Tag Archives: LGBTQ

The Educational Advance of the Decade Will Be Gender & Sexual Diversity Inclusion

www.emilymeadows.org
@emilymeadowsorg

If your school has not yet opened a conversation about gender and sexual diversity, I predict it will in the 2020’s.

Gender and sexually diverse students attend international schools, and educators are increasingly aware of the benefits of inclusion. Right off the bat, I acknowledge that many countries have cultural or even legal barriers in place to suppress full inclusion. I have worked in religious schools, and also in the Middle East – I really do get the challenges. Still, there are data-based, safe, and effective interventions to increase the educational experience for LGBTQ+ children, appropriate for even the most conservative contexts (for specifics, see the books where I have written on this topic[1][2]). We have got to move past culture as an excuse for discrimination.

Inclusion of gender and sexually diverse children is relevant worldwide. UNESCO asserts that, “The education sector has a responsibility to provide safe and inclusive learning environments for all students. Addressing homophobic and transphobic violence in schools is critical to effective learning, to meet human rights commitments, … and to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”[3].

Gender and sexual diversity inclusion is relevant on a large scale. It is difficult to gather data on such sensitive metrics but, where we do have studies internationally, research indicates that somewhere between 5-10% of people self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender[4][5]. Scholars and statisticians estimate that these figures are lower than the actual LGBTQ+ population because respondents may be reluctant to identify themselves, given the associated stigma, or may not connect with these labels, even if same-sex attracted or gender non-conforming[6]. Intersex people further increase diversity, representing an estimated 1.7% of the population[7]. Moreover, LGBTQ+ identities are on the rise, with Millennials self-identifying as the least cisgender and heterosexual generation to date[8][9]. This is not to reinforce the myth that gender and sexual diversity is new; rather, greater social acceptance has made space for more people to be open about their identities.  

Still, even if we consider the conservative end of the bracket, and posit that only 5% of people in the world are gender or sexually diverse today, this constitutes about 400 million individuals. If that was the population of a country, it would be the third largest nation on earth (and, dare I say, would sport the most colourful flag). Gender and sexually diverse people are significant.

Child-centred international schools cannot conscientiously ignore this population, and it is unethical to do so. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children are among the most vulnerable to a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and suicidality[10][11]. Let this not be confounded with the tired trope of homosexuality as a mental illness; LGBTQ+ identities are risk factors for nothing, whereas contexts that pathologize and discriminate against LGBTQ+ people are risks factors for multiple negative outcomes.

Indeed, it is encouraging to discover that inclusive contextual factors can virtually eliminate the vulnerability we typically associate with LGBTQ+ youth. Gender and sexually diverse children who have access to affirming social support see benefits across multiple outcomes[12][13]. School-based interventions, such as non-discrimination policies and affirming students’ gender identities, substantially reduce LGBTQ+ mental health risks[14][15]. Robust research shows that gender and sexually diverse children are not inherently troubled, but exposure to stigmatizing social conditions is detrimental.


Fortunately, schools are well-positioned to make a tremendous positive impact in reducing this stigma. As an educational consultant on gender and sexual diversity, I train international school teachers, counselors, and administrators who may start with a modest understanding of LGBTQ+ children (because, truthfully, most of us did not learn much about this in our education courses). Nevertheless, even the most novice participants leave my sessions confidently prepared with knowledge and skills to improve their practice to be more inclusive of all students, regardless of where they work.

Gender and sexual diversity inclusion and equity will become an expectation among international schools this decade. If you act now, you still have time to become a leader in the movement.


[1] Meadows, E. S. (2019). “That would never work here”: Overcoming ‘context paralysis’ on behalf of gender & sexual minority students worldwide In Wiseman, A. W. (Ed.) Annual Review of Comparative and International Education 2018 (International Perspectives on Education and Society, Vol. 37), 287-305. Bingley, United Kingdom: Emerald Publishing.

[2] Meadows, E. S. & Shain, J. D. (2019). Supporting gender & sexual minority students in conservative school communities In Sprott, R. & Lytle, M. (Eds.) Walking the Walk: Addressing Gender and Sexual Orientation Diversity in Schools from Primary Education to College. Manuscript submitted for publication. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Books.

