, the report found, with teachers and school personnel carrying harmful prejudices against them.

Yet panelists reported that efforts to introduce LGBT protecting policies are still met with resistance in their school boards with more school counselors needing to understand the LGBT community. 

Justine Sass, HIV and Health Education Adviser of UNESCO Bangkok, said textbooks remain in circulation teaching that LGBT and transsexuals are mentally ill. 

In Thailand, which by many measures appears quite LGBT-tolerant, does little to protect students from bullying.

More than two-thirds of victims said they didn’t report what happened, and one-in-four of those said it was because they believed “nothing would happen even if someone were told,” according to the report. 

Angsanil said she still would not know where to go if she suffered bullying, preferring to confide in friends facing the same problems.

Throughout the region, youth said they believed reporting bullying would only make it worse.

Without recourse, such students often leave school and drop out, or worse, commit suicide. 

Sass said in some places, LGBT youth are subjected to “conversion therapy,” a discredited attempt to force heterosexuality on people with long-term mental health consequences.