Learn more about Spirit Day and why LGBTIQ youth need society’s support.
by Cristhian Manuel Jiménez and Franklin Tejeda
One night in the fall of 2010, Tyler Clementi, 18 years old, stepped out of his room in Rutgers University, New Jersey, headed for the George Washington Bridge, jumped from it, and lost his life. The previous day his roommate had used a web-camera to spy on him while Tyler was in his room with another man and publish the images on a social network, violating his right to privacy and encouraging other people to see the content. The very same month of Tyler’s death four other young Americans committed suicide after being mocked for being gay.
Spirit Day was born from these tragedies, founded that same year by secondary student Brittany McMillan, to promote awareness, acceptance, and love towards LGBTIQ youth. This commemoration grew over the years and today the United Nations in the Dominican Republic, alongside people and allies to the LGBTIQ Youth, stand in solidarity with the #StopBullying campaign, in which different artists, government authorities, ambassadors, international bodies representatives, LGBTIQ activists, feminists, journalists, and young people, among others, invite the Dominican society to put an end to homophobic and transphobic bullying, raising their voices against discrimination and taking a stand to preserve the rights of LGBTIQ people.
Homophobic and transphobic bullying is a specific type of school violence directed towards people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, either perceived or real. This type of bullying can include mocking, spreading rumors, humiliation, pushing, insulting, beating, stealing or destroying belongings, exclusion from groups, online bullying, sexual aggression, or even death threats.
Regional studies, sponsored by UNESCO, reveal that educational centers are one of the most violent social spaces for LGBTIQ youth. Likewise, in Dominican Republic, a survey of the National Board for the HIV and AIDS (CONAVIHSIDA), found out that 64% of the gay and trans population in the province of Santiago has experienced rejection in school/university, and a study of the Dominican educator Rossina Matos points out the different challenges faced by the education system to deal with homophobic and transphobic bullying, stating that most youth “lack teachers and staff’s support and are victims of bullying, harassment and isolation”.
This bullying can lead to school dropouts of LGBTIQ students, affecting their academic performance, something which is even more common in the case of trans people. There is evidence that only 28% of trans people have completed secondary education, and only a 6% higher education, due to stigma and discrimination associated to their expresion and diverse gender identity.
It is therefore imperative to make a call to face the challenge of meeting Sustainable Development Goal number 4: Access to Education, with an integral vision of inclusion, inequality reduction and special attention to the problems faced by LGBTIQ youth. As long as students continue suffering as a result of discrimination or experience violence due to their gender identity or/and sexual orientation, it won’t be possible to fulfill the 2030 Agenda completely.
The Dominican Republic has made significant progress in this context. A survey by UNDP, UNFPA and the Ministry of Education of the Dominican Republic (MINERD) found out that 80% of female students and 72% of male students stated that they agree with the necessity of respecting people with diverse sexual orientation, which gives us the certainty that future generations are building healthy and respectful relationships with LGBTIQ people.
The United Nations is currently supporting various efforts to improve the wellbeing of LGBTIQ people in educational centers and society in general. In 2019, MINERD alongside UNESCO published a guide for teachers: “Educational care for boys, girls and youth involved in violent situations in school”, a tool that shares different approaches, procedures, resources and good practices that have had positive results in prevention and correction-compensation of the consequences that violence situations at school have in students, including all situations that affect LGBTIQ youth.
Additionally, UNDP is supporting efforts to broaden knowledge about the human rights situation of LGBTIQ people in the country, with the LGBTI National Survey and the Being LGBTI in the Dominican Republic Report. Both initiatives will provide information about the situation of the right to education, which will allow the State to formulate strategies aimed at ensuring an inclusive education, fair and of high-quality, and promoting lifelong learning opportunities, leaving no one behind.
LGBTIQ youth need all society’s support. Sometimes, it is enough that one person speaks out against injustice for a change in favor of LGBTI people to take place. Today, on #SpiritDay, let’s be the ally that raises his or her voice for those who need us most.
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