By Sadie Hollins, WISEducation Founder
More than ever, schools and universities recognise the importance of safeguarding their staff and students. There is a growing awareness of the issues impacting a person's sense of belonging. An important factor to explore within our schools is LGBTQ+ inclusion.
Being LGBTQ+ isn’t a risk factor for anything, but stigma and discrimination creates risks.
Drawing on information provided in a recent CIS webinar on this topic, this blog provides some key considerations when determining how schools can become LGBTQ+ inclusive. I’ve outlined three areas to address for schools seeking to become truly inclusive, plus an insightful case study.
Supporting workshops & resources for our members!
- Workshop 27–28 March 2023: Inclusion Via Diversity, Equity & Anti-Racism (I-Dea) Deep Dive Workshop: Cultivating Inclusion for Diverse Genders And Sexualities
- Briefing, research, videos, webinars: CIS members can access these resources in the CIS Community portal>KnowledgeBase>Inclusion via diversity, equity & anti-racism (I-DEA)>Webinars.
Recent research has highlighted that LGBTQ+ students are often at greater risk of bullying and discrimination. Whilst the research included in this report was taken from a UK school context, the 2017 Stonewall School Report found that nearly half of LGBTQ pupils, and over 60% of trans students, had been bullied as a result of their LGBTQ identity. Related to this, rates of self-harm and suicidal ideation were significantly higher. Approximately three in five lesbian, gay and bisexual students aged 11-19 years have self-harmed, and more than two in five trans students have attempted suicide.
The reality is that across the world there still exists much stigma and, in some situations, legal discrimination related to someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families highlights a complex range of factors that may affect the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth. They include discrimination and bullying, an increased risk of hate crime or acts of violence, difficulty accessing healthcare (particularly gender-affirming services), the stress of ‘coming out’ and familial rejection that can be informed by a conflict in cultural and/or religious beliefs and values.
As educators and leaders, we have the power to not only reduce LGBTQ+ discrimination in our schools and classrooms, we also have the opportunity to provide spaces and moments where identities can be actively and purposefully celebrated, and to ensure that all of our students feel that they belong.
As stated by CIS LGBTQ+ Affililated Consultant for international schools, Dr Emily Meadows, it’s important to note that ’being LGBTQ+ isn’t a risk factor for anything, but stigma and discrimination creates risks’.
Despite the growing awareness of the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusion, and the broader Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice (DEIJ) movement, there is still a dearth of research when it comes to LGBTQ+ teacher and student experiences, especially in an international school context.
Research by Glazzard (2018) found that within the UK education context, around 40% of LGBTQ+ teachers had experienced harassment, discrimination and/or prejudice as a result of their identity.
As educators and leaders, we have the power to not only reduce LGBTQ+ discrimination in our schools and classrooms, we also have the opportunity to provide spaces and moments where identities can be actively and purposefully celebrated, and to ensure that all of our students feel that they belong. As international educators, we may work in contexts that may not be wholly supportive of LGBTQ+ inclusion, but within our schools, we should still feel empowered to embrace and support all of our students.
Who is truly welcomed in your school community?
The reality for many LGBTQ+ students is that school may be one of the only places they inhabit where their LGBTQ+ identity is affirmed, and they have freedom to express who they truly are. Finding an LGBTQ+ inclusive community is so important for young people, and the pandemic has posed an additional challenge for such students as many LGBTQ+ spaces or communities in schools may have been temporarily paused or restricted (Will, 2021).
It is important for schools to use this time as an opportunity to re-evaluate who is truly welcomed in their community. Schools have the power to transform students’ lives by providing a space in which it is safe to explore and celebrate their identities.
Intent vs impact
Dr Meadows, and DEIJ Consultant Daniel Wickner, have produced some helpful infographics that help us consider common mistakes that can be made when attempting to be inclusive and equitable. These infographics highlight the difference between ‘intent’ (centres the feelings of cisgender-heterosexual persons) and ‘impact’ (centres the feelings of LGBTQ+ persons).
For example, whilst many educators would like to believe that all students are welcomed in their school, a lack of LGBTQ+ representation across staff, or a lack of LGBTQ+ presence in books and other learning materials, may signal something different.
This is why it is so important to make sure that we examine our environments, our policies, and our own biases to ensure that LGBTQ+ inclusion becomes a reality. Here are three areas to be addressed to become a truly inclusive international school.
1. Gender-neutral terms and pronouns
Language is not only a tool for communication; it’s also a tool for justice. It has an undeniably important impact on the shaping of social attitudes—one way to promote gender equality and remove gender bias is through the use of gender-neutral terms.
We must also consider that the schools we inhabit are rich with multilingualism, and this can make for some insightful discussions with students. To help with this, here is a great resource on multilingual perspectives on pronouns, compiled by Ally Ed Creator Tricia Friedman.
You may have already noticed pronouns becoming increasingly visible in email signatures (i.e. they/them/theirs), video-conferencing name tags, and perhaps even being used when people introduce themselves upon a first meeting. Giving space to allow staff and students to use and share their pronouns is a positive first step towards signalling that they belong. Pronouns allow the opportunity for people to self-identify rather than assumptions being made. Not everyone will feel comfortable sharing their pronouns, but we should provide people with the opportunity to use them if they would like to and be respectful of these when they do so.
