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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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.

CTU Out@Work Conference

ctu-out-at-work-conference

The CTU Out@Work Conference was an opportunity to share the work of the PPTA Rainbow Taskforce as well as develop dialogue and network with other unions to hear about their work around sexuality and gender.

The keynote on the second day was delivered by Jack Byrne, a trans* activist. He made a range of points across his story filled presentation. Some of his key points were summarised by his tips. Firstly, the tips others have taught him:

  • Know your own struggle first
  • Look for groups that share a commitment to human rights
  • Listen to local community priorities and then identify what you can offer in support
  • How does your work empower those you are supporting?
  • Bring others with you
  • Be willing and eager to learn from emerging movements

Things to avoid:

  • Assume that activists in another country want or need your support
  • Making promises
  • Assume the needs and wants of another country

Things we can do from NZ:

  • Stand up from international human rights standards on Sexual Orientation Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics (SOGISC).
  • Sign on to NGO petitions and encourage general human rights groups to do this too e.g. the independent expert on SOGI is still under threat
  • Use UPR, CEDAW ILO and other reports to highlight SOGISC issues
  • To be honest about what we do well and share what we have learnt
  • Know where we lag behind and learn from others
  • Provide opportunities for activists and from other regions to share their knowledge and experiences

Some key points that have stayed with me – and that may have challenged the room -included the idea of being stuck in our own bubble. I think this was a striking point to make in a Union room. Like Karen Meluish’s uLearn keynote, the idea of the echo chamber does not helping us to move forward. Secondary, he made a strong argument for the need to link community research and community research together. Some of this research he showed us, and exploring these links is a big next step for me.

Another session titled ‘Pride, Politics and Power –lessons and legacy‘ involved a panel of speakers talking about their experiences in activism. Huia Welton spoke beautifully about the impact of language and how we can harness the power of words as a community. Her example was the Marriage Equality journey. The tenor of that campaign it was framed as about human rights and equal rights. Then there was a shift in language from rights to love. The argument put forward was everyone is created equal and everyone should be able to marry the person they love. Of course the campaign was more complex that this, but the shift in language made a big difference. It is harder to argue against love, than it is to argue against rights.

This teaches us about emotion, and teaches us about the importance of aspiration. In campaigns like this we articulate how life can be better and we speak to the values of society. We are much more able to take people on a journey of change by appealing to these values.

Finally, Kirsty and I delivered a workshop on the work of the PPTA Rainbow Taskforce titled ‘Changing Workplace Cultures’. We argued the work we do in schools is vital for a future focused attitude towards the next generation of workplaces. Some of the takeaways included:

  • Language in the presentation needs to be updated: sex characteristics is a better was of talking about intersex identities.
  • When discussing the need for a collected movement, gender expression is a commonality across the LGBTIQ+ spectrum and can help to bring people together.
  • The PPTA is leading the way in terms of queer activism in workplaces. Our workshops and presence was a strong support to others who are making headway in their own unions and workplaces.
  • The connection made with NZEI was important as the combined force of our unions can make a real difference to the shape of NZ schools. For NZEI to not have formal rainbow representation is an outrage, but this is slowly changing as leaders in this area are emerging.
  • Their remains a tension between the work of a union and the greater good of queer activism.

In conclusion, the conference offered an opportunity to navigate my discomfort with the union movement, by realising the importance of the voices we have the opportunities that the collective has created.

 

 

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.

Presenting ‘Safer Schools For All’ – Part II

I was fortunate today to present for the second time yesterday the ‘Safer Schools for All’ PPTA Rainbow Taskforce presentation. Previously I reflected on how full the presentation was of ‘tell’, the need to facilitate more discussion, and how it needed to be more dynamic. I’m proud that I feel I moved in a positive direction in all these factors and feel like I’ve moved in the right direction. However, I have thoughts to reflect on nevertheless in a couple of key areas:

  • Transitions – I feel like because I’m adapting a presentation created by someone else that sometimes my flow isn’t as strong as it could be. Sometimes moving between ideas of topics is a little off and I feel taking more ownership of the presentation and developing it to my own thinking is key to this.
  • Responses to suggestions could have been stronger – I feel I perhaps accepted all the responses because they were all offers in a staffroom that I was unfamiliar with. There were some weak suggestions as to what we can do when we hear “that’s so gay”. But I accepted them all without pushing to do more. I also didn’t feel I adequately challenged a suggestion that contained prejudice.

I feel good having developed confidence in presenting it, and totally rapt about nailing my mihi for the opening. Very proud to carry the message and share my knowledge.

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.