Going to school is a fundamental part of a child’s development and can act as the building blocks for a successful life. Yet around the world, people identifying as LGBTQ+ face discrimination and harassment that prevents them from accessing a meaningful education.
LGBTQ+ students are more likely to face bullying in person and online than their straight and cisgender classmates, according to research by GLSEN, an LGBTQ+ youth educational organization. The same study also showed that staff and teachers are more likely to ignore or mishandle the abuse of LGBTQ+ students.
According to the Human Rights Declaration, everyone has a right to access education, specifically an education that promotes all people's understanding and friendship, regardless of their identities.
There are different ways that educators and community members can work together to provide support systems for LBGTQ+ students and ensure accessible, safe, and educational spaces for all — just as these five schools show.
1. Harvey Milk High School, New York City, US
This high school in New York City was the first high school in the world designed for LGBTQ+ students when it opened its doors in 1985.
The school is named after Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the United States. Though the school has a special emphasis on students questioning their gender identity or sexuality, it is open to all students.
Harvey Milk High School originally functioned under the Hetrick-Martin Institute, one of the country’s largest organizations for LGBTQ+ youth and at-risk LGBTQ+ youth, as an official way to educate students. At first, there was only one-full time instructor and 17 students, but in 2001 the school was officially recognized as an accredited, four-year, diploma-granting high school.
A 2013 national School Climate Survey revealed that 55.5% of LGBTQ+ students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and 37.8% felt unsafe because of their gender expression. Harvey Milk High School aims to respond to this by providing safe spaces for students.
"We envision a school where all students are challenged to question the world around them, to develop healthy, personal identities, to participate in meaningful civic and social experiences that will allow them to formulate and realize their educational and career goals," the school’s mission statement reads.
2. Magic City Acceptance Academy, Homewood, US
The Magic City Acceptance Academy (MCAA) is set to become the first public charter school geared at providing a safe space for LGBTQ+ students in Homewood, Alabama and in the US. MCAA won approval from the Alabama Public Charter School Commission on Nov. 4 after being rejected three times.
Michael Wilson, the founding principal of MCAA, explained in an op-ed in Alabama Local News that MCAA is not an LGBTQ+ charter school but rather a school that affirms LGBTQ+ youth. The school's need was informed by research from the Magic City Acceptance Center that found that LGBTQ+ students were more likely to be bullied or face violence and are at a greater risk of suicide.
Wilson explained that “the five letters, LGBTQ, create a blind spot for some readers obscuring them from seeing the whole vision of MCAA to become a public charter school.”
Wilson explained that MCAA is informed by the difficulties and traumas LGBTQ+ youth face and will emphasize social and restorative justice.
The school plans to open in fall 2021 with 250 students from grades six through 12.
3. Dawatul Koran Third Sex Madrassa, Dhaka, Bangladesh
For the first time in Bangladesh, a school exclusively for transgender students opened in Dhaka, the country’s capital.
To celebrate the school’s opening on Nov. 7, local councilors, school officials, and leaders in the community gathered at the school. The school has already welcomed 150 students who study Islamic and vocational subjects for free.
The school is backed by a foundation funded by the late businessman Ahmad Ferdous Bari Chowdhury, who wanted to educate people in the transgender community. The school is open to transgender people of all ages, the BBC reported.
"Anyone can be admitted here as soon as a transgender person is identified, no matter what age they are," the Dawatul Koran Third Sex Madrassa's Education and Training Secretary Mohammad Abdul Aziz Hussaini told the BBC.
The government believes there are about 10,000 hijras — the South Asian term for transgender or intersex people — in Bangladesh, while other experts believe that the number is closer to 50,000. Although hijras are officially recognized in the country, many report abuse and discrimination.
4. Ochanomizu University, Tokyo, Japan
Ochanomizu University in Tokyo is another school that is taking steps to be more inclusive for transgender students.
A prestigious women’s university, Ochanomizu was the first college in Japan to open its doors to transgender women.
“We want to accept people who sincerely wish to study at Ochanomizu University,” Kimiko Murofushi, president of Ochanomizu University, said during a news conference in 2018. “It’s a natural thing to do in a society that embraces diversity.”
The decision sparked a national conversation about gender diversity in higher education institutions, and now Tsuda University and Japan Women’s University are also discussing their gender admission policies.
However, transgender people in Japan still face discrimination. Organizations like the Human Rights Watch are urging the Ministry of Education to make similar changes to support the transgender community in Japan.
5. Sahaj International School, Kochi, India
In 2016, Sahaj International became the first school in India for transgender students. The school is led by Vijayraja Mallika, a transgender activist, and was founded by Kalki Subramaniam, a transgender activist and writer.
“The school aims at making [transgender people] eligible for taking decent jobs and living a dignified life,” Mallika told the BBC.
The school is also taught entirely by transgender teachers so that students can feel protected and inspired, Mallika explained.
An estimated 2 million transgender people are living in India, and the country’s Supreme Court ruled that they have equal rights in 2014.
However, many still face abuse and are often kicked out of their homes at young ages and do not complete their education, according to the BBC.
Mallika said she had to speak to 700 people before finding someone who would rent her space to open the school. Now she can provide housing for all of the teachers and students at the school.
The activist hopes to create similar schools across India to support transgender students in other regions.
“The most important tool for the underprivileged, discriminated, marginalized, oppressed community is education, because education brings light, knowledge, truth, and confidence,” Subramaniam told the Indian Express.