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Survey results show LGBTIQA+ discrimination still rife in school
Workplace discrimination against LGBTIQA+ teachers remains a significant issue across NSW, according to a recent joint research project between Federation and Western Sydney University.
Speaking at Annual Conference in July, Dr Jacqueline Ullman, Senior Researcher, Centre of Educational Research at Western Sydney University, outlined the findings of the report that asked participants whether they had experienced discrimination or disadvantage in the workplace based on perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.
The joint study was based on the identification of LGBTIQA+ workplace discrimination issues through ongoing teacher contact, and the assumption within some school communities that all members are heterosexual or cisgender.
“The research has highlighted the daily challenges of having to think about, manage or hide one’s sexuality, identity behaviours and mannerisms for some gender and sexuality diversity (GSD) teachers while trying to do their job,” explained Dr Ullman.
“A majority of participants were working in secondary and primary schools, and 42 per cent indicated they had experienced discrimination. One third of these reported they had received some form of support in order to cope with or share this experience with others.
“The default assumption that all members are heterosexual or cisgender is marginalising for members of the GSD teaching community. Sometimes this is intentional and overt in the forms of homophobic and transphobic comments, but at other times it can subtle and less intentional in the forms of an exclusionary workplace social culture.”
The survey results indicated four main categories of workplace discriminatory behaviour. Derogatory verbal comments were most common, followed by bullying, the denial of professional opportunities, and a lack of school support. Across school community sectors, the types of discrimination varied. For example, in cases where perpetrators were students, parents or staff, the most common behaviour was verbal and psychological harassment. However, when it came to executive staff, this discrimination took the main form of being overlooked for employment opportunities.
Significant events widely reported in the media, such as the 2017 same-sex marriage vote, also influenced the wellbeing of GSD educators in the school community. “In terms of media climate, every participant brought up either the Safe Schools Coalition initiative or the marriage equality postal vote, or both, and noted the additional stresses these very public debates caused for them,” said Dr Ullman.
“Most spoke about the ways the debates seeped into their school communities. Some made clear links between school community members’ views on these issues and their own career progression as a member of the LGBTIQA+ community. What this says is, ‘I am afraid I am going to meet one of those people who were the 44 per cent who voted no. I am worried that person is in a higher seat at school so I am not going to say anything about GSD-specific needs or issues at school.’”
The consequences of coming out at school and fearing a negative impact on possible career progression is very real for many educators.
“Some spoke about the challenges of whether to be out or not at school and the significant impacts of this decision,” said Dr Ullman. “Some felt their credibility could be called into question. The overarching message from educators was that inclusions and silences around gender and sexual diversity were inconsistent, entirely informed by assumption around school community pushback.
“Some educators said students’ homophobia and transphobia can have a direct impact on their day-to-day wellbeing, with many survey participants pushing for educative positive exposure as the only way to counter these negative attitudes.”
Of the participating GSD educators who have experienced workplace discrimination, just eight per cent indicated they had reported it and were satisfied with the outcome. This low figure indicates a lot of work still needs to be done.
“They want school leaders to clearly set the tone on these issues with positive, affirming and visible inclusion in school culture. Wellbeing policies should overtly acknowledge LGBTIQA+ identities... to keep these teachers safe, supported and happy so they can do their job.”