Creating Space for PRIDE: LGBTQI+ Inclusion in Schools and Curricula
May 17, marks International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Lesbophobia, and Transphobia. The day aims to coordinate international events that raise awareness of LGBTQI+ rights. This year (2023), the day of recognition, as well as June Pride Month in the U.S. and many other countries, come just after the United States Agency for International Development released the updated Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy.
“Potential future leaders must not be denied their right to education on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, sex characteristics (SOGIESC) or any other inherent characteristics.” (Source: 2023 USAID Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy)
Did you know that nearly half (40 percent) of LGBTQI+ learners worldwide report being ridiculed, teased, insulted, or threatened at school because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression? Their peers most often inflict the abuse. Thirty-seven percent report feeling rarely, or never, safe at school.1 Such discrimination can place LGBTQI+ learners at risk for isolation, reduced academic achievement, and psychological and physical harm. Few ever disclose their experiences of abuse in educational settings and even fewer seek services. Of those who do ask for help, only a small number of students actually receive services.2
Many factors contribute to harmful beliefs and attitudes about LGBTQI+ people, resulting in some of the aforementioned inequities. One key factor is the omission of information on the spectrum of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) in curricula, teaching materials, and learning settings. Perhaps even more detrimental is the common framing of such identities as abnormal or deviant. These negative impacts can lead to life-long effects to one’s overall health and well-being affecting economic stability, mental health, and inclusion in society.
In the face of the realities LGBTQI+ children and youth face daily in their environments, USAID is taking steps to ensure education programming integrates principles of ‘Do No Harm’ by ensuring all LGBTQI+ persons’ needs are included in programming and that their safety is protected. Additionally, by integrating LGBTQI+ related content into curricula, lessons, books, teaching and learning materials, and educational services, leads to more equitable, inclusive, and better-quality education for all.
USAID is committed to learning from LGBTQI+ activists, technical experts, and other partners to meaningfully design and implement quality, equitable, and inclusive education from pre-primary to higher education and the workforce.
For example, USAID/Haiti’s WASH in Schools activity, part of the Community-Driven Development (CDD) activity, addresses disproportionate access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services for girls, women, and the LGBTQI+ community.
Another USAID project provides us with an opportunity for learning and potential replication is Nepal’s recent work with stakeholders to incorporate curriculum for grades 6-9 covering health and overall well-being of sexually and gender diverse persons. There is a particular focus on the hijras, a transgender and intersex group recognized in Southern Asia as a third gender (GEM 2020).
USAID’s Youth Excel partner Rock of Hope in Eswatini supports LGBTQIA+ youth. Their research found that peer counseling paired with life-skills training resulted in a steady reduction in participants’ anxiety or depression.
And in Kosovo, USAID’s Basic Education Program reached over 140 principals across the country who participated in training on LGBTQI+ rights and inclusion through its annual School Management and Leadership Program. The training increased school directors’ awareness of the challenges faced by LGBTQI+ students and teachers, and informed them of their duty of care.
Academic achievement depends on equitable and inclusive practices to enable all students to achieve a sense of overall health and well-being by feeling represented, served, and cared for by members of the educational community. That is why schools, educators, and those responsible for creating educational policies need to work to ensure the safety and inclusion of LGBTQI+ learners. After all, young people in all of their diversity, are our future leaders and potential problem-solvers to the most significant threats and challenges facing the planet today from climate change, to health threats as seen by the COVID-19 pandemic, to innumerable other crises and conflicts.
Leaders need to create space for equity in accessing education. Perhaps more importantly, we need to create space for Pride.
Resources for additional learning
- 2022 Statement by President Joe Biden on International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia | The White House
- Advancing LGTBQI+ Inclusive Development
- Guidance for Promoting Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility in Education Materials
- 2023 Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy
- Integrating LGBTQI+ Considerations in Education Programming Guidance
- LGBTQI Considerations in Education Online Learning Module
1. "Don't look away: no place for exclusion of LGBTI students.” Global education monitoring report: policy paper, 45. (UNESCO 2021)
2." Data + Solutions to Prevent Violence in Schools.” (Together for Girls 2022)