[3] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2016). Out in the open: Education sector responses to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Paris, France: UNESCO.

[4] Mor, Z. & Davidovich, U. (2016). Sexual orientation and behaviour of adult Jews in Israel and the association with risk behaviour. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45(6), 1563-1571.

[5] Greaves, L. M., Barlow, F. K., Lee, C. H., Matika, C. M., Wang, W., Lindsay, C., Case, C. J. B., … & Sibley, C. G. (2016). The diversity and prevalence of sexual orientation self-labels in a New Zealand National Sample. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(5), 1-12.

[6] H., E. (2015, May 6). How to count how many people are gay. The Economist. Retrieved from: https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2015/05/05/how-to-count-how-many-people-are-gay

[7] Fausto-Sterling, A. (2000). Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York, NY: Basic Books.

[8] Newport, F. (2018). In U.S., estimate of LGBT population rises to 4.5%. Gallup. Retrieved from: https://news.gallup.com/poll/234863/estimate-lgbt-population-rises.aspx

[9] Lam, A. (2016, October 18). Counting the LGBT population: 6% of Europeans identify as LGB. Dalia. Retrieved from: https://daliaresearch.com/blog/counting-the-lgbt-population-6-of-europeans-identify-as-lgbt/

[10] Haas, A. P., Rodgers, P. L., & Herman, J. L. (2014). Suicide attempts among transgender and gender non-conforming adults: Findings of the national transgender discrimination survey. Los Angeles, CA: The Williams Institute.

[11] Mathy, R. M. Suicidality and sexual orientation in five continents: Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies, 7(23), 215-225.

[12] Snapp, S. D., Watson, R. J., Russell, S. T., Diaz, R. M., & Ryan, C. (2015). Social support networks for LGBT young adults: Low cost strategies for positive adjustment. Family Relations Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Science, 64(3), 420-430.

[13] Ryan, C., Russell, S. T., Huebner, D. M., Diaz, R. & Sanchez, J. (2010). Family acceptance in adolescence and the health of LGBT young adults. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 23(4), 205-213.

[14] Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Birkett, M., Van Wagenen, A., & Meyer, I. H. (2014). Protective School Climates and Reduced Risk for Suicide Ideation in Sexual Minority Youths. American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 279-286.

[15] Russell, S.T., Pollitt, A. M., Li, G., Grossman, A. H. (2018). Chosen name use is linked to reduced depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior among transgender youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 63, 503-505.

“That Would Never Work Here”: Overcoming Context Paralysis on Behalf of Gender & Sexual Minorities Worldwide

www.emilymeadows.org

@msmeadowstweets

The title of this blog is the same as the that of a book chapter I wrote, published last month in the Annual Review of Comparative & International Education 2018. In it, I coin the term context paralysis, a reluctance to engage with issues when the cultural context may make doing so difficult. I challenge educational researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners to consider how they can leverage their understanding of local context to safely and respectfully improve rights and protections for LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) students where they live. I invite you to read a lightly edited excerpt from my chapter:

The dominant perspective, worldwide, is that heterosexual, cisgender people fulfil the natural, normal, and correct version of gender and sexuality. In my studies on the topic, I have encountered no culture that treats GSM (gender and sexual minority) people equally to their heterosexual, cisgender peers. Those who claim equality usually point to the “elevation” of GSM people through “positive” stereotypes, fetishization, or hypersexualization. Proclaiming gay men to be inherently fashionable is a “positive” stereotype, for example. these instances still highlight an atypical, non-normative status, which is not the same as equal. To exist outside of the heterosexual, cisgender norm is to be “othered.”

School policy, practice, and climate can dramatically impact the educational experience of GSM students. GSM children who attend schools that are inclusive, supportive, and protective of GSM people are more likely to see positive results in terms of their attendance[1][2], grade point average[3], and emotional wellbeing[4]. While not all studies explicitly factor in the cultural context where the school is located when analyzing results, some that do show that protective school climates, regardless of locale, are significant influencers of GSM student wellbeing[5][6]. That is to say that it appears to be the actual school policies and practices, not the local social norms influencing them, that makes the impact on students. I cringe at the cliché, but schools do make a difference.

