Pride in Union

CTu Out at Work Conference

This article was originally published in the PPTA News, Feb-Mar 2017

At the end of last year the Out@Work Biennial Conference/Hui was held in Wellington. The theme of the conference was pride, power and politics as relating to issues faced by workers of minority genders and sexualities. A diverse range of unions across the country were present including the PPTA.

The PPTA was represented at the conference by Kirsty Farrant (Advisory Officer) and Jerome Cargill (Rainbow Taskforce), who ran a workshop titled ‘Changing a Work Culture’.

This presentation used the ‘Safer School for All’ workshop, which the Rainbow Taskforce has delivered in more than 60 Secondary Schools across New Zealand in the last few years, as an example of the direction that other unions could take. The workshop addresses the bullying of students and other members of the wider school community who are perceived to be different because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The argument made was that the issues faced by workers of minority genders and sexualities could be challenged by more education for our young people who will be our next generation of workers. By creating safer and more accepting spaces in schools, we will create the expectation that workplaces follow the same principles.

It was an exciting opportunity to share this work. Feedback from the workshop reinforced that professional development and education is the best way forward for changing heteronormative and cisnormative cultures (the presumption that almost all people are assigned a gender at birth they feel comfortable with). Environments where hetereosexuality is expected and binary views of gender dominate are likely to contain discrimination on some level.

The conference reinforced that the PPTA are leading other unions in the way that formal structures exist in order to deal with the issues faced by the diverse workforce. We are fortunate to have the active voices of the Rainbow Taskforce which enables education of these important issues to be delivered across the union.

The conference featured a dinner as part of the programme attended by guest speakers Grant Robertson, Jan Logie and Kevin Hague. Each delivered a passionate speech about their experience fighting for equal rights for this community.

Kevin Hague made the point that despite our positive steps forward legislating equality through means such as the Marriage Amendment Act 2013, coming out for a young person today is just as scary as it was for someone 30 years ago. This speaks to the need for educators to continue to work towards providing inclusive environments for all students, as there is still a long way to go. 

Safer Schools Workshop at ILGA Oceania

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This article was first published in the PPTA News – Feb/Mar 2016

The inaugural ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association) Oceania Human Rights and Health Conference was hosted in Wellington earlier in the year. It attracted scholars, community leaders and friends from the Oceania region as well as ILGA representatives from across the globe.

Organising committee member Rawa Karetai opened the conference by saying “this is a great opportunity for our communities to add our voices by identifying the issues affecting us here in Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific as well as share our stories on the international stage”.

Angela King and I represented the PPTA Rainbow Taskforce at the conference and also ran a workshop to share the success of the ‘Safer Schools for All’ programme.

The ‘Safer Schools for All’ workshop has been delivered in more than 60 Secondary Schools across New Zealand in the last few years. It addresses the issue of bullying of students and other members of the wider school community who are perceived to be different because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It was an exciting opportunity to share this work and feedback from the presentation reinforced that this targeted professional development was leading the way for changing heteronormative school cultures.

Another notable presentation at the conference was a report from a nation wide youth survey. The feedback emphasised again how the reality is concerning for students of diverse sexualities and genders.

Most youth reported negative experiences in their schools. However, positive experiences like peer acceptance and support groups were overwhelmingly shared by pakeha gay males. This shows the marginalisation of many other identities by schools and their environments. It is becoming increasingly important to be aware of this diversity beyond just gay and lesbian because our young generation are identifying with more fluid identities.

These findings were raised in a panel discussion with representatives from parliament. They were asked what they were doing to change the situation for LGBTI+ youth and what they experiencing in schools?

Louisa Wall noted that we are dealing with “a reactive system. At the moment, schools are reliant on an active group or students or teachers to initiate change to address the need for more support for these students”. One action point suggested was to increase the visibility of LGBTI+ issues, which means more than just a poster on the wall, but policies and practices in all school spaces that respect diverse youth and treat them with dignity.

The conference was attended by the head of ILGA, Renalto Sabbadini. In his opening address he challenged the sense of binaries that some parts of society are still holding onto and the prejudices that this reveals. He called for the community to continue to challenge and ask questions of society’s assumption “because it is only by questioning ourselves and by having others question themselves that we can grow, as individuals and as a society”.

