This week, Brazil’s Congress held an important public hearing on harassment against teachers for topics they address in the classroom. Sponsored by lawmakers Talíria Petrone, Erika Hilton, and Luciene Cavalcante, it was the first such hearing held by the Education and Human Rights committees of the Chamber of Deputies.
For about a decade, federal, state, and municipal officials in Brazil have used pernicious legal and political tactics to undermine educational content on gender and sexuality, claiming such information constitutes “indoctrination” or “gender ideology.” These tactics have weaponized education for political gain among a conservative segment of the population and increased harassment of teachers. Today’s hearing also addressed teachers being harassed for addressing racism in the classroom.
Age-appropriate and scientifically accurate information on gender and sexuality for children and adolescents is protected under the rights to education and nondiscrimination under Brazilian and international law. Youth need this information to live healthy and safe lives. Likewise, introducing and discussing in the classroom topics such as racism helps foster acceptance of diversity and nondiscrimination.
Groups like Teachers Against School Without Party and education experts have for years called out these attacks on education. In 2018 and 2022, 80 education and human rights organizations published and updated a manual to protect teachers against censorship in the classroom.
In a 2022 report, Human Rights Watch analyzed 217 bills presented and laws enacted designed to forbid gender and sexuality education in municipal and state schools. Teachers we spoke with said they were harassed for addressing gender and sexuality, including by elected officials and community members. Some teachers faced administrative proceedings for covering such material, while others were summoned to provide statements to the police and other officials.
Brazil’s Supreme Court has served as an important check on laws banning gender and sexuality education, striking down eight such laws in 2020. Yet, teachers and education experts say the negative climate has created a “chilling effect” on some teachers’ willingness to talk about gender and sexuality, and other topics in class.
Today’s hearing is an important recognition of the struggle Brazilian teachers have had in simply doing their job. Lawmakers at all levels of Brazilian government should immediately withdraw bills or revoke laws that infringe upon the rights of students to learn about gender, sexuality, and other topics such as racism. The federal government should support teachers who suffer attacks and continue to ensure all adolescents and other children are given the information they need.