|▲ Many people lack awareness of the LGBTQ community.|
We have all been educated not to discriminate against others; however, homophobia is still being perpetuated. On January 21, 2017, the Ministry of Education of South Korea officially announced that they will not include LGBTQ discussions in standard sex education taught in schools and the decision has landed them in a nationwide controversy.
According to ‘A Survey on the Actual Conditions of Discrimination in Terms of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’ conducted by the National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea in 2014, many queer adolescents in Korea were harassed because of their sexual identity and were discriminated against in the name of censorship and disciplinary action. Moreover, serious bullying including direct violence and statements of hatred from other students and teachers were often directed at these young students. This naturally puts unnecessary pressure on queer adolescents and discourages them from studying or attending school.
The survey showed that 48% of the respondents learned about LGBTQ issues in schools; and only 60% of which received proper education about the subject, while 13.5% of them were exposed to content which directly discriminated against or was ignorant towards the LGBTQ community. This shows that the program content lacked coherence across schools and identified a large gap in how people are being educated about LGBTQ issues.
Research shows that the level of security and acceptance in schools by queer adolescents is directly related to how teachers react. When there are teachers advocating for their equality, students feel acceptance in the classroom community. However, most teachers have little experiences counseling queer students and despite knowing they have a responsibility to care for them, some suggest instead that the problem is being identified as LGBTQ. This discourages queer students from asking teachers for help, even when they are in trouble.
To learn more about this, The Dankook Herald (DKH) interviewed Botong, a consultant at the LGBTQ Youth Crisis Support Center, DDing Dong. We learned that those who seek assistance or a consultation at this center usually worry about being considered an outsider in the community, because of their sexual identity.
Botong stated that most students, who come to this center, haven’t been provided proper education about LGBTQ in schools. There is a lot of incorrect and offensive information being spread. As a result, students feel isolated from their friends and family. Botong insists that queer students actually face these problems, more often than you think.
Moreover, Botong mentioned that there are some schools that violate the rights of queer adolescents in various ways. More than simply providing the wrong information, there are real circumstances of discrimination toward queer adolescents. Sometimes queer students are exposed to prejudice from their teachers who suggest being LGBTQ is a problem. This has students identify themselves negatively and this causes severe mental stress. In other words, schools which are supposed to protect students are actually violating the rights of their students to equality and basic human dignity. Sometimes this practice is kept secret by schools, which is the main reason why solutions to the problem can’t be found.
People are aware that prejudice towards the LGBTQ community exists and the important role the education system has played this matter, but they are not always sure what we can do about it. The DKH interviewed Yoon Mi-seon, a professor of educational psychology at Dankook University about the topic. First, DKH asked her how the way in which one is educated, can affect a person’s character and cognitive ability. Prof. Yoon explained that education has an enormous effect on building people’s character and cognition, especially for children and adolescents. Also, if there is no objective education on subjects, adolescents will naturally develop a prejudice towards them. It is important to recognize that we gain knowledge form our significant others, who might have unprofessional and narrow-minded thoughts. Therefore, adolescents can make massive generalizations and develop prejudiced ideas, due to a lack of unbiased and tolerant education, which is much more dangerous.
In addition, the DKH inquired about what impact prejudiced education can have on queer adolescents. She argued that such an education can hurt queer adolescents. She believes that since most teenagers haven’t finished defining their identity, they might see themselves in negative way or deny their true identity because of the way they have been educated.
Next, the DKH asked her opinion about the content of LGBTQ issues in the education system. Prof. Yoon said that in regards to sex education, not including information about LGBTQ is basically prejudiced, close-minded education. However, except for sex education, she doesn’t believe that there needs to be a specific course teaching LGBTQ issued in public school. Instead, teenagers should be provided with diverse content that includes the normalization of the LGBTQ community, through various subjects, such as sentences in grammar class, illustrations in sociology class, texts in English classes and so forth. This, she believes, is more helpful than making a specific course about LGBTQ issues. She claims this will provide diverse information to students, and they will naturally be able to understand and embrace other ideas and concepts they may know little about.
Some disagree, believing that her educational system approach can somehow encourage adolescents to identify as queer. The DKH asked Prof. Yoon about this opinion. She stated that she understands the reason they think like this, but she insists that sexual identity is something you are born with and it is much less likely to be influenced by your environment and education. Moreover, she argued that education should give opportunities to students to think about their identity and that could be another way to help adolescents raise their level of understanding.
Since the role of education is to help people be socially good and make a better society, education can change prevailing negative or ignorant attitudes towards queers. People shouldn’t categorize other people as right or wrong based on their differences, and it is time for the Korean education system to admit to this. Prof. Yoon strongly asserted that in the Korean education system, a lack of proper education causes a lack of understanding, which is likely to create an environment of discrimination.
Contrary to the Korean education system, there are many endeavors, created by citizen organizations and governments around the world, which ensure that awareness of LGBTQ issues is provided in schools. First, in 2010, the Danish Institute for Human Rights launched a project named, ‘It Takes All Kinds - Fighting Homophobia in Schools’, which has been adopted by 10 European countries. Nongovernmental organizations, youth and teachers participated in this project. The Danish Institute for Human Rights also developed educational tools, such as providing highly specified information to illustrate discrimination, for elementary and middle school teachers including activities about banning discrimination and the process for resolving distress.
Second, the United Kingdom launched a campaign called, ‘Stonewall Education for All’. Stonewall, is a nongovernmental organization in the UK, which receives financial assistance from the Foundation of Teacher Trainers, to create guidelines for training teachers. Moreover, they supervise the schools and evaluate methods for responding to bullying and discrimination in the education environment.
They published textbooks that include an introduction to movies about coming-out and the adolescence of queers, topics for discussion and stories about the LGBTQ community. According to many surveys, the teachers, who were trained in the curriculums, felt more comfortable intervening in LGBTQ student problems and were more willing to take responsibility against biases like homophobia.
Although there are some who are concerned and opposed to LGBTQ education, there are more benefits than harm to this approach. First, this gives teachers more knowledge about being queer. Second, this helps schools take appropriate action, in situations of discrimination, to protect queer adolescents. It means that with enough education, schools can create circumstances for understanding what’s going on around them.
A lack of understanding causes discrimination in the education system and offensive prejudices towards the LGBTQ community. It is clear that a proper education system can create an atmosphere in which queer students feel welcome. This leads us to a simple conclusion: The government’s new sex education standard is doing nothing, but isolating the LGBTQ community and serious change is needed to modernize the program and ensure the rights of all are being respected.
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