Making Diversity Visible for Gender & Sexuality Inclusive Schools

This blogpost was originally published on the CORE Education Blog here. 

At any conference or professional learning event, the idea of “inclusive education” tends to buzz. It’s a theme that many workshops or presentations have at their heart. But when we talk about inclusive education, are we also including sexuality minorities or gender identity?

Data capturing the voices of same-sex or both-sex attracted, and transgender youth suggest we are not. These groups of students are regularly overrepresented in statistics for bullying and well-being in the Youth2000 surveys (Clark et al., 2013; Clark et al., 2014). Sexuality and gender diverse students may not be visible in a lot of Aotearoa’s schools, which can make inclusion complex. However, it is now 2018, and our diverse young people are beginning to make more noise. They are proudly coming out and demanding change.

Last year I was privileged to be selected as one of the 2017 CORE Education eFellows. Seven teachers from various contexts undertook action research projects over the course of the year with guidance from CORE mentors and the support of one another.

I set out to work with a small group of teachers to develop their inclusive practice to support making sexuality and gender-minority students feel welcome, included, and accepted at school. I was interested in delving into the teachers’ historical understanding of sexuality and gender and support the development of that understanding. The inquiry investigated what makes a difference for teachers in this area and to encourage ongoing practice that promotes empathy and acceptance. I hoped that understanding the teachers’ journeys, both past and present, would help to develop gender and sexuality inclusive practice in others.

diagramMy findings led me to develop this diagram (with some source inspiration from this blogpost). Our inclusive practice is in tension between the pressure to be more inclusive and the pressure to be comfortable. Pressure comes from well-being initiatives or professional development opportunities, the statistics (above) that tell us that more needs to be done, and student voice that demands change for inclusion. The pressure in the opposite direction comes from internal pressure that naturally wants to maintain the status quo, the drive to stay in your comfort zone, and competing priorities.

In order to create a shift, I propose drawing inspiration from Newton’s First Law: an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. What is required to shift teachers to more gender and sexuality-inclusive practice is greater pressure for change. To avoid diversity inertia, we need to make the compelling reasons to change more visible.

Friday 18th May is Pink Shirt Day. This is an opportunity for visibility, for schools to shift the inertia.

The purpose of Pink Shirt Day is “to create schools, workplaces and communities where all people feel safe, valued and respected.” While the day sets out to address bullying in a general sense, the origins of the day come from the LGBT+ community. It is important that homophobia and biphobic and transphobic bullying is specifically addressed by Pink Shirt Day events because sexuality and gender minority young people experience higher rates of bullying (Bullying Prevention Advisory Group, 2015).

It is easy to be involved; many schools already participate. The harder part is ensuring that the day results in a deeper understanding of the prevalence and impact of bullying on young people’s mental health and wellbeing. The Pink Shirt Day toolkits are a great place to start. This is also a good opportunity to reflect on our practice too: how do sexuality and gender minority students know they are safe in our schools? In our classrooms? How does our practice support the disruption of heteronormativity or binary views of gender?

Participating in the day is one action that can make a difference. Taking part could mean one individual wears pink, or a whole school. But this is only a start. We need a tidal wave of action to push us out of diversity inertia and start turning around Aotearoa’s embarrassing statistics for our sexuality and gender minority youth.

Links to further information:

pink-shirt-day
Newlands College staff on Pink Shirt Day, 2017

References

Bullying Prevention Advisory Group. (2015). Bully prevention and response: A guide for schools. Bullying Prevention Advisory Group. Retrieved from http://www.education.govt.nz/school/student-support/student-wellbeing/health-and-wellbeing/bullying-prevention-and-response/bullying-prevention-and-response-a-guide-for-schools/

Clark, T. C., Fleming, T., Bullen, P., Denny, S., Crengle, S., Dyson, B., Fortune, S., Lucassen, M., Peiris-John, R., Robinson, E., Rossen, F., Sheridan, J., Teevale, T., Utter, J. (2013). Youth’12 Overview: The health and wellbeing of New Zealand secondary school students in 2012. Auckland, New Zealand: The University of Auckland.

Clark, T. et al. (2014) The Health and Well-Being of Transgender High School Students: Results From the New Zealand Adolescent Health Survey. Journal of Adolescent Health 55, 93-99.

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