Many lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people feel they have experienced discrimination, bullying and exclusion in school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to a report released on Thursday by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR).
The report, “LGBT Bullying in Cambodian Schools,” is based on surveys of 245 past and present students that took place from 2014 to 2015. Although only 62.71 percent of the people surveyed said they had experienced bullying in school, nearly all of those who did said they felt targeted because of their sexual identity.
While the overwhelming majority of participants said verbal harassment was the most common type of bullying they experienced, just under half reported said they had experienced “social exclusion” because of their identity, though defining social exclusion was left up to the participants.
A third of participants who experienced bullying said that they experienced “sexual bullying,” including “being coerced into pulling their pants or skirt down, simulated or actual sexual abuse and unwanted touching.”
Also of note is the fact that the report found that 15.38 percent of LGBT students said they experienced bullying at the hands of teachers as well as other students, and 10.26 percent reported that their teachers did not intervene in instances of bullying.
“Unfortunately the results of this research indicate that Cambodia’s schools and many of its teachers are not protecting LGBT children from acts…that are injurious to their educational activities health and welfare,” the report said.
Ah Hea Touch, 17, was born female but now identifies as a “tomboy,” which in Cambodia, he said, means “I want to wear pants, I cut [my] hair, I love girls.”
While attending a high school in Kandal province, which he did not wish to name, Mr. Hea Touch said he experienced discrimination at the hands of the school principal.
“Principal in my school said ‘You are boy or girl…why you want to do like this? I don’t want [you] to be like this. My school don’t have tomboy,’” he said.
“[The principal said], ‘You are not good child, you are not good student,” Mr. Hea Touch said, adding that he changed schools this year as a result.
Not all LGBT students who experience bullying continue their studies. Bullying because of sexual orientation or gender caused 12.82 percent of those surveyed to drop out of high school, the report said.
CCHR consultant Pat de Brun explained that the scope of the study was limited by a number of factors, including the fact that about a third of the survey participants were 30 or older.
“We had to find willing participants who were comfortable taking part and because we spoke to people who identified as LGBT, it generally happens that they’re [older]. But of course this is a problem that starts younger,” Mr. de Brun said.
He also noted that many Cambodians do not feel that the Western categories of “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” and “transgender” adequately express their own identities.
“We found the definition LGBT …doesn’t exactly match in Cambodia.” Mr. de Brun said. “A lot of people, for example, who won’t identify as MSM [men who have sex with men] may have bisexual behaviors, but might not identify that way.”