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. 

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Dignity For All: Safeguarding LGBT Students

51ewlzrbrtl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Peter DeWitt’s 2012 book, ‘Dignity For All: Safeguarding LGBT Students’ is a call to action that is just as relevant now as it was five years ago. Written is a highly accessible way it focuses on the building the understanding of the needs of LGBT and the practical steps that can be taken to ensure safer schools.

Importantly, DeWitt makes it clear that this isn’t just about a minority group of students, this is about having a positive impact on the whole education ecology and everyone within it. “Without addressing the needs of LGBT students, educators are not addressing the needs of all students” (32).

Some of the key ideas he puts forward as action points include:

  • Educate staff about LGBT issues.
  • Participate in GLSEN’s ‘no name calling week’ which could reinforce NZ’s Bully Free Week, Day of Silence and Pink Shirt Day.
  • Read literature and use content that contains LGBT subject matter.
  • Do not be afraid to use LGBT language, like the word “gay”. Whispering the words or avoiding them suggests there is something that is wrong.
  • Encourage diverse thinking and for students to step outside their comfort zone by introducing the perspectives of minorities.
  • Ensure your school offers a GSA (commonly referred to as a QSA in NZ)

The best quotation I have heard was from a Rochester, New York, LGBT student who said, “You don’t have to do everything. You just have to do something” (11).


DeWitt, Peter (2012) Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students. Corwin Press: California.

ASG National Excellence in Teaching Award

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I hesitated about writing publicly about this as the award still sits uncomfortably with me. However, I felt it was important to convey these ideas in writing as that discomfort has actually enabled some deep reflection about my teaching philosophy. I also believe that this type of discussion has a stigma of being transgressive; this needs to be changed.

This article from the Independent Herald (22 June) captured a moment in a long journey with the ASG scholarship. It doesn’t capture that I’m a Media Studies teacher, but that is forgivable. What isn’t forgivable is that there is an editorial decision to no mention my work with the LGBT students and promotion of diversity as a core value to the school. Grant spoke about this in the presentation and a quick google would arrive at the Seven Sharp story from earlier in the year.

I found that this editorial omission took place earlier in the process, not by the Independent Herald, but this time by ASG themselves. Before the press release of the regional winners came out I had a chance to proof the biography that they had constructed for me. Despite over half of my award submission covering my diversity based work, my 200 word bio contained not a single acknowledgement of this defining aspect of my practice. After a small bit of negotiation my biography was agreed to contain:

As an openly gay teacher he has led a culture change in the school, promoting acceptance and diversity through a range of initiatives.

But the larger omission was when this was left from the press release which described my practice, and from which I presume the Independent Article was written. It was like trying to get the colourblind to see a rainbow. It appears that people want to recognise this work, but when it comes to actually articulating it, clouds of euphemism plague the message. I truly hope the next wave of LGBT leaders find it easier for their work to be recognised with transparent and honest language in the mainstream media.

Overall, the ASG process allowed a significant opportunity to deeply reflect about my practice. Like the video above, the essays I wrote contained a wealth of reflective thinking about what I do that makes a difference. It is a shift from the standard way I reflect whereby I am reframing what didn’t work. But I found it enormously empowering to focus on the positives of my practice and explore this in some detail.

Finally, in the article above, I’m quoted as referring to Newlands as a “fabulous culture of teaching.” I said that when it became clear I had to give a acceptance speech which was quite unexpected and uncomfortable. I survived by trying to revision the award as not being individual recognition, but a symbol of effective collaboration. Of course, I was going a bit post-truth there. The reality is that the ASG scholarship despite it’s best intentions is perpetuating the idea of teaching being an individualistic profession. Michael Fullen and Andy Hargreaves talk about the ostracizing that occurs after presenting teacher of the year awards. I haven’t felt that directly, but I have no doubt that resistance to performance based recognition is operating on some level. I know this because it is definitely operating within me.

Leadership and Diversity

An interesting reading by Marianne Coleman. She applies a definition of diversity as “categories of difference in individuals to which value judgement stereotypes are consciously and unconsciously applied, bringing advantage to dominant groups” (173). This has strong connections and implications for work with LGBT staff and students that I’ve previously discussed. The chaKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERApter asks two reflective questions at its conclusion:

  1. As a leader in education what do you consider to be the key values relating to leadership and diversity in education?
  2. In what ways might your institution ensure that diversity is fully considered in policies and practice?

The ideas in the chapter helped clarify some thinking around these provocative questions through examining leadership theory. In particular the idea of value-led leadership: “If valuing the diversity of individual students and staff is a key part of the ethos, this should feed through to every aspect of their leadership” (178). Important to this is examining bias so that an authentically inclusive environment can be created and sustained.

Another layer of the chapter I found persuasive was the notion that “the behaviours of school leaders have a greater impact on pupil performance than school structures or leadership models” (173). This speaks of the importance of interweaving diversity based values into the fabric of the school so that these values are naturally occurring. The natural presence of these values need to be balanced with the interrogation of assumptions to ensure that awareness remains high and our “value judgement stereotypes” are regulated (173).


Coleman, M. (2011) ‘Leadership and Diversity’ in Robertson, J & Timperley, H. (eds) Leadership and Learning. London: SAGE Publications. Pp. 172-185.

The Challenges and Opportunities in Creating Queer-Friendly School Cultures

Earlier this year, Angela King and I presented at ILGA Oceania on behalf of the PPTA Rainbow Taskforce. This was to share what we have learned about changing school cultures to enable queer young people to be safe and welcome, something I wrote about for the PPTA News. PPTA, as the union for high school teachers in New Zealand, has been providing materials to schools on affirming diversity of sexualities and gender diversities since 2001. Over the last five years the Taskforce has delivered whole-staff professional development at about sixty schools, ranging from large urban secondary schools to small rural area schools. The workshop will consider how successful this work has been, and what more is required to ensure that all schools in New Zealand are queer-friendly.

PPTA Rainbow Taskforce Feedback

Our presentation (accessible here) gave and overview of the work that the Taskforce does, but opened up the dialogue around what the needs are for our presentation to tackle. This padlet captures the responses that the group made to the question: what’s missing? What does the presentation lack? How can we bring it into current thinking? Their responses represent the enormous amount of work that is yet to happen on a large scale in this area.

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.