MANILA - Students in the Philippines suffer bullying and discrimination in school because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday.
Titled "Just Let Us Be," the report said lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students in secondary school experience "widespread bullying and harassment, discriminatory policies and practices, and an absence of supportive resources" that put them at risk and undermine their right to education.
"LGBT students in the Philippines are often the targets of ridicule and even violence," said Ryan Thoreson, a fellow in the LGBT rights program at HRW.
"And in many instances, teachers and administrators are participating in this mistreatment instead of speaking out against discrimination and creating classrooms where everybody can learn," he said.
HRW's 68-page report said existing protections were irregularly or incompletely implemented, and that many students were not aware of anti-bullying policies or did not know where to seek help if they were persistently bullied.
LGBT issues were also rarely discussed in school curricula, and when they do arise, teachers often make negative or dismissive comments about LGBT students, including instructing their students that being LGBT is sinful or unnatural, HRW added.
"They say that gays are the main focus of HIV. I'm a bit ashamed of that, because I was once in a section where I'm the only gay, and they kept pointing at me," said Jonas, a 17-year-old gay student who was among 98 interviewed for the report.
Carlos, another gay student, shared: "When I was in high school, they'd push me, punch me. When I'd get out of school, they'd follow me [and] push me, call me 'gay,' 'faggot,' things like that."
HRW added that hostilities that LGBT students would face - including physical bullying, verbal harassment, sexual assault and cyberbullying - were often exacerbated by discriminatory policies.
Schools in the Philippines impose gendered uniform and hair-length requirements without exceptions for students who do not identify as their sex assigned at birth, HRW said.
These inflexible requirements cause many LGBT students to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome at school, be turned away by school guards, or skip class or drop out.
PROTECTING LGBT YOUTH
HRW's Thoreson said President Rodrigo Duterte should reiterate his rejection of bullying and discrimination against LGBT people during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Congress, meanwhile, should pass anti-discrimination legislation to ensure the safety of LGBT members, the report added.
"The failure to pass an anti-discrimination bill puts LGBT kids at risk of discrimination and violence," said Meggan Evangelista of the LGBT legislative advocacy group LAGABLAB Network in the HRW report.
"If lawmakers are serious about making schools safe for all students, they should stop delaying and pass anti-discrimination protections as soon as possible," Evangelista said.
HRW also urged the Department of Education to survey schools to check on anti-bullying measures, train teachers to be responsive to the needs of LGBT students, incorporate LGBT issues into curricular modules, and promote model policies prohibiting discrimination in schools.
At the school level, administrators should strengthen anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies to ensure LGBT youth are safe and respected, HRW added.
HRW's report cited in-depth interviews and discussions with 98 students and 46 parents, school officials, service providers and education experts from 10 cities in Luzon and the Visayas.