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Protecting LGBT Rights

Statement by U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO David Killion on UNESCO's work to address homophobia in schools

Jacob Rubin, pictured with his mother Laurie Leiber, was targeted by bullies his entire sixth-grade year at his school in California.  He says he was teased because of his long hair and then physically assaulted on his birthday. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Jacob Rubin, pictured with his mother Laurie Leiber, was targeted by bullies his entire sixth-grade year at his school in California. He says he was teased because of his long hair and then physically assaulted on his birthday. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

For immediate release

On May 16, UNESCO will hold a landmark meeting on homophobic bullying in schools, just in time for the International Day Against Homophobia/Transphobia (IDAHO).   Homophobic bullying is a serious human rights issue, not only in the United States, where it has received national attention after the suicides of teens like Jamey Rodemeyer and Tyler Clementi, but all over the world.

UNESCO’s work in this domain is critical.  At the Wednesday meeting, the agency will release a groundbreaking report on homophobia in education institutions, based on the results of the first ever international consultation it convened on this subject in December 2011. 

This report is important in that it provides a global snapshot of homophobic bullying.  It does not paint a pretty picture.  Homophobic bullying is truly a global problem that affects children in all parts of the world, from Turkey and South Africa to China and the United States. And the problem is a serious one: homophobic bullying poisons learning environments and can wreak havoc on the lives of its victims, who suffer from higher rates of absenteeism, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide.  And yet UNESCO’s report shows that, even in the most sensitive contexts, steps can be taken to prevent bullying or violence.  Drawing on best practices from a variety of countries, including the United States, UNESCO provides guidance on how to take action at the government, school and individual levels.

On behalf of the United States government, I would like to congratulate UNESCO for taking the lead on this critical issue.  UNESCO’s report will help governments and educators around the world take action to ensure that schools are safe and secure spaces for all students, regardless of their sexual identity or orientation.

The Obama administration has made the protection of gay rights an important part of its domestic and foreign policy, from the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and President Obama’s recent stand in favor of same-sex marriage to the administration’s announcement last December that it would actively seek to promote LGBT rights as part of its foreign policy.  UNESCO is an essential partner for the United States in the struggle to ensure respect and equality for LGBT persons everywhere.