Global human rights legislation protects against discrimination in education and violence for all people – irrespective of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Homophobic and transphobic violence in schools has been framed by officials as the basis of international public health crises. UNESCO has particularly targeted homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools in recent years, supporting global and Asia-Pacific research, advocacy and programming. Viet Nam has committed to global and Asia-Pacific efforts to lessen gender-based violence. This includes sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE)-related violence in schools.
SOGIE diversity has been strongly established in the histories of many nations. Recognition of diverse gender expressions has been perhaps more prevalent in the Asia-Pacific with Samoa’s ‘fa’afafines’ and Thailand’s ‘kathoey’ afforded particular cultural and social roles. Many Asian nations only became less tolerant of diverse SOGIE in their populations after Western influences in the 1800s. SOGIE-related violence, also called homophobic and transphobic violence, is based on gender stereotypes, roles and norms. It can include for example verbal, psychosocial, physical and sexual violence.
Whilst diverse legal and cultural contexts around SOGIE have likely impacted data collection on SOGIE-related violence in the Asia-Pacific, research suggests it is highly prevalent. Research shows SOGIE-related violence – more frequent in schools without policy protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students – has negative impacts on students’ education and wellbeing. The literature review highlighted some noteworthy work in countries including Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea and Thailand, for example. The literature review also underscored a gap in the research for a national Viet Nam study on SOGIE-related violence in schools. It additionally emphasised a strong need for national research on the extent, nature, impacts and supports around SOGIE-related violence in Viet Nam.
Research was conducted on the nature and extent of SOGIE-related violence in schools in North, Central and South Viet Nam (as part of a wider study on school-related gender-based violence). Issues of consent and privacy for participants were carefully considered. Stakeholders were enabled to freely discuss the sensitive topic of SOGIE-related violence due to the support of Ministry of Education and Training (MOET). The research was aided by a range of LGBT community organizations, departmental and school contacts, and local and international research experts. The study applied an emancipatory methodology aiming to achieve social justice goals. Mixed methods of in-person and online surveys, focus group discussions and in-depth interviews were used to collect data from four distinct groups of participants. These included general school students, LGBT students, school staff and parents.
Evidence from the 3,698 survey participants, 48 Focus-Group Discussions (FGDs) and 85 In-Depth Interviews (IDIs) with students and LGBT students, school staff and parents showed many school stakeholders were influenced by constructions of LGBT people as diseased or problematic. LGBT students presented stronger awareness of SOGIE-related violence than other groups, most particularly verbal violence and its negative long-term effects. SOGIE-related violence was high in Viet Nam; 71% of LGBT students reported having been physically abused and 72.2% reported having been verbally abused. Some LGBT students revealed that they had experienced situations in which schools staff were perpetrators of violence. LGBT youth experienced clear negative academic and wellbeing outcomes, ranging from lowered grades and school drop-out, to depression and suicidal ideation. Almost a quarter of LGBT students who had experienced violence had also experienced suicidal ideation and 14.9% attempted to engage in self-harm or suicide.
Gay, bisexual and transgender (GBT) males faced highly significant increases in risk for all kinds of violence compared to lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LBT) females. This appeared to be influenced by factors including perpetrator motivations of punishing ‘feminine’ expressions on male bodies, and increased respect for ‘masculine’ expressions on female bodies – within the context of a Confucian culture that broadly privileges masculinity. LGBT students were notably less confident in their schools’ efforts to prevent violence than other students in the FGDs and IDIs, and the LGBT students who had experienced violence surveyed were more likely to report that they sought assistance from friends (and less likely to seek help from staff) than other students who had experienced violence. Research findings suggest an imperative need to raise awareness and capacity of school administrators and teachers with regard to SOGIE-related violence to empower them to act as agent of change in making schools safer places for LGBT students.
Discussion & Recommendations
Curriculum-developers and policy-makers need to actively redress the gaps in all education stakeholder groups’ knowledge on SOGIE themes and LGBT students through clear education resources revision and distinct guidelines. Schools need to roll-out both educational interventions and practical support features (uniform flexibility and unisex toilets) in holistic efforts to create safe and supportive environments for LGBT students. Further studies could trial various SOGIE-related violence interventions in schools.