Reform and Reaffirm Diversity

protestThis article was first published in the PPTA News – Feb/Mar 2016

In Social Sciences in 2016, many classrooms will be using the 30th anniversary of the Homosexual Law reform as a context to investigate civil rights. The isn’t the only learning area where this topic could arise, and the recent publication ‘Sexual Cultures in Aotearoa New Zealand Education’ (reviewed in the last PPTA News) contains many suggestions as to how this might occur.

The contributors to this publication point out that the New Zealand Curriculum’s contains the principles of “diversity” and “inclusion”. Being aware of diverse sexualities, sex and genders and being inclusive is essential to meeting this part of the curriculum.

A chapter on transgender diversity contained a set of recommendations is a helpful starting point for ensuring your practice is sexuality, sex and gender inclusive. The following bullets points are adapted from these recommendations:

  1. Assume there is at least one queer or sexuality diverse person and one trans or gender-diverse person in every class you teach.
  2. Don’t assume you’ll know who that person is.
  3. React to homophobic, or transphobic language to ensure a positive environment. Language sometimes heard in the classroom involves using “gay” as a pejorative, or “tranny” as an insult.
  4. Use gender neutral language. For example avoid addressing groups of people as “you girls” or “you boys” when there are people in that group whose gender identities have not been disclosed to you.
  5. Engage with resources that already exist and the recommendations that they make. The updated Sexuality Education Guidelines and the Inside Out video resources, both published last year and highlighted in previous issues of the PPTA News, are up to date resources that can support Professional Development in this area.
  6. It’s okay to make mistakes. Please keep trying.

In another chapter, Susan Sandretto writes about the way we address popular cultural texts in the classroom. These might be formal texts chosen for critical study in subjects like English or Media Studies, or they might be texts that are discussed in any classroom as part of a general conversation or relationship building with students.

Sandretto shows how teachers can help students question assumptions that are frequently taken for granted in these popular texts. Through an analysis of an episode of The Simpsons, and advertisement for Calvin Klein and an issue of the School Journal, she shows how critical questions can help uncover how heterosexuality is often expected.

“Teachers and students who develop their skills of text analysis can explicitly address the relationships between language and power as they make visible the ways that hetereosexuality is frequently normalised in the texts of popular culture”.

Asking critical questions can help to break the dominant narrative of gender and sexuality and be more inclusive of all identities in the classroom.

Seven Sharp – Mr Cargill the Teacher (Who is Gay)

One News

Earlier this week a story aired about me on Seven Sharp, a current affairs news programme in New Zealand. It profiled me as a gay teacher working with colleagues that are also open about their sexualities and how we are supporting students with their own identities. This story is a checkpoint – not a journey or a destination. It captures that a lot of work has gone into where we have arrived, but also it is clear that there is much more work to do.

My own journey started a long way away from how I was presented in this piece. I may have come out as a 18 year old to positive responses and plenty of support, but at Teacher’s College I was knocked back. One doesn’t come out once. Every time I meet a new person I’m faced with a choice: do I say something that reveals my sexuality? Sometimes I don’t because of safety or because I don’t feel it’s worth it. But most of the time it comes up naturally enough and it’s hardly a problem. When training to be a teacher, I was faced with this decision on an entirely different level in deciding how to come out in a classroom.

As an training teacher I chose to focus on my practice and not get caught up by this. I chose not to lie, but to avoid (something that I now acknowledge is actually another form of lying). In one particular class I was being observed teaching I made a comment, or maybe a gesture, which lead to my associate teacher pulling me aside and angrily denouncing how I had flaunted my sexuality in front of the class. I was told I was being deliberately provocative and my personal life was none of the students’ business.

While this incident could have inspired me to resist such oppression and vow to never let someone stop me from being who I am, it actually did the opposite. I shrunk as a result; I hid. I entered my first teaching job with no intention of coming out – but kept telling myself I wouldn’t be lying because I just wouldn’t be addressing it.

And then I found my inspirational colleagues. They were out and proud and students knew this. Once they knew about me I began building back that confidence and gaining more strength to let me be me. This was complex given the first few years of teaching for anyone are extremely challenging as to be effective a lot of skills need to be mastered in a very short space of time.

I learnt about ‘othering’. When I applied for leave for the North American Out Games in Vancouver, I wrote my leave request letter to the Board of Trustees and intended to talk to the student representative about what they were going to learn about me. My colleague pointed out that outing myself to that student for that purpose was emphasising a difference that denormalised my sexuality; I was ‘othering’ my identity and making it less valid.

