Tackling Homophobia in Brazilian schools: What more needs to be done?

Ilana Mountian

In order to tackle homophobia in Brazil, we need to understand it as a structural matter, part of a complex system. The interactions between educational policies against homophobia with other public policies, such as poverty reduction, work, health and others need to be strengthened.

These are the main finding from my recent policy audit that we undertook as part of the DfID-funded Sexuality, Poverty and Law programme to analyse public policies against homophobia and transphobia in the educational system in Brazil. In order to tackle economic and social inequality, it is paramount to understand that the reproduction of inequalities historically impacts on specific groups. In this audit, the focus is on the impacts of homophobia (and transphobia) on poverty; considering the intersections between gender, sexuality, race, class and age.

We have analysed key aspects of public policies in education and sexuality in Brazil, which have been designed as part of the wider programme Brazil Without Homophobia (BWH – Programa Brasil sem Homofobia), launched in 2004. The analysis was based on a number of policy material, previous research on the theme, interviews with educators and professionals working directly with the programmes for education without homophobia, interviews with transsexual women and travestis and participation in meetings with transsexual people, educators and policy makers.

While the BWH was an important initiative towards tackling homophobia in Brazil, the analysis shows that there was a range of obstacles that hindered the implementation and access to policies against prejudice and violence. Multi-sector policies operating in an integrated manner were lacking in this context.

To put this into context we highlighted the broad social background and educational issues facing students in Brazil, the high levels of homophobic violence in Brazilian society, how religious discourses operate in politics and everyday struggles for equality, as well as the need for better coordination and implementation of educational initiatives.

What more needs to be done?

In our audit report we have highlighted the following recommendations for ensuring that policies to tackle homophobia have the maximum impact:

  • Homophobia (as well as sexism, racism, classism, discrimination against those with disabilities and others) should be considered as a structural matter.
  • A clearly supported strategy is needed against homophobia and sexism in educational policies and the national curriculum.
  • There is a need to articulate and strengthen the intersectionality between educational policies against homophobia with other public policies, such as poverty reduction, work, health and others.
  • Long-term policies against homophobia should be developed.
  • There is a need to acknowledge and develop strategies to tackle local resistance -e.g. from religious fundamentalist people to policy implementation.
  • Resources are required to support staff promoting equality (information, workshops, protection from abuse, permanent forums).

Initiatives against homophobia and sexism in schools need to be further developed and be part of a wider agenda to tackle homophobic violence and discrimination. Building upon our research, it is fundamental that policies that consider sexuality and gender in Brazil, beyond stereotypical understandings, are developed – and that they also consider the intersections with race, class, age, disability and other factors. These policies have to work as an integrated and coordinated multi-sectoral strategy in order to overcome exclusion, social inequality and poverty. Further investigation is needed into the ability of LGBT individuals and families who live in extreme poverty to access social welfare provisions, like the Bolsa Familia.

Only when homophobia – and other forms of discrimination – are seen as a structural issue of inequality will we see real improvements for tackling homophobia in Brazil.

Ilana Mountian is a post-doctoral researcher at the Universidade de São Paolo.

Read other recent blogs by the IDS Sexuality and Development Programme:

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