Wherever your school is located in the world, and wherever it finds itself on its DEIJ journey, it is important to know that you are not alone in working towards forging a better educational and school experience for all.
When it comes to addressing groups, it is recommended to use inclusive or gender-neutral terms. For example, 'a PE teacher instructing their class might use additive language ("boys, girls and non-binary students, pick your team now"), they could use gender-neutral language ("students, pick your team now!") or it could use you language ("pick your team now"’).' (Stonewall, 2021).
In addition, it is important to consider the language that is used in schools and how that can serve to perpetuate harmful stereotypes (e.g. not using phrases such as ‘man up’ or ‘don’t be such a girl’). (Stonewall, 2021).
Having open and supportive conversations with students about why you are engaging in work to respect people’s identities is important. Use resources such as this Pronoun Guide from GLSEN to help start these conversations.
2. Curriculum and visibility
Schools are one of the first main socialising agents that young people experience outside the family. As such, it is vital that the curriculum we teach is reflective and celebratory of the diversity of the world that we live in.
Many young people are aware of their identities from an early age, and will want to learn about what being LGBTQ+ might mean for them. If trusted adults at school can’t provide the information they need, children and young people will turn to the internet or their friends for answers.
LGBTQ+ inclusion must be a whole-school approach. It should include everything ranging from policies and procedures to tackle anti-LGBT bullying and language to the inclusion of resources and materials which feature LGBTQ+ characters and stories.
Stonewall has some excellent toolkits and practical ideas to help support schools with this.
3. LGBTQ+ staff and hiring
LGBTQ+ inclusion for staff begins in the hiring and recruitment process.
In a recent CIS webinar, Safeguarding LGBTQ+ students and faculty in schools and universities, Dr Meadows highlighted that it is not acceptable to refuse an LGBTQ+ applicant for an interview based upon concerns about the legal implications of their identity in certain contexts. LGBTQ+ interviewees will be researching this in-depth and will have considered such factors long before the interview process! (The webinar is available to CIS members to watch on-demand in the CIS Community portal)
It is important to have honest conversations with prospective candidates about the laws of a given country. Still, it could be more helpful to connect them with any LGBTQ+ staff and/or any support groups in your country that can offer them the opportunity to gain better insight into what it’s like to live and work there.
When recruiting LGBTQ+ candidates, it’s also important to be upfront about what the school offers. For example, can spouses or dependents be given the same visas, health insurance, flights, and other benefits awarded to heterosexual couples and families? Be honest about the pros and cons of moving to the school and country as you would be with any candidate, and then allow the space for them to decide for themselves as to whether to proceed with the application process.
Wherever your school is located in the world, and wherever it finds itself on its DEIJ journey, it is important to know that you are not alone in working towards forging a better educational and school experience for all. Equally, if you know you are not where you should be, start reaching out to other schools and teachers, begin sharing your experiences, and purposefully move forwards to becoming a better and more inclusive community.
Case Study: Arden Tyoschin, Director at Harare International School, Zimbabwe
During the CIS webinar ‘Safeguarding LGBTQ+ students and faculty in schools and universities’, Arden Tyoschin, Director at the Director at Harare International School, Zimbabwe, outlined some helpful information for schools starting out on this journey.
Here are three pieces of advice that Arden shared:
- Community consultation and mission statements: Through a six-month, whole-school community consultation process, the Harare International School adopted the following mission:
A Boldly Diverse Learning Community that Inspires Curiosity, Embraces Challenge, Nurtures Personal Growth
The mission statement is inspirational and aspirational as the school seeks to support all elements of diversity, including LGBTQ+ staff members by being ‘bold’ in their commitments and conversations. Arden explains how this statement and particularly the words ‘boldly diverse’ have helped to anchor conversations. It has also helped to ensure that it is easier to communicate why changes in policy and practice are being made to make the school inclusive for LGBTQ+ staff and students, both at the board level and within the wider school community.
- Seek solid legal and cultural guidance. Arden explained that when you are situated in a country that criminalises homosexuality, it is vitally important to seek advice from legal counsel as well as local community members to get a more accurate picture of how the land lies for LGBTQ+ persons. It is important not to assume but to understand the cultural nuances and discussions that are currently taking place.
- Inclusion and ‘way-making’. Arden explained that it is important to recognise that inclusion is a journey. It‘s the school’s job to provide support and information and to recognise where people are on their own personal journeys. Change takes time, and when the legal and cultural context is complex, it is important to listen and understand different perspectives, challenges and any potential difficulties to the work being done. This approach allows for advice to come from the community about the best ‘way’ forward too.
- CIS members can log into the CIS Community portal>KnowledgeBase>Webinars and watch this webinar on-demand: Safeguarding LGBTQ+ students and faculty in schools and universities
- Find more posts with insights and guidance about well-being
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- “Students” not “clients”: A call to change our terminology
- Three ways your words can make students safer
- Working with multilingual families
- - The changing landscape of international education: It’s time to change our terminology
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