PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte needs to put his foot down and reaffirm his stance on the bullying and discrimination of his country’s LGBT community, an international rights watchdog said.
Despite anti-bullying laws in the Philippines, Human Rights Watch in a report released Thursday said students across the country are still exposed to abuse over their sexual orientation and gender identity.
The group said it managed to document a range of abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students in secondary schools.
The 68-page report titled ‘Just Let Us Be’: Discrimination Against LGBT Students in the Philippines details widespread bullying and harassment, discriminatory policies and practices against the students in instances that allegedly undermined their right to education under international law.
Ryan Thoreson, a fellow in the LGBT rights program at HRW, said these practices put the LGBT youth at risk.
“LGBT students in the Philippines are often the targets of ridicule and even violence,” Thoreson said in a statement.
“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.”
HRW said this based on interviews and discussions with 98 students and 46 parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, service providers, and experts on education in 10 cities in Luzon and the Visayas.
The watchdog recorded the testimonies of LGBT students who said existing protections are irregularly or incompletely implemented, and that secondary school policies and practices often facilitate discrimination and fail to provide them with information and support.
HRW was referring to the anti-bullying law passed by the Philippine Congress in 2013, which it said was an important step towards addressing the issue.
After the law was enacted, the Department of Education formulated regulations prohibiting bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
President Rodrigo Duterte, during his campaign period last year, also vocally condemned bullying and discrimination against LGBT people.
“President Duterte has spoken out against bullying and discrimination against LGBT people in the past, and he should do so now,” Thoreson said.
However, HRW said its research shows that LGBT students still encounter physical bullying, verbal harassment, sexual assault, and cyberbullying in schools. It said many students were not aware of anti-bullying policies or did not know where to seek help if they were persistently bullied.
A 19-year-old gay student from Olongapo City, Carlos M., whose name was changed for his protection, told HRW that he was regularly pushed and punched by bullies when he attended high school.
“When I’d get out of school, they’d follow me [and] push me, call me ‘gay,’ ‘faggot,’ things like that.”
HRW said the hostility students face in school is often exacerbated by discriminatory policies and practices.
The watchdog pointed out that 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.
“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,” the watchdog said.
To mitigate the problem of bullying, HRW said Congress should pass anti-discrimination legislation that specifically protects LGBT students in schools.
It added the Department of Education should survey schools to ensure anti-bullying protections are being fully implemented and train teachers to be responsive to the needs of LGBT students.
“Prohibiting bullying against LGBT youth was an important first step,” Thoreson said.
“Now lawmakers and school administrators should take concrete steps to make those protections meaningful and promote respect for LGBT youth throughout the Philippines’ school system.”