The current curriculum being taught in Australian high schools, is generally lacking in the area of LGBTQI+ inclusive education. This inadequacy has been discussed over the past decade but overall not much has been done to change this, despite the rise in recognition of value of and acceptance of the LGBTQI+ community (Rhodes, 2015; Hunter, 2006). Heteronormativity, or the “system that works to normalize behaviours and societal expectations that are tied to the presumption of heterosexuality and an adherence to a strict gender binary” (Nelson, 2015), has been covertly taught in our schools since education began in Australia, and continues to dominate the education system, leaving little to no room for more inclusive education (Writing Them In, 2010; Rhodes, 2015; Carpenter & Lee, 2010). Less than one fifth of high schools are registered with Safe Schools Coalition (Safe Schools Coalition, 2016) which indicates that only one fifth of Australian high schools have LGBTQI+ education. This is a number that is far too small. By allowing this exclusion to continue, we are letting the youths of Australia down, by putting them at risk through lack of education in a range of areas including inclusive safe sexual practices and information on the acceptance of non-heteronormative identities. This exclusion is also a form of institutionalised discrimination, which will be touched on later in this report.
This is not just an issue for LGBTQI+ individuals, but the wider community, as this proposed inclusive education will allow more understanding and knowledge of these issues amongst youths rather than ignorance. This will then lead to decreased rates of discrimination against LGBTQI+ people and stop young LGBTQI+ students from feeling alienated by their schools and fellow peers. The high rates of harassment, violence and bullying experienced in high schools by LGBTQI+ students has an impact on the right to education (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2014); this fact alone, is a solid reason that the educational system needs to change, and soon.
This report seeks to: Evaluate the need for LGBTQI+ inclusive education and protective policies in all Australian high schools.
Schools act as agents of socialization for our youth, in that young people are strongly influenced by their schooling, particularly in regards to the development of their moral codes. Schools set up young people for life, both personally and academically. It has been found by the Australian Human Right Commission (2014) that 80% of homophobic bullying directed at LGBTQI+ youth happens at school. Clearly, this would have a massively negative effect on the students, which could affect them for the rest of their lives.
To combat this, these suggested measures should be implemented, so that high schools will become a more supportive and understanding environment for the youth of Australia, and will give birth to a generation of understanding and open-minded citizens.
This report was informed by a multitude of primary and secondary sources which differ on point of view. Two studies were conducted for the benefit of this report, one involving LGBTQI+ identifying high school students, and the other both LGBTQI+ and non-LGBTQI+ high school teachers and staff. Although these studies will be referred to, results from other studies will also be used to strengthen correlations and arguments.
In this report, the acronym ‘LGBTQI+’ will be used to refer to anyone who identifies as gender diverse or non-heterosexual.
Current Education System
In order to change the current education provided, one must analyse the current education system and identify its shortcomings. The current education system is acceptable for the majority, but completing lacking for the minority of students who identify as LGBTQI+.
Some individual schools have protective policies, but even less have inclusive education. This was outlined in a survey conducted for this report, which found that 23.1% of participants’ high schools had protective policies for LGBTQI+ students, whereas 15.4% of participants said that their school had LGBTQI+ inclusive education (Student’s Own Survey, 2016). These numbers are far too low and must be lifted to reduce the stigma associated with being LGBTQI+.
Furthermore, it is not just the high schools’ fault for this, as the government has not been helping change this. Recently, the government made plans to defund organisations protecting LGBTQI+ youths such as the Safe Schools Coalition. Major loopholes in Australian law also make way for the discrimination of LGBTQI+ youth. In current legislation, such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Part II, Section 37 1[d]), LGBTQI+ identifying individuals can be discriminated against if the discrimination is performed within a religious institution. This means that young LGBTQI+ people can be legally discriminated against if they study at a religious school, which would explain the strong correlation between the amount of participants who have experienced discrimination, and the amount of participants who studied at a religious or private school (Student’s Own Survey, 2016). Discrimination that can be legally undertook by these institutions include segregating individuals from their peers, excluding individuals from specific activities (i.e. certain subjects, excursions and extra-curricular) and marking in an unfair manner. This has been commented on in many publications and studies, including the study undertook for this report. As seen in the quote below, one anonymous participant shared their negative experiences with LGBTQI+ discrimination:
“The discrimination involved the school not allowing LGBT+ students to take someone of the same gender to their formal. This was one of many scenarios where the school discriminated against LGBT+ students both on an emotional and psychological level.”
(Student’s Own Survey, 2016)
Another example was displayed in a study completed by the Victorian Department of Health called Growing Up Queer (2014), where a young transgender man described his experiences:
“The teachers didn’t want me playing sports with the guys because they were scared that I was going to get hurt. It was actually the other way around. They actually stopped me from participating in all the sports like football and stuff like that, that’s generally a guy’s sport. Basically the only sport they’d allow me to do was either softball or netball. I was like I’m not doing netball.”
(Robinson & Denson & Davies & Bansel & Ovenden, 2014)
Not only was this LGBTQI+ discrimination, but it was also gender based discrimination, which is often allowed to run rampant in our schooling system. Often, schools subtly enforce “traditional gender roles” and so anyone who may not fit into these out-dated societal norms can experience second-hand discrimination. This not only affects LGBTQI+ individuals, but also non-LGBTQI+ individuals who may just not fit into what is considered “normal” of their gender or sex. This has been going on for generations, and is often considered to have been “fixed” through modern feminism and gender activism. Instead, it has just become more covertly integrated into the education system.
