"Flyingrainbowflag" by user:theodoranian - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
"Flyingrainbowflag" by user:theodoranian - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Teacher unionists’ continuous advocacy for inclusive education and LGBTI rights

published 14 June 2021 updated 3 April 2023

Educators in Spain and the UK are backing up research by UNESCO and the International LGBTQI Youth and Student Organisation (IGLYO) – a member-based youth and student network –and reiterate their commitment in favour of the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) educators and students in education systems and societies.

Spain: Far from reaching the inclusion of LGTBI students

In their recent blog(in Spanish), Belén de la Rosa and Begoña Fuentes, of the Federación de Enseñanza de Comisiones Obreras (FE.CC.OO) explain that, in recent years, much progress has been made in Spain towards achieving equal rights for LGTBI people.

They note that laws have contributed to lesbian, gay, non-binary, trans and intersexual people increasingly feeling more accepted in society. At national level, there are two crucial laws, one guaranteeing equal marriage and one on the change of registered name, pointing out the need to expand civil rights for transgender people. Laws against LGTBIphobia and the right to gender self-determination have also been approved in 12 of the Spanish autonomous communities.

De la Rosa and Fuentes however deplore that, drawing from their experience as teaching professionals and with a history of bullying for being part of the LGBTI community, “there is not progress at the same pace in terms of social acceptance”.

They mention a recent survey carried out in Europe, including Spain, in which more than 17,000 boys, girls and young people between the ages of 13 and 24 were questioned and revealed that exclusion and discrimination continue to be present in the classroom.

To them, it appears that “the safety of the LGBTI student body seems to depend on whether you are lucky enough to live in a region that has developed inclusive educational policies or not, and the political context of the moment. This means that our rights are constantly threatened. The advance of the extreme right and the return to ultra-conservative positions is a stark reminder of how easy it is to abolish certain fundamental rights of LGTBI people.”

That is why FE.CC.OO provides schools with information and tools they need to support LGBTI students and teachers, as “schools need strong systems capable of controlling discrimination and violence against LGBTI students. Students must be at the center of these efforts. For example, through clubs and spaces that offer support systems to students who have been victims of harassment or violence.”

When all students, regardless of their differences, feel safe and welcomed, bullying and violent incidents decrease, and they can reach their full potential, de la Rosa and Fuentes stress.

They agree that for schools to embrace all students, it is essential that teaching staff are trained and trained with the knowledge necessary to deliver inclusive curricula: “If a teacher does not inspire confidence in their students - knowing that bullying and violence will be dealt with effectively - they will not be willing to reveal their identity and sexual orientation. They will continue to hide.”

UK: LGBTI rights are human rights

“The NASUWT- The Teachers’ Union is fully committed to the belief that all students and teachers should be free to teach and learn in an inclusive environment that respects LGBTI rights. We strongly believe that an inclusive education environment for pupils and students must also be a safe and inclusive space for all school staff, particularly those that are LGBTI,” also highlighted NASUWT National Official (Equality and Training) Jennifer Moses.

At our recent LGBTI Teachers’ Conference, she said, 36% said that these incidences had worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic with many seeing a rise in homophobic and hateful language being used online.

In terms of teaching, much recent attention in England has focused on the extent to which LGBTI related issues are reflected meaningfully and sufficiently in the curriculum offer schools make to their children and young people, Moses insisted.

She went on to remind that the history of LGBTI education in England’s schools is complex and difficult. In recent decades, the issue has been dominated by the impact of what became known as ‘Section 28’.

This was legislation passed in 1988 which established that schools ‘shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’ or ‘promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

‘Section 28’ was eventually repealed in 2003, but it left a legacy in England’s education system in which the equal status of LGBT+ persons and communities was not reflected in schools’ educational offers in many cases, with clear negative implications for children and young people and for the cause of LGBTI equality more generally, Moses regretted.

She indicated that the statutory guidance on relationships and sex education (RSE) in England had not been updated since 2000 until a revised version was enacted last year. The previous guidance was silent on LGBT+-related issues. While entirely legitimate criticisms of the revised guidance for not doing enough to address discrimination against LGBTI persons and communities and to support the promotion of equality can, and do, continue to be made, it is difficult not to regard the revision of the framework for relationships and sex education in schools as a clear step in the right direction.

This reform to the framework for LGBTI education is at a relatively early stage of implementation and it will be important for all stakeholders, including Government, trade unions and advocacy and rights groups, to continue to monitor the extent to which it provides schools with the scope to address LGBTI-related content more effectively and comprehensively than has often been the case in the past, Moses said, adding that “specific attention will need to be given to the quality and quantity of training and support made available to staff in schools and to their ability to access sources of effective external expertise and advices”.

For her, more broadly, while changes to RSE are important, it also clear that more work needs to be done to ensure that LGBTI issues are reflected more consistently and prominently in the wider school curriculum.

“We must continue to fight for a safe and inclusive learning and teaching environment around the world for all LGBT pupils and school staff if we truly believe that LGBTI rights are human rights,” Moses concluded.

UNESCO and IGLYO: Over half of LGBTI students in Europe bullied in school

The education unionists were reacting to the new study by UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report and the LGBTI youth organisation (IGLYO), finding that over half of LGBTI students in Europe have reported being bullied at school. This report, released on 17 May, Iinternational day against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia recommends increased investment in teacher capacity to deliver inclusive curricula and for tackling LGBTI bullying and harassment.

It also recognises the failure of some education establishments to address discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and intersex variations.

Interventions by teachers and other school staff upon hearing negative remarks and bullying are vital to an inclusive education system, the study shows. But many teachers lack the confidence and knowledge to support LGBTQI learners. The majority of students (58%) never reported bullying incidents to any school staff and fewer than 15% of respondents systematically reported their experiences of bullying to any school staff.

According to the report, providing a safe learning environment is a crucial step in achieving inclusion for LGBTQI learners, which was recognized in the commitment made by 56 countries in 2016 under the UNESCO-convened Call for Action by Ministers for inclusive and equitable education for all learners in an environment free from discrimination and violence.

UNESCO and IGLYO also called on governments and schools to roll out the teaching of human rights education and other subjects, including history and social studies, to introduce LGBTQI people, their history and experience in teaching programmes. These efforts must be complemented by training and empowering teachers to deliver inclusive curricula so they can impart knowledge and address incidents and threats effectively.