Furthermore, schools are in a unique position, with access to large numbers (usually majority proportions) of children during their developmental years. Schools, therefore, are exceptionally poised to shape the perspectives and futures of entire generations of young people. This power can be used to reinforce a dominant and discriminatory perspective but may also be leveraged to support more egalitarian practices. To unequivocally state to a class of students that gender and sexual minorities are valid and worthy people, deserving of equality, is not only an extension of support to the GSM child listening in the room, but may also change the social context that this child grows up in by influencing the biases of their peers.

To address systemic discrimination and marginalization, it helps to look at the actual systems involved. I would wager that no other government system, world-wide, has quite the same impact factor on the biases and perspectives of future generations as the educational system. For this reason, schools are a fitting point of intervention to address this prominent inequality of systemic discrimination against GSM people.

Excerpt taken from:

Meadows, E. S. (2019). “That would never work here”: Overcoming ‘context paralysis’ on behalf of gender & sexual minority students worldwide In Wiseman, A. W. (Ed.) Annual Review of Comparative and International Education 2018 (International Perspectives on Education and Society, Vol. 37), 287-305. Bingley, United Kingdom: Emerald Publishing.

How have you overcome context paralysis to support LGBTQ+ students where you work?  


[1] Jones, T., & Hillier, L. (2013). Comparing trans-spectrum and same-sex-attracted youth in Australia: Increased risks, increased activisms. Journal of LGBT Youth, 10(4), 287–307.

[2] Ferreyra, M. E. (2010). Gender identity and extreme poverty. In Dubel, I. & Hielkema, A. (Eds.), Urgency required: Gay and lesbian rights are human rights (pp. 207–212). The Hague, The Netherlands: Hivos.

[3] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danischewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: GLSEN.

[4] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danischewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: GLSEN.

[5] Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Birkett, M., van Wagenen, A., & Meyer, I. H. (2014). Protective School climates and reduced risk for suicide ideation in sexual minority youths. American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 279–286.

[6] Heck, N., Flentje, A., & Cochran, B. (2011). Offsetting risks: High school gay-straight alliances and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. School Psychology Quarterly, 26(2), 161–174.

What Do I Do When a Student Comes Out to Me?

www.emilymeadows.org

@msmeadowstweets

This blog is part of a two-part series on coming out.

I am pleased to share with you a piece that my friend and colleague, Jeremy Shain (he/him), wrote on the question of what to do when a student comes out to you as LGBTQ+. Jeremy is a licensed professional counselor and certified school counselor living and working in the State of Georgia (USA). Currently a doctoral student at Oregon State University, Jeremy holds a specialist degree in counseling and a graduate certificate in LGBT Health Policy and Practice. Jeremy regularly speaks to professionals and counselors-in-training on strategies for working with LGBTQ+ clients. He is particularly interested in the experience of LGBTQ+ adolescents living in rural areas, as well as in the intersection of social class with sexual orientation and gender identity. As a school counselor, he actively advocates for the right of all students to pursue their education in a safe, supportive environment. Jeremy lives with his husband and their sons in Georgia.

Q: What are my obligations if a student comes out to me?

JEREMY: If you work in schools and prioritize safety, equality, and supportive relationships, you very well may be someone that students feel safe coming out to. You may feel uncertain, or even a bit fearful when this moment comes. But, this is a time to use those interpersonal skills and remind yourself that the moment is not about you, but about the student sitting in front of you. It is important to have a plan of how to respond so that you’re not caught trying to sort it out in the moment. If you haven’t yet done so, familiarize yourself with the code of ethics for your particular position (i.e. counselor, educator, etc.). As a school counselor, I am bound by the American School Counselor Association code of ethics and, in this case, there is no mandate on informing parents of students’ disclosures about gender identity or sexual orientation. There may be different laws or policies depending on the country or school where work, so consider checking this now so that you are not caught scrambling later. Be familiar with the concept of confidentiality, and the limits that do exist. Be cognizant that, in some cases, disclosing to a parent may put a student at an increased risk of harm.

Q: What should I do or say when a student comes out to me? 

