Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gay, Bi and Transgender young people in our schools

Firstly I need to say that I didn’t use the word ‘queer’ to substitute for ‘gay’ as some in the Rainbow Community describe  themselves or are so  labelled by others. I come from an era where the word ‘queer’ had very negative connotations, so I ‘won’t use that to talk about friends, students or anyone else in the community.
Right I got that off my chest. For teenagers, the years between 12 and 20 are difficult enough time; facing everyday issues and struggling with identity are in themselves a stressful time. For those who are trying to work out their sexuality identity, the struggle is that much harder. Much of the ‘journey to self-realization’ happens while they attend our secondary schools (in NZ).
As teachers and those who work with our students, we have a special responsibility to allow that journey to happen in a safe environment. Sadly, this is not always so. Suicide figures for teenagers in the Rainbow Community’ are much higher than for the general population. While there has been an improvement in support for all students at secondary school in the last few decades, we still have a way to go for those who are ‘different’ in any way. For the RC students, that is an absolute truth.
Some schools are lucky enough to have the PSSP (Peer Sexuality Support Programme) in their schools, but these schools are a minority. All schools by law must have ‘anti-harassment’ policies, but not all schools implement them in the manner intended.
Teachers and those who work in schools bring with them their own understandings and positions about the RC, sometimes holding very narrow and unsympathetic views. At best these people keep those views to themselves, for a range of reasons, including religious beliefs, cultural understandings and views that are ‘uninformed.’ Others are just ‘uncomfortable’ around RC students, preferring to ignore issues that arise in their classrooms. That they have an obligation as teachers to uphold ‘anti-harassment’ policies is neither here nor there. I guess you could say the same about other school policies. It comes down to the ‘collective buy in’ of staff members. Some do, others don’t.
Young people are increasingly searching for support and that can best be delivered by teachers who have a better understanding of the issues faced by our RC students (and others). That means, staff development and time to reflect. Sadly, that is not happening to the extent that the RC needs. For those schools lucky enough to have the PSSP Programme in tier schools, then there is a good starting point; both for staff development and dialogue with students. There is support from the Ministry of Education’ in New Zealand and from the strong Teachers’ Union, the PPTA, but we have a long way to go before all students feel safe in their schools.
It was great to see the revival of the Hero Parade, now aptly named the Pride Parade. Auckland’s mayor and the Auckland Central MP played a part in this fabulous celebration for the Rain Bow Community. Long may it continue, this time without break for a decade. It was so good to see young people out there, saying---‘we’re back!’

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