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Schools urged to teach and respect diversity

Thu 28 May 2015 In: New Zealand Daily News View at Wayback

New Zealand schools are being encouraged to run lgbti-friendly sexuality education programmes and consider more inclusive policies, such as gender neutral uniforms, safer toilets and allowing same-sex ball partners. A new guide for sexuality education in New Zealand schools has been released. It contains recommendations which are not hard and fast rules – schools, with feedback from their communities, still get to decide what they teach. The guide says both school programmes and the wider school environment “should take opportunities to acknowledge the sexual diversity of New Zealand communities and recognise the rights of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and other sexual and gender identities.” It cites research saying one area which needs attention in sexuality education programmes is the bias that opposite sex relationships are normal. The guide says while social attitudes to sexual diversity are becoming more inclusive in New Zealand, young people who identify as ‘non-heterosexual’ still face many challenges at school. “Young people who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual often feel marginalised and isolated, and experience less inclusive environments in schools. Young people who are attracted to the same sex, or to both sexes, face greater barriers to accessing health care because of perceptions about sexual orientation, and they tend to feel less supported at school.” It also points to gender identity research, saying “transgender students are a numerically small but important group”. The guide suggests sexuality education which recognises different sexual orientations and gender identities, and diversity in different family structures, and includes strategies that address homophobic bullying. When it comes to the school’s overall culture, the guide suggests leadership from the top to create a positive and inclusive whole-school culture “where diversity is valued and students feel supported, visible, and safe, regardless of their sexual and gender identity”. “This includes valuing the sexual and gender identities of school staff members and students, and valuing staff and student voices.” It points out that school uniforms can reinforce gender norms and suggests schools consider offering gender-neutral clothing choices when uniforms come up for review. “Schools may also consider reviewing options around toilet facilities to ensure students have choices of safe spaces. Toilets can be unsafe environments for students who do not conform to gender norms. “Events to which partners are invited, like school balls, can be an opportunity to strengthen the wider school’s contribution to valuing diversity if same-sex as well as other-sex partners can attend.” It says sports policies should also be inclusive, so all students can take part. “Where coaches are involved in school sport, they need to understand the school policies around the safety and support of all students (for example, ensuring homophobic, sexist and other discriminatory language is not tolerated in sporting practices and engagements) and up-skilled if necessary.” When it comes to bullying, schools are encouraged to directly address bullying related to sexual identity and gender orientation, and homophobic name calling and mocking. “Bullying incidents involving gender and homophobic slurs should be recorded as such and monitored.” Teacher and student-led support groups, such as gay-straight alliances, are also encouraged. The Ministry of Education’s Deputy Secretary for Student Achievement, Dr Graham Stoop, says the guide has been produced with the help of schools, education groups and professionals, and health experts. “It outlines the importance of recognising sexual diversity. Schools should be mindful of diverse student viewpoints when planning classes,” he says. “Research shows that when students feel their personal values are treated with respect by their peers and schools, they stay at school longer and achieve more. “While sexuality education is a compulsory part of the health curriculum, schools are free to decide how they teach it, in consultation with their school community. They must consult every two years on how they teach it.” You can find the full guide here      

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Thursday, 28th May 2015 - 2:50pm

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