Survey finds majority of LGBTQ students in Latin America experience bullying

By : Michael K. Lavers of the Washington Blade, COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL LGBT MEDIA ASSOCIATION
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ABOVE: Alba Lucía Reyes Arenas participates in Bogotá Pride in 2018. Photo courtesy of Fundación Sergio Urrego.

A new survey finds a majority of LGBTQ students in seven Latin American countries have experienced bullying because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The GLSEN Research Institute and Fundación Todo Mejora, a Chilean LGBTQ advocacy group, surveyed 5,318 students between the ages of 13-20 in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.

The survey, which will be formally released on Tuesday, in its executive summary notes “three-quarters or more of LGBTQ students regularly heard homophobic remarks and negative remarks about gender expression from other students.” The executive summary also notes between 58.2-79.1 percent of respondents heard “homophobic remarks from teachers or other school staff.”

Upwards of three-quarters of the students who responded to the survey said they “experienced verbal harassment” that included name-calling and threats. More than 10 percent of respondents said they were physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The report also notes less than half of respondents “ever reported incidents of harassment and assault to teachers and other school staff.”

GLSEN and Todo Mejora worked with a dozen LGBTQ advocacy groups in the seven countries from which the survey respondents come.

“As governments around the world attack their own LGBTQ communities, we seek to ensure that the damage they cause will be vivid and measurable, and that these communities themselves cannot be ignored or erased,” says GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard in the executive summary. “And in those places where governments seek to progress on human rights and LGBTQ inclusion, the data and analysis here and in the country level school climate reports released by our partners provides a roadmap for action, and a baseline to measure the resulting benefits to some of their most vulnerable youth.”

Anti-LGBTQ violence, discrimination overshadows legal advances

Activists across Latin America over the last decade have celebrated LGBTQ rights advances, even though rates of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity remain among the highest in the world.

Same-sex couples can legally marry in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay and portions of Mexico that include Mexico City. A Chilean law that allows gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions took effect in 2015.

Argentina and Uruguay are among the countries that allow transgender people to legally change their gender without undergoing surgery. Colombian Sen. Claudia López in October became the first woman and first lesbian elected mayor of the country’s capital of Bogotá.

The report notes Argentina does not have a nationwide nondiscrimination law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who activists say has provoked an increase in anti-LGBTQ violence in the country because of his homophobic and transphobic rhetoric, took office in January.

Sergio Urrego, 16, died by suicide in 2014 after administrators of his Bogotá high school bullied him because he was gay. Urrego’s mother, Alba Lucía Reyes Arenas, has become a vocal anti-bullying activist and a law that bares Urrego’s name prohibits Colombian schools from discriminating against students based on their sexual orientation.

The report specifically cites Urrego’s suicide. It also contains several recommendations that include the implementation of policies that specifically address discrimination and violence in schools based on sexual orientation and gender identity and training teachers to better deal with LGBTQ students.

“Results from this multinational report clearly demonstrate that, for all seven of these countries in Latin American, there is an urgent need for action to create safe and affirming learning environments for LGBTQ students. LGBTQ students across these countries commonly feel unsafe in school, hear anti-LGBTQ remarks, and experience harassment and assault due to their sexual orientation or gender expression,” reads the executive summary. “Further, school personnel do not often intervene when they hear anti-LGBTQ remarks, and often make anti-LGBTQ remarks themselves.”

“Moreover, we found that the victimization faced by many LGBTQ students can lead to poorer well-being, less welcoming schools, and more negative educational outcomes,” it adds. “Positive LGBTQ student supports — including supportive staff, inclusive curricular resources, and inclusive anti-bullying/harassment policies — can improve academic experiences for LGBTQ students.”

The full report can be found here.

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