When I became a Dean, a student in my cohort came out to me. I don’t know whether he sensed an ally, or whether I was just in the right place at the right time, but this triggered a tidal wave of action that led to the Seven Sharp story. Some students knew, but while I was talking about diversity issues in class, I wasn’t openly discussing how they affected me. Some students clearly knew, but I hadn’t created environments where they felt like they could talk about it with me. I was still vulnerable and this had to change.

With the support of my colleagues we formally established a diversity group that met once a week with students identified through our supportive Guidance Counselor. We were small at first, but the opportunity for the students to discuss the issues they were facing together without stigmas was invaluable. Many of those students faced complex issues including not being safe at home, bullying from peers, navigating their churches as well as the difficult journey of coming to terms with their identity and being a teenager.

The next critical step was to advertise. I stepped on stage for a school assembly with my colleague, Kirsty, and we presented a message that affirmed every student’s identity. We used pictures of celebrities the students knew and told them that LGBTI+ people are all over the world, in their communities, maybe in their families, that they are in this school and “two of them are bringing this message to you today”.

This was a personally a huge step for me as I finally shook the demons that had forced me to put a foot back into the closet. It felt unbelievably liberating, like I had busted through a wall that intolerance had built, but that I had been partly responsible for.

The next phase happened very quickly. The numbers in our support group grew. The conversations in the student body about these issues became more frequent and more normalised. I joined the PPTA Rainbow Taskforce, and have begun delivering whole staff professional development sessions to schools around New Zealand on creating safe environments for all students. I also became an Executive Advisor for InsideOUT, who are a group of inspiring young people responsible for projects big and small that contribute to making Aotearoa a safer place for young people of all sexual orientations and genders. I started Rainbow Teachers NZ to promote discussions and share stories. I also had the opportunity to present all this work at ILGA Oceania Human Rights Conference.

The Seven Sharp story arose when TVNZ reporter Hadyn Jones contacted me after his story on Robbie Manson, a gay rower, got such a positive response. He emailed me with a pertinent question:

Where are all the gay teachers? Basic maths would suggest there must be hundreds if not thousands out there but I have never heard from one.  I’m guessing they must be a real beacon and example to teenagers grappling with their sexuality (as if the teenage years weren’t baffling enough). I could understand hesitancy in some of the conservative schools around New Zealand but it’s 2016 and it’s time.

The wheels began turning and the story became a reality. But it is only a checkpoint. The story acknowledges there is so much more to do because this is not representative of most New Zealand schools. In fact, there is a lot not said in the story that I feel is important:

  1. Lesbian and gay exclusively is not diversity. Bisexual, trans*, intersex and others face similar, and often worse, struggles in our schools.
  2. Supporting LGBTI+ students is not the responsibility exclusively of LGBTI+ teachers. All teachers should be teachers of diversity, and all teachers need to come out in support of every single LGBTI+ student.
  3. Where I am today would not be possible without the strength and mana of Kirsty Farrant, David Pegram and so many other teachers and campaigners before me. I am so privileged to be working in the position I am today because of these people.

And finally, the way the story was handled by the presenters, Mike Hoskings and Toni Street, just emphasised how important this work is. Hoskings comments that inferred gay teachers have an association with deviant and sexually inappropriate behaviour was wildly off the point. It potentially did harm by undermining the messages of the story.

My hope is that this story is seen by students and staff across New Zealand, and that we can start making genuine change. There are so many positive pockets of best practice. But it’s time that this best practice becomes the norm. The policies that sit in behind what schools do need to ensure that LGBTI+ students are supported for the good of all students. Only then can we turn around the embarrassing statistics that simply show what we are doing at the moment is just not good enough.

Book review: Sexual Cultures in Aotearoa New Zealand

This article was first published in the PPTA News – Feb/Mar 2016

Sexual Cultures in Aotearoa NZ Education is a landmark publication of critical essays edited by Alexandra C. Gunn and Lee A. Smith.

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The introduction begins by outlining the progressive steps New Zealand has made to becoming a more inclusive society from the Human Rights Act of 1993, making discrimination on the basis of gender and sexuality illegal, and the legalisation of same sex marriage in 2013.

However, statistics show that many “trans and queer students, or those assumed to be queer, are subjected to bullying…highlighting how student peer groups can sometimes make schooling intolerable for queer youth”.