JEREMY: Having been in this situation multiple times, I have found several concrete steps that can be helpful. First, thank the student for sharing such an important piece of who they are with you and acknowledge their bravery. Coming out is not easy. When a student comes out to you, they are saying that they trust you. Acknowledge this. Second, use the terminology that they use. Students may use terms to identify themselves that you are not fully comfortable with – “queer” and “poly” are prime examples. Words have power. If a student uses words that you don’t understand, ask them to explain the meaning. Finally, recognize that you are that student’s ally. Let them know that you are available to help – and then help. This may mean uncomfortable conversations with fellow staff members about the language that they use in their classrooms. It may also mean connecting the student to a GSA (gay straight alliance / genders and sexualities alliance) or resource group outside the school. Most importantly, ensure that your student knows that you support them, you value them, and that they are not alone.

If you have questions or comments for Jeremy, please feel free to reply to this post, or you can email him directly at jeremyshainlpc@gmail.com

Out Yourself

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Presenting at the International School Counselor Association 2019 Annual Conference in Brussels, Belgium.

This post is the first of a two-part series on coming out.

I presented at the International School Counselor Association 2019 Annual Conference in Brussels earlier this month. The enthusiastic encouragement of my research on inclusive schools for gender and sexual minority students (sometimes called LGBTQ) astonished me. It was within recent memory that colleagues would blush, clear their throats, and look down at their shoes at mention of my work. However, I was even more surprised by the number of attendees who turned up for the session. It was right after lunch on the last day of a busy conference, and I thought it might be just me and a precious few. I was wrong: 40+ counselors packed the space to learn how to support gender minority students (sometimes called transgender, gender non-conforming, gender diverse, non-binary, etc.).

A common question during my trip to Brussels was around the international element of supporting gender and sexual minority (GSM) children. Surely the recommendations for American schools aren’t applicable to those of us working in countries where, for example, homosexuality is criminalized. What can we do then?

I’ve got several answers to that question, but the first is always: keep your students and yourself safe. You’re no good to anybody if you’ve been thrown out of the school (or the country). And you must absolutely never put children into a dangerous position. I try to avoid absolutes like always and never, but this seems an appropriate circumstance to break that rule.

The second recommendation is to out yourself. I do not mean for GSM professionals to come out – that’s an entirely personal decision. I am recommending, however, that you come out as an ally. Evaluate the security of your role within the school and your community. Reflect on your level of credibility, and how well you appreciate the context you are working in. Understand the risks you are taking, and your level of comfort with this assessment. At that point, consider ways of coming out.

Straight, cisgender people carry the privilege of not having to worry about coming out. Cishet (short for cisgender, heterosexual) people don’t need to correct those who wrongly assume their gender or sexuality. They don’t have to plan the when/where/how of their many comings-out (to family, friends, colleagues, new friends, new colleagues, etc.) Cishet people aren’t burdened with concerns about how others may react, or what the personal and professional consequences might be when they reveal that they are bisexual, lesbian, gay, transgender, intersex, or queer.

In contrast to coming out as GSM, outing yourself as an ally is a relatively minor reveal. Still, safety comes first, and you’ll want to evaluate how and when to do so. Here are five fairly simple and innocuous suggestions for how to come out as an ally.  

Five Ways to Come Out as an Ally

  1. Hang a safe space poster in your classroom or office. (These are readily available to print online, in many languages.)
  2. Stock your bookshelf with queer-friendly books.
  3. Wear rainbow gear, such as a lanyard or pin, or put rainbow decorations up in your work space.
  4. Stand up for others when you see or hear discrimination. (And refrain from laughing when people make jokes at the expense of GSM people.)
  5. Show your ally pride on social media by posting on the topic, liking others’ posts, or making note of it in your profile.

While many of these gestures are subtle, and may go under the radar for many, the gender and sexual minority kids in your school will notice, and it can make a significant difference to them. When GSM students can identify even one supportive adult at school, they experience improved mental health outcomes and even have better attendance records[1]. You could be that supportive adult.

How do you show you are an ally for gender and sexual minority students?  


