Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) students and teachers have the right to a safe learning and working environment. However, there is a gap between public policies and reality. EI is encouraging teachers' unions to defend the right to education of all students though the Education For All programme. In Chile, EI is supporting a national awareness-raising campaign by gay and lesbian students who were expelled from their schools.
National school systems treat students differently, depending on their gender, social status, ethnic background, sexual orientation or gender identity. Significant gaps in academic achievement persist among these groups. Curriculum is often driven by mandates and standards that fail to recognise, include and respect students’ differences. EI affiliate, NEA/USA estimates that 160,000 students miss school every day from fear of attack or intimidation by other students. In Chile, some gay and lesbian students, who were expelled from different schools due to their sexual orientation, started a "students’ brigade" to promote discussion about homosexuality. As part of a pilot project in Santiago, they are visiting 12 schools - six municipal and six private. The project involves students between the ages of 16 and 18 years, parents' associations, teachers and specialists. The project is supported by the Chilean Education Minister, Sergio Bitar, who will soon issue a work plan about sexual education based on guidelines developed by a Commission of Experts . The Ministry will promote the inclusion of homosexuality in the policies for all schools to help combat discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Teacher training is also among the Minister's priorities. The Minister supports the right of lobby groups to defend their rights so long as the students’ education is not jeopardized and that there are not subjected to propaganda. Jorge Pavez, President of the Chilean teachers' union CPC and EI Executive Board member, finds that the government does not go far enough to tackle the intolerance within Chilean society. "The presence of de facto powers, the inefficiency of the State and intolerance do not create the conditions so that the community, without fear and prejudice, can develop spaces free of discrimination, as should the schools be," explains Jorge Pavez. What can unions do? Education unions must promote and help develop education programmes aimed at fighting intolerance and prejudice and provide professional guidance to classroom teachers. Some solutions are complex and require a combination of legislation, quality education, proactive intervention and the involvement of interest groups. In 2004, EI and Public Services International (PSI) launched a Global LGBT Forum to assist unions to better advocate LGBT rights in their daily work. Requests and suggestions can be addressed to the EI Secretariat at: [email protected].