Confidence is the trick

Kerri Carr

Teachers need diversity training to give them the confidence to support same-sex attracted and gender diverse students, Federation Officer attached to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Restricted Committee Mel Smith says.

In cases when teachers don’t intervene to stop homophobic and transphobic harassment in an appropriate manner the harassment continues, the Growing Up Queer: Issues Facing Young Australians Who Are Gender Variant and Sexuality Diverse (2014) report states.

Ms Smith said inappropriate responses are likely to be the consequence of a lack of proper training. She suggests whole-school training should cover legal responsibilities and support student wellbeing.

“Tackling homophobia is crucial because of the strong correlation between the high rates of verbal and physical abuse experienced by young gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people and instances of suicide or self-harm: 80 per cent cite school as a site where the abuse has taken place,” Ms Smith said.

“Teachers have an obligation to address homophobia and transphobia in schools in order to provide a safe and supportive learning environment to all students,” she added.

In the absence of Department of Education and Communities (DEC) training, Twenty 10, Safe Schools Coalition and Wear It Purple offered courses.

A 2007 NSW Government strategic framework document identified the addressing of hostility and violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in educational settings as a key priority for 2007–2012.

“This key priority area reinforces the NSW Government’s responsibility to provide a safe learning environment for all students in the public education system and encourages targeted interventions to reduce the incidence and impact of prejudice related violence against GLBT students,” the document states.

Ms Smith said that despite the government’s declaration, Australian research indicates homophobia in schools has become worse.

Participants in a 2014 study who had revealed their sexual orientation or transgender status at high school reported encountering homophobia from peers and teachers (especially personal development health and physical education teachers); extensive homophobia as a consequence of school policies and practices, social isolation, and education disrupted by attendance at multiple schools or leaving school altogether due to systemic homophobia.

In addition to diversity training for teachers, Federation wants DEC to provide guidance and evidence-informed practice for teachers to support sexual and gender diversity in schools.

“There’s no specific policy, no framework, no guidelines,” Ms Smith said.

In the absence of a DEC framework Ms Smith directs teachers to the National Safe Schools Framework and the DEC’s anti-bullying policy for guidance on how to counter homophobic bullying.

Resources on how to address LGBTI diversity within the broader school curriculum are also needed from DEC, Ms Smith added.

Teaching staff will find useful guidelines in Legal Issues Bulletin No 55: Transgender students in schools — legal rights and responsibilities, recently issued by the Department.

“Federation commends the Department in providing clear advice to schools on how to support transgender students,” Ms Smith said.

“The union calls on the DEC to provide further information, support and training to support teachers in providing safe and supportive learning environments for same-sex attracted and gender diverse students and their families.”