Seoul education office’s push to protect LGBT students and eradicate discrimination at schools is facing opposition after the office released its 2021-23 draft plan to protect the human rights of students.
In the draft plan, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education included its plan to support and protect minority pupils –- from multicultural to LGBT students -- to make sure schools are free from hatred and discrimination for their safety and welfare.
The education office’s inclusion of protecting “LGBT students” in the plan became a source of contention, with opponents claiming that such a clause would “encourage homosexuality” in schools.
The SMOE unveiled the comprehensive plan for students’ rights protection for the years 2021-23 in December to gather feedback before finalizing it in February. The plan has five policy goals and four specific tasks for each category.
To better protect minority students under the policy goal of “ensuring students’ safety and welfare,” the SMOE pledged to raise awareness of minority students through education and set out guidelines to prevent discrimination and hate speech.
In the section for sexual-minority students, the education office said it will develop and distribute educational materials aimed at improving gender equality and awareness at schools. It also plans to dispatch inspectors to investigate human rights violations facing LGBT students and consult them.
A petition against the draft plan for human rights protection was uploaded on the SMOE’s website on Jan. 12, on which more than 31,000 people signed as of Friday noon. This is the largest number of signatures a petition on the website has ever garnered.
“Belief, thoughts, conscience and freedom of expression will be violated for students who think homosexuality is wrong based on their religious belief and conscience,” the petitioner, a parent living in Seoul, said.
The petitioner raised concerns over “biased education” and “ideologies” that could suit administrations’ political agendas.
The Seoul education office gives an official response to a petition with more than 10,000 signatures.
An association of 25 parents’ groups held a rally on Jan. 14 in protest against the human rights plan and demanded a resignation of Cho Hee-yeon, Seoul’s education chief.
“It will create a vicious cycle of stigmatizing students for discriminating against and hating (sexual-minority) students,” they said.
In the face of strong opposition, the Seoul education office removed the word “sexual minorities” from its 2018-20 plan for students’ rights protection.
Sexual-minority students appear to be more vulnerable to hate speech and discrimination at schools in Korea, which largely remains intolerant of LGBT people, a 2014 survey by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea showed.
According to a survey of 200 adolescent sexual minorities aged 13 to 18, 92 percent of the respondents said they had experienced hate speech, 80 percent of whom said it was from their teachers.
An association of 138 human rights groups expressed support for the SMOE’s draft plan on Thursday, urging it to push for the plan without giving in to “the forces inciting discrimination.”
Another petition was also registered on the SMOE’s website, saying an effort to save LGBT students from prejudice and allow them to attend school safely should not be blamed.
“It is almost the first time ‘protection and support for sexual-minority students’ was stipulated (in materials) from education-related public organizations,” the petitioner said. “It should not be removed again due to the opposing voices.”
The petition gained more than 2,000 signatures as of Friday.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org