[1] Seelman, K. L., Forge, N., Walls, N. E., & Bridges, N. (2015). School engagement among LGBTQ high school students: The roles of safe adults and gay-straight alliance characteristics. Children and Youth Services Review, 57, 19-29.

Language Validates Our Lived Experiences: Recognize Cisnormativity

The squiggly red line of social erasure.

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International educators may be particularly aware of the importance of language, seeing as so many of us toggle between multiple languages in our everyday lives, and teach children who do the same. We’re privy to the delight of discovering a useful word with no translation to our first language/s. I still use yella (Arabic for let’s go/come on/hurry up!), though I left Kuwait years ago. Or, we’ve experienced the profound feeling that language, when mastered, can shape even the way that we think, such as when the grammatical gender of nouns, according to different languages, changes how people personify them[1]. Language can also lend validity to our experiences; I remember the unexpected sensation of relief when I acquired the term TCK (Third Culture Kid or Trans-Cultural Kid), and could then put words to an identity I strongly related to, but hadn’t previously been able to articulate. Language, and the ability to use it to reflect our lived experience, matters.

How do words get past the gatekeepers of our cultural lexicon? In a 2017 interview, Merriam-Webster editor, Kory Stamper, explained that, in order to enter the dictionary, new words must meet three criteria:

  • Widespread use
  • Sustained use
  • Meaningful use

This post is a supplement to my submission to Merriam-Webster: I’d like to get the word ‘cisnormative’ added to the dictionary. My definition of cisnormative, based upon Merriam-Webster’s definition of heteronormative is:

Cisnormative (adjective): of, relating to, or based on the attitude that a cisgender identity is the only normal and natural experience of gender

The word cisnormative meets all three of Merriam-Webster’s criteria for entry. It is…

  • Widespread – Below you’ll see the word used in peer-reviewed, academic texts published across fields as varied as health, parenting, education, religion, law, business, public recreation, and architecture.
  • Sustained – At least one detailed explanation of the term (with visual diagram, below) dates back to a peer-reviewed journal article from 2009, almost a decade ago.
  • Meaningful – Discrimination based upon gender identity is deadly and serious; recognizing it by name is meaningful.

From the same interview, Stamper provides an example of a word she chose to add to the dictionary: bodice ripper (it’s a type of romance novel, for those unfamiliar). Other words you can find in Merriam-Webster’s tome: dumpster fire, f-bomb, ginormous, weak sauce, glamping, anyways, and literally (when used in exaggerated emphasis, not actually meaning, well… literally). I’d argue any day that cisnormative is at least as credible a word as these.

A quick search turns up long lists of peer-reviewed academic references to cisnormativity. Here’s a sample:

  • Cisnormative assumptions are so prevalent that they are difficult at first to even recognize.”[2]

From the same text, a diagram:

  • Cisnormative assumptions can have the effect of rendering the transgender population invisible.”[3]
  • “‘Cisnormativity’ is the assumption that it is ‘normal’ to be cisgender”[4]
  • “As with heteronormativity, what is in place with cisnormativity is the powerful categorization of people in opposition to an assumed norm, and the discrimination that is enacted through that power.”[5]
  • “Systemic discrimination can be challenged by reviewing policies, procedures, protocols and processes to remove conventions and assumptions of cisnormativity.”[6]
  • “As with heteronormativity, families are among the primary contexts in which cisnormativity is enforced and reproduced.”[7]
  • “This section will highlight how problematization of (trans)gender identity is an effect of cisnormative power and privilege.”[8]
  • “The participants oriented to a hetero/cisnormative social context by drawing on normalizing discourses to present their families as ‘just like’ other families and to downplay the significance of their parents’ sexuality/gender identity.”[9]
  • “Although these studies reveal the existence of transgender religious people, they offer little understanding of transgender religious experience or the construction of religious cisnormativity.”[10]
  • “What is our expectation of architecture when our cities, buildings – their programs, connections and interfaces – reinforce essentialist and cisnormative notions of gender?”[11]
  • “Research that has been conducted has been done primarily through a heteronormative and cisnormative lens ignoring the transition to adulthood for those who are LGBTQ.”[12]
  • “Queer theory is applied to the focus of this paper to investigate how heteronormativity and cisnormativity put GSM [gender and sexual minority] youth at a disadvantage to their peers, specifically with regards to accessing relevant sexual health and relationship information at school.”[13]
  • “Heteronormative and cisnormative assumptions are predominant in the language (including images) in mainstream breastfeeding literature and the language used by providers.”[14]