Proposed Changes to Australian High Schools
In order to fix the current pre-mentioned issues, the current curriculum needs to be more inclusive overall. Instead of teaching heteronormative concepts or terminology, teachers need to be trained on how to teach to address everyone, no matter their sex, gender or sexual or romantic orientation. It also includes the teaching of basic Queer politics, Australian Queer culture and historic Queer events. These topic don’t need to be explicitly and forcefully included, but should be made reference to when topics relate, rather than the blatant disregard that currently takes place.
More specifically, safe same-sex sexual education needs to be implemented in all Australian high schools. By denying LGBTQI+ students of the right to accurate sexual education, we are putting them at risk, physically, mentally and emotionally. Very few studies have found some sort prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the LGBTQI+ community, but still these sources are often cited by anti-LGBTQI+ activists. Perhaps the reason that these sources exist is because safe sexual education for LGBTQI+ youth is incredibly rare and very overdue.
Young people, whether LGBTQI+ identifying or not, need to be assured that safe and consensual non-monogamous or non-heteronormative relations are okay. Large amounts of self-loathing LGBTQI+ youths feel this way because they were brought up by families and school to believe that their identity and feelings are invalid, wrong, immoral, or indecent, accounting for the high rates of suicide and self-harm in LGBTQI+ youths (Rosenstreich, 2013; Australian Human Rights Commission, 2016; Flood & Hamilton, 2005; Australian Human Rights Commission, 2013; Dwyer, 2011; McGlaughlin, 2009; Skerrett & Kõlves & De Leo, 2012).
Policies protecting LGBTQI+ youth are vital to this proposal, because knowledge is the next step after safety. The protective policies would need to cover both public and private schools as well as religious and non-religious educational institutions. This way, all students will be treated as equals and protected by law.
These protective policies are essential and the evidence of its benefits are clear. LGBTQI+ youths are more likely to feel safe in schools with protective policies for students like them, than in schools without (75% compared with 45%)(Australian Human Rights Commission, 2014). They are also almost 50% less likely to be physically assaulted at school (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2014).
By the information provided, it is clear that including both inclusive education and protective policies will allow LGBTQI+ students to experience a safer, more enjoyable and more beneficial schooling career.
Rebutting/disproving common concerns
Usually when the general public has concerns on creating an equal and accepting educational system, reoccurring statements are made against the proposal.
One of the most common concerns is that not all youth need the education, only the minority. But, as La Trobe University (2010) found, 10% of Australian youth are same-sex attracted. This means that statistically, in a class of 30 students, there is likely to be at least 3 same-sex attracted students, as well as any gender variant or questioning students.
Furthermore, youth aged 16 to 24 years are more likely to hide their sexuality or gender identity (Human Rights Commission, 2014). Therefore, it cannot be assumed how many students may need the education; and by teaching other students who may not “need” the education, a culture of understanding and acceptance will be created, rather than continuing to create ignorance.
Another point often raised is that the material is too inappropriate to be teaching to youths. It has been brought up that same-sex education is a “sensitive sexual matter” which is often deemed “inappropriate” by parents (Donnelly, 2004) or contains material which can be considered “inappropriately sexual” (Shepherd, 2016). This is easily rebutted with the fact that any same-sex education implemented, would be no more explicit or “inappropriate” than any current heterosexual sexual education.
Often critics express that they believe it is enforcing an unhealthy/unfavourable lifestyle. This viewpoint in itself proves that LGBTQI+ discrimination is running rampant in modern Australian society. There is no scientific evidence that LGBTQI+ inclusive education can turn young people queer. The evidence is clear (La Trobe University, 2016).
Often LGBTQI+ inclusive education is just pushed to the side with a shrug off the shoulders and mutterings of “This is how we’ve always done it”. This way of dealing with the issue is not going to fix anything. The current education system has been built upon generations of ignorance and deeply rooted “tradition” which has caused more issues to arise and solutions to be swept aside.
As identified, none of these “concerns” should be thought of as viable reasons to delay the implementation of LGBTQI+ inclusive sexual education. Change should happen now.
Looking towards the future
There is a multitude of benefits for creating a more inclusive education system. One of which is simple: it will help create a more open-minded and accepting society for future generations to grow up in; one which celebrate differences, not discriminates.
Beyond Blue (2013) found that there was a strong correlation between discrimination and social exclusion, and increased levels of mental illness and suicidality among LGBTQI+ individuals rather than the rest of the population. Therefore, through bringing up our youth to be more open-minded and accepting, we will decrease the rates of mental illness prevalent amongst gender and sexual minorities in Australia.
“Coming out” and identifying as anything not considered to conform to societal norms can cause immense amounts of stress for Australian youths. Through normalising LGBTQI+ culture we are allowing young people to be themselves without fear or stress. They would also not have a need to hide their identity and be able to explore themselves freely, increasing the accuracy of our statistic relating to LGBTQI+ individuals.
LGBTQI+ people used to be negatively characterised as being a part of deviant counterculture, trying to overthrow all that is moral and right. Now, the LGBTQI+ community is becoming a more accepted part of our modern society. The issue of LGBTQI+ inclusive education is complex and fraught with controversy, but it is of paramount importance so that our country can become one filled with understanding, open-minded and happy youths. Recent developments in the journey to equal rights and protections of all LGBTQI+ individuals have been positive, allowing for even more support from the general public towards the cause. Although there is support, there are also people who don’t believe in equality, and so education of the uninformed is a great step to changing these negative attitudes.
The main motive of this proposition is to ensure the wellbeing of all Australians, not just non-LGBTQI+ Australians. Our country is one big melting pot of different cultures and minorities, so we should educate like it is.