LGBTed Launch – The Power of Values, Stories & Authenticity

Live your values; don’t just laminate them.

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Bennie Kara delivered this perfect summary of the day in the panel that helped to close the launch of LGBTed. Held last weekend, it was an occasion for workshops, networking and the start of an organisation with real potential to make a serious difference. The organisation’s main function is to create more visibility in the UK education system in order to make schools more inclusive places. It was an inspirational day. This blogpost is some thoughts on some of the key themes that emerged for me over the course of the day.

Stories

Claire Birkenshaw‘s session titled ‘A trans perspective on nurturing a sense of belonging for young trans and non-binary people in learning communities’ was the most explicitly narrative driven session of the day. She set about sharing with us her story (‘safari’), as a means of promoting learning through creating empathy. It was a powerful session, very tweetable: “Every child should feel they belong in their school environment and nothing should hold them back.”

Professor Jonathan Glazzard presented a compelling case for the existence of LGBTed when he showed through statistics that the stories aren’t changing. However, what reoccurred consistently across the day was the power of knowledge to disrupt narratives. This came through the buzzword of authenticity, and the idea of being your authentic self to create meaningful learning environments. David Weston also included the quote on the right from Harvey Milk in his concluding keynote along this theme. Author Sarah Ban Breathnach was also quoted during the day: “the authentic self is a soul made visible.”

The Progress Divide

I remember the idea of progress being challenged at the ILGA Oceania Conference in 2016. The divide there was between LGBTI+ rights in the Pacific Island nations compared to progressive New Zealand (“Don’t ask me how far away from marriage equality we are when we are not safe in our own streets”). It was the rural/urban divide that arose at LGBTed. The stark difference in statistics on the experiences of LGBT teachers based on where they live was shocking.

This rung the bell of inclusion and the need for diverse voices within diversity. The majority of teachers at the conferences represented the first three letters of LGBT and were predominantly white. It’s important that we are sensitive to representation and ensure we are listening to other perspectives. David Weston also made this point; inclusion is key to progress which includes conservatives and readers of the Daily Mail.

Othering

Related to the divide is the notion of othering. David Weston suggested that “when people look at LGBT communities and ‘other’ us, it’s a natural psychological thing but it is deeply scarring”. This then creates shame. Claire Birkenshaw responded to the current so called ‘trans* debate’ by saying that of all the things that are being questioned, the one that cannot be challenged is that we are human. This framing immediately changes the expectations around the dignity and nature of the discourse that should be allowed in this questioning dialogue. Knowledge is again the key, and that is where educators – armed with a knowledge curriculum – are so vital; we can be the champions of equality for the future.

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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:

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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.

Presenting: ‘Safer Schools for All’ – Part III

Previously I’ve reflected on presented the Safer Schools for All workshop here and here, commenting on the need to minimise the ‘tell’ and to challenge prejudice or ‘weak’ suggestions. In this third reflection I am going to try and process both my most successful presentation and my most challenging.safer schools

There was a strong challenge in terms of the cultural location of the conversation. There was a suggestion on one of the feedback forms to “include more NZ/Maori/Pasifika references”. But a discussion during the session, which continued after went much deeper than that. It asked me to have a more cultural perspective across the entire presentation as a Maori lens responds differently to the issues raised. As this participant pointed out, the language exercise at the beginning of the session was something they couldn’t relate to. In Maori there are only respectful terms for those in the LGBTI+ group. They compared this to a Maori student swearing in English and asking them to speak reo as a way of addressing this language. Homophobic terms simple don’t exist in Maori, so the colonial framework of addressing them isn’t necessarily the most appropriate.

I have since revisited the original data from which we extract the statistics in the presentation. It backs up that the data is accurate for a range of ethnic backgrounds, with similar number for Pakeha and Maori identifying as same-sex or both sex attracted. However, the report does not break down the health, well-being, substance, sexual health statistics by ethnicity. I think it is important to clarify this data before the next presentation.

The slide mentioning cultural terminology for some of the aspects we talk about on the Sex, Sexuality and Gender spectrums does -on reflection – feel like tokenism. I feel there is a much deeper way of framing this presentation in a culturally inclusive way that goes beyond just adding more examples of takatapui and using more reo in the presentation. This is something I look forward to addressing as a taskforce!

That being said the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Some of the feedback below suggests some significant shifts have been triggered:

[In] PE and Health I often feel we as a subject area are always left to teach these types of issues in isolation and with time constraints we struggle to give as much as needed.

I was really impressed with the presentation and the presenter. I wasn’t expecting it to be this good and helpful. I can totally see the relevancy and how I could begin to implement this into my curriculum.

Thank you! I came into this not knowing what to expect & if I’m honest, wanting to be doing my work – not because of not seeing this as important but just time constraints. BUT this was so worthwhile! Thank you!

Excellent presentation. Moving and thought provoking. Nice balance of videos and talk and discussion. Staff were engaged and wanting to do more to support their students and each other. Thank you.

Good session! The school has a very subtle issue of homophobic behaviour and the use of slurs. The staff (including myself) could benefit from some more thinking and action in this area.

I’m very proud to be delivering the session, and hope those seeds continue to grow for a long time.

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.

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”.

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.

ILGA Oceania – Femmephobia

‘Femmephobia in Queer Communities with Femme Club Wellington’ was presented by Tabby, Aya, Dany, and Jess via video.

Femme and femininity are different. This is a conscious reclaiming of femininity. It is on an individuals own terms because it hasn’t been imposed. Historocally it comes from the butch or femme categorising of lesbians. Femme exists across the gender spectrum – someone of any gender or sexuality could be femme. Debate around femme being a gender identity? Also the question: is femme a conscious or a natural occurring identity?

I didn’t come out of the closet to be a trans women – I came out to be Jess

Stereotypes and expectations exist of all identities and when you claim them but don’t fit into them it can become really hard. ‘Lipstick lesbian’ is an example. There are also hierarchies within identities and competition within identities. This is something to challenge. An identity is not about aesthetics or how you present. Each person gets to define their own identity.

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Femmephobia reflects lots of societal pressure including the pressure to be attractive. Gender discourse often doesn’t get enough respect.

Femme Empowerment. What can we do?

  • Keep spaces open and accepting
  • Undertake personal thought and recognise our own fallibility and our own limitations
  • We are always learning; there is a difference between our actions and ourselves
  • Is you find you are assuming something – think about why