The Malta Independent 17 June 2019, Monday

Over 50% of Maltese LGBTI students subjected to psychological harassment at school

Rebekah Cilia Sunday, 16 December 2018, 09:15 Last update: about 7 months ago

A report by the Council of Europe showed that in Malta 54 per cent of young LGBTI respondents reported they were subjected to psychological harassment at school, and one in 10 reported experiencing physical violence.

With regard to policies to prevent and address violence, Malta is one of only two member states that specifically forbade discrimination on grounds of sexual characteristics in education. Thirty-two member states, including Malta, specifically forbade discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. Furthermore, 24 member states, including Malta specifically forbade discrimination on grounds of gender identity in education.

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In addition to these policies, Malta also incorporates references to Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity/Expression and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) in an extensive LGBTIQ action plan (2015-2017) which included measures to safeguard LGBTIQ students’ right to an education free from violence, harassment or discrimination, the report notes.

The policy highlights specific procedures to protect students’ privacy, offer gender-neutral facilities, offer counselling and information, and adopt policies and language. It also guides schools through cases in which students come out and/or transition and mandate schools to establish detailed support mechanisms.

SOGIESC-based violence occurs in all member states, regardless of socio-economic, cultural or political context. The report notes that although these statistics are not directly comparable, 47 per cent of LGBTI students report experiencing this violence in Belgium, 23-26 per cent in The Netherlands, 43 per cent in Slovenia and 67 per cent in Turkey.

The report also notes that LGBTI students experience safer and more positive school environments when curricula include positive representations of LGBTI people, and discuss issues of sexual and gender diversity. In this regard, 26 member states, including Malta have a regional or national curriculum which includes one or more explicit mention of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

However, the report notes that although it is encouraging that over half the member states explicitly refer to sexual and gender diversity in their curricula, in practice these issues are mentioned to varying degrees. The decision to discuss sexual and gender diversity is often left to the discretion of individual schools or teachers.

In practice, LGBTI students are unlikely to report violence against them and seek help for various reasons: they fear not being taken seriously; that nothing will be done; that reporting will make things worse; or are reluctant to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Research evaluating the effectiveness of a policy for transgender, gender-variant and intersex students in Malta found that reporting mechanisms and procedures should be more widely promoted and made more visible and accessible to students and staff. The review also recommended that complaint mechanisms should collect data on violent events, disaggregated by sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

In Malta, education sectors, along with another 15 member states, provide specific support to LGBTI students.

Evidence suggests that peer support (structures in which students are empowered to help one another safely, rather than turn to adults first) is the most effective way to support LGBTI students who may have experienced violence.

Malta provides an integrated multi-level support structure through the National School Support services. Its nine staff members coordinate support, training and information services through clusters of schools. Support may include class involvement and meetings with students affected by violence and/or their families. In partnership with NGOs, the service also provides support to transgender and intersex students, helping teachers and other educational staff to understand and address specific issues related to gender identity/expression.

Support online is also an increasingly popular way of providing support. In Malta, the policies ‘Anti-Bullying’ and ‘Trans, Gender-Variant and Intersex Students in Schools’ recommend that schools organise ‘Be Smart Online' classes to help students prevent, identify and respond to cyberbullying. Malta, however, was not identified to have LGBTI-inclusive information and resources on the websites of ministries and other education bodies.

In its 2013 survey of 358 LGBT individuals in Malta, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights found that 75 per cent of respondents had ‘always’ or ‘often’ heard or seen negative comments or conduct because of schoolmates’ sexual orientation or gender identity. Forty-one per cent had ‘always’ or ‘often’ experienced such negative comments or behaviour.

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