I also asked around for some professional and familiar usages from my peers, and was supplied with these examples:

  • “The dearth of unisex restrooms in public spaces is reflective of the cisnormativity of architects and civil engineers, who provide no option for people with gender fluid or ambiguous appearances to meet a very basic human need without potential harassment.”
    -Jessica Holland, MA, MLS
  • “Queer playwright Kate Bornstein uses empathic characters to confront their audience’s cisnormative assumptions of selfhood in ‘Hidden: A Gender.’”
    -Brendon Votipka, Playwright, MFA, Assistant Teaching Professor, Rutgers University

I will be asking Merriam Webster dictionary to consider adding to their tome the word cisnormative (and related word, cisnormativity). I don’t want to see the squiggly red line throughout my Word documents anymore, invalidating the lived experience of transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming children who are marginalized by widespread, sustained, and meaningful cisnormative social norms.

Readers, I invite you to add a sentence using the word cisnormativity in the comments of this post, to include in my submission to Merriam-Webster.

[1] Segel, E. & Borodistsky, L. (2011). Grammar in art. Frontiers in Psychology, 1, Article 244.

[2] Bauer, G. R., Hammond, R., Travers, R., Kaay, M., Hohenadel, K. M., & Boyce, M. (2009). “I don’t think this is theoretical; this is our lives”: How erasure impacts health care for transgender people. Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, 29(5), 348-361.

[3] Oakleaf, L. & Richmond, L. P. (2017). Dreaming about access: The experiences of transgender individuals in public recreation. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 35(2), 108-119.

[4] Worthen, M. G. F. (2016). Hetero-cis-normativity and the gendering of transphobia. International Journal of Transgenderism, 17(1), 31-57.

[5] Rhodes, C. (2017). Ethical praxis and the business case for LGBT diversity: Political insights from Judith Butler and Emmanuel Levinas. Gender, Work and Organization, 24(5), 533-546.

[6] Jones, S. M. & Willis, P. (2016). Are you delivering trans positive care? Quality in Ageing and Older Adults, 17(1), 50-59.

[7] McGuire, J. K., Kuvalanka, K. A., Catalpa, J. M., & Toomey, R. B. (2016). Transfamily theory: How the presence of trans* family members informs gender development in families. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 8, 60-73.

[8] Sharpe, A. The ethicality of the demand for (trans)parency in sexual relations. Australian Feminist Law Journal, 43(2), 161-183.

[9] Clarke, V. & Demetriou, E. (2016). ‘Not a big deal’?: Exploring the accounts of adult children of lesbian, gay and trans parents. Psychology & Sexuality, 7(2), 131-148.

[10] Sumerau, J. E., Cragun, R. T., & Mathers, L. A. B. (2016). Contemporary religion and the cisgendering of reality. Social Currents, 3(3), 293-311.

[11] Castricum, S. (2017). When program is the enemy of function… Gender-nonconforming experiences of architectural space. Architecture and Culture, 3, 371-381.

[12] Wagaman, M. A., Keller, M. F., & Cavaliere, S. J. (2014). What does it mean to be a successful adult? Exploring perceptions of the transition into adulthood among LGBTQ emerging adults in a community-based service context. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 28(2), 140-158.

[13] Meadows, E. (2018). Sexual health equity in schools: Inclusive sexuality and relationship education for gender and sexual minority students. American Journal of Sexuality Education, 13(3), 356-370.

[14] Farrow, A. (2015). Lactation support and the LGBTQI community. Journal of Human Lactation, 31(1), 26-28.

Lesbian teens have higher rates of pregnancy than straight teens (and why we need to include everyone in sex education)

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It’s true: lesbian teens have higher rates of pregnancy than those who identify as straight. Also, gay males are more likely to be responsible for a pregnancy during their teen years than straight males. It may sound counter-intuitive, but research backs these numbers up[1] [2].

