LGBTI persons face discrimination and violence in various areas of social life, including the education system. Preliminary results of the Survey on the Experience of Discrimination, Hate Crimes and Violence against LGBTIQ Persons in Croatia (Zagreb Pride, 2019)
confirm that more than 60% of respondents experienced discrimination at school, at work or in contact with state institutions such as the police, judiciary and health in the period from 2013 to 2019.
A growing problem in schools is homo/bi/transphobic violence, i.e. behavior and/or speech that causes a young person to feel undesirable or marginalized due to presumed or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. Almost a third of students in Croatian schools commit this type of violence against their peers (Hodžić and Bijelić, 2012). Discrimination and violence in schools take different forms: from peer verbal and physical abuse, insulting or humiliating LGBTIQ students, to perpetuating prejudice in the curriculum, and denying access to information about sexuality and sexual health.
A frequent form of violence in schools is defamatory speech and hate speech, which is sometimes neglected or not taken seriously, while it leaves negative consequences on young person's self-confidence and self-image. Also, increasingly often is defamatory speech experienced online – in which case this is cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is much harder to detect, which is why the LGBTI youth is exposed to violence not only in schools, but also after school, in their homes. A common example of violence on social media is when an LGBTIQ student is threatened with public disclosure of their identity, and sometimes the threat is followed by a blackmail for a “counter-service” that will prevent the public disclosure from happening.
Many youngsters are often called derogatory names, and rumors about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity are deliberately spread. There are numerous terms referring to LGBTI people, and usage of these terms is motivated by hatred, ignorance, mockery, misunderstanding. Derogatory names such as peder, pederko, pederčina, homić, topli brat (all derogatory terms for gay men, eng. fagot), lezbača (derogatory term for a lesbian, eng. dyke), tranzić (derogatory term for a trans person, eng. tranny) are used to portray LGBTI people as deranged or sick. Insults such as What kind of fagot bag is that? Did you cut your hair short because you are a lesbian? Don't hug here like fagots! There is no place for fagots like you here! can often be heard at schools. These, and many others, have a negative impact on LGBTI youth. Such discriminatory language insults, causes pain and a feeling of inferiority in a person who suffers violence. Facing mockery, insults and threats on a daily basis leads to feelings of isolation, depression, dropping out of school, and even suicide. LGBTI youth often cannot turn to their parents for help because they fear rejection, condemnation, and lack of understanding. If a young person who suffered abuse decides to seek help and support at school, sometimes the teaching and professional staff does not react adequately, due to lack of education and their own homo/bi/transphobic attitudes. We are familiar with an example where one gay student suffered continuous violence from his peers because of his sexual orientation, and it was especially intensified after he came out (openly said he was gay). He turned for help to a school's expert, but they further discriminated him, claiming that it was "too early to be gay", and the principal tried to cover up the situation.
Violence, defamatory speech and hate speech usually go unreported precisely because of students' fear of a homophobic reaction from the person they turn to for help. There is no system of adequate psychosocial support for LGBTI youth in the Croatian education system. Professional staff are not sufficiently educated on homo/bi/transphobic violence, and often they themselves have prejudices against LGBTI people, which hinders provision of adequate support. The lack of a comprehensive approach to combating homo/bi/transphobia in the education system has been highlighted by LGBTIQ organizations, ombuds institutions and international institutions over the years, but there is still no clear strategy for state institutions to address this issue.
Growing up is generally a very sensitive life period for all young people. In addition to the usual challenges of growing up, LGBTI youngsters face rejection, discrimination and violence in the school environment. Schools play an important role in creating a society in which all persons will treat others with respect. In order for schools to successfully address the problem of defamatory speech and violence against LGBTI youth - knowledge on how to recognize such violence, work on its prevention and have an effective system of action when it occurs in schools - is necessary (Guidelines for combating homophobia, transphobia and peer violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, LORI, 2016). This will only be fully possible once a comprehensive strategy to combat homo/bi/transphobic violence in schools is implemented at the national level, and national programs and school policies are improved to ensure the right to education without discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity and expression.
LET'S MAKE EDUCATION SAFE AND INCLUSIVE!
The text was created as part of the #LORIIDAHOBIT2020 campaign with the aim of informing the public about the situation of LGBTI youth in the Croatian educational system and the importance of education on LGBTIQ topics in schools. The campaign includes a series of video testimonies of LGBTI youngsters talking about their experiences during formal education, and informative articles on issues of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in education. The campaign is created by second-year graduate students of pedagogy at FFRi, Antonela Pribanić and Tea Staničić, as part of their practice, in collaboration with mentors from the NGO LORI.