The authors make a compelling case that “New Zealand’s relatively inclusive society is not always reflected in our educational settings” and the book is intended to raise awareness and act as a call to action.

The book is divided into fourteen chapters addressing various topics and issues concerning diversity and inclusivity.

Lee Smith’s chapter on the school formal emphasises how it continues to be a “relentlessly heterosexual social sphere”. She investigates school policies and student attitudes and recommends ways to affirm sexual diversity through a school’s approach to the formal.

In another chapter, the commonly heard phrase “that’s so gay” is addressed by Steven Sexton. The phrase is shown to “privilege heterosexuality” but also Sexton acknowledges how terms “once seen as derogatory and demeaning may no longer be considered exclusively as such”.

However, the complex fabric of High School social groups and expectations means that accepting this language must be approached with caution. Some commonly used language in school playgrounds can be used with homophobic intent or to tease friends and thus teachers need to be aware of this and challenge students to think about the words they are using.

Kathleen Quinlivan’s contribution looks at Queer-Straight Alliances and the double bind that they face in operating within schools. While they provide a space for queer concerns to be raised, it is a separate space that is distinct from the rest of the school.

Within this chapter, the growth and development of school-based diversity groups and local community groups is outlined. The imlocal.co.nz website, run by RainbowYOUTH, contains a register of these groups across New Zealand and ways of contacting them.

A key theme across the book is the idea of heteronormativity. This is a term that draws attention to the privileging of heterosexuality as normal and natural, thus having the effect of isolating others that may not conform to this identity.

Throughout the book, New Zealand schools are shown to be heteronormative spaces. Heteronormativity can not only impact young people who are sexually and gender diverse; it can also narrow the understanding and empathy of all young people in terms of how they can safely and supportively function as a citizen in the modern world.

Gunn and Smith have assembled a compelling collection of essays, challenging teachers to ensure our progressive societal attitudes are also evident in our education spaces.

Reconstructing Social Norms – Inside Out

web-tile1-326x158This article was first published in the PPTA News – Nov/Dec 2015

Inside Out is a new video-based learning resource to help increase understanding and support the teaching and acceptance of gender and sexuality diversity.

With funding from the Ministry of Social Development, the resource has been a collaborative project between RainbowYOUTH, Core Education, University of Auckland and Curative. The videos feature a wide range of New Zealanders with diverse genders and sexualities.

The resource has been launched across New Zealand in the past few months with events being hosted in Auckland, Dunedin, Wellington, Nelson, Hamilton and Whangarei, with more to come. Alongside these launch events, professional development workshops have been offered targeting teachers that might use the resource in their classrooms.

The resource is aligned with the objectives of the health curriculum including fostering healthy communities, sexual health, sexuality education, interpersonal skills and attitudes. It will help teachers and schools in implementing the new Sexuality Education Guidelines released earlier this year.

The pedagogical approach of Inside Out is based around critical thinking and norm-challenging.

Social ‘norms’ are constructed over time and determine what is considered normal, natural and desirable as well what is not. As the notes for the resource says “while not all norms are problematic, norms that construct other diverse sex, gender and sexual identities as ‘abnormal’ and ‘undesirable’ are the basis for transphobia and homophobia.” The resource is about challenging these norms and constructing new norms that affirm diversity.

In turn, the approach will help students to critically consider the world around them and build empathy.

The resource is freely available online with different formats that target years 7-8 and years 9-13. Accompanying lesson resources, class discussion prompts, and glossaries will help to deliver the content and make teachers more confident with the material.

The importance of teaching this content is captured by the tagline for Inside Out: “we all belong”. Schools can be difficult places for students with diverse genders and sexulities. Teaching our students to celebrate diversity and accept one another is an important part of making our schools and communities safer for all.

– Jerome Cargill – PPTA Rainbow Taskforce Member

Inside Out and InsideOUT

A small amount of confusion may exist around the apparent cross over between Inside Out and InsideOUT. To clarify: InsideOUT is a national organisation working to make schools and communities safer for young people of diverse sexualities, sexes and genders. They work alongside young people to set up queer straight alliance/diversity groups in schools and run awareness campaigns like the Day of Silence. Inside Out is video-based teaching resource discussed in this article. It’s a case of ‘great minds think alike’ and both have an important role in making our schools and communities safer.