Earlier this year, I published an article in the American Journal of Sexuality Education entitled “Sexual Health Equity in Schools: Inclusive Sexuality and Relationship Education for Gender and Sexual Minority Students[3]. In it, I argue that, while researchers do not know for certain why lesbian teens are at higher risk for pregnancy, it likely does not help that the vast majority of school-based sexuality and relationship education programs exclude gender and sexual minorities (GSM) from the curriculum[4]. Indeed, I point out in the piece that a number of issues that sex education aims to address, such as age of first intercourse and number of partners, condom and birth control use, and dating violence disproportionately (and negatively) impact lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth as compared to their heterosexual, cisgender peers.

It is perhaps less surprising that gender and sexual minority teens are not responding to school-based sexuality education when we consider that they are essentially ignored in most programs. Of those that do make mention of anyone other than heterosexual, cisgender people, it is often through messages that are pathologizing (i.e. exaggerating the relationship between sexual orientation and HIV/AIDS), or the ‘information’ is downright inaccurate. A number of U.S. states actually mandate that their schools’ curricula be discriminatory against LGBTQ people[5]. GSM students do not see themselves reflected in most sex education programs, and might simply check out during those lessons, leaving them without the knowledge and skills necessary to nurture their sexual and reproductive health.

As most of the data supporting my article was collected in the United States, it is theoretically possible that other countries are doing a much better job at including GSM students in their sex education programs. This is unlikely, however, given the relatively restrictive legal, political, and social situation for GSM people in many parts of the world[6]. Also, of the few countries that have collected information about GSM students, none has shown that this demographic fares as well as their heterosexual, cisgender peers in outcomes targeted by sex ed[7].

Want to do better for your students? Consider adopting the K-12 Sexuality Education Standards published by the public health organization, the Future of Sex Education. The content of these standards is accurate, evidence-informed, developmentally and age-appropriate, and designed to be relevant to a diverse student body. These standards are being used to some degree in 32 states in the U.S., so international schools following an American curriculum in particular will appreciate staying up to speed with current best practice. Adopting an inclusive sexual health and relationship curriculum is one step toward a more just and fair education for all students.

You can link to my full, published article here.

How does your school ensure that gender and sexual minority students have access to sexual health and relationship information? 

 

[1] Charlton, B. M., Roberts, A. L., Rosario, M., Katz-Wise, S. L., Calzo, J. P., Spiegelman, D., & Bryn Austin, S. (2018). Teen pregnancy risk factors among young women of diverse sexual orientations. Pediatrics, 14(4).

[2] Institute of Medicine. (2011). The health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people: Building a foundation for better understanding. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

[3] Meadows, E. (2018). Sexual health equity in schools: Inclusive sexuality and relationship education for gender and sexual minority students. American Journal of Sexuality Education. doi: 10.1080/15546128.2018.1431988

[4] The Guttmacher Institute. (2016). Fact Sheet: American Teens’ Sources of Sexual Health Information.

[5] Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). (2017). State Profiles.

[6] Carroll, A. & Mendos, L. R. (2017). State-sponsored homophobia: A world survey of sexual orientation laws: Criminalization, protection and recognition. International Lesbian and Gay Association.

[7] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2016). Out in the open: Education sector responses to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Paris, France: UNESCO.

 

 

Human Rights Trump Cultural Tradition

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Inclusive education is, “not limited to the inclusion of those children or young people with disabilities. Inclusion is inclusion of all regardless of race, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation, language, socio-economic status, and any other aspect of an individual’s identity that might be perceived as different[1]. As educators, how do we tackle this goal in countries or regions with a history of excluding certain groups? For example, is it our obligation to improve inclusive education for gender and sexual minority students in countries where homosexuality is considered a crime[2]?

When it comes to rights and justice in education, I am tempted to take a purist approach: insist on full equity, anything short of this is unacceptable. In reality, the concept of equity is subjective, complex, and extremely difficult to measure[3], so this mentality is practically inoperable. Additionally, as a visitor in countries abroad, I am compelled to position myself as the learner (rather than the teacher), to value diversity[4] (rather than assume my perspective is superior), and to respect local traditions (even if I do not practice them).

Still, those who do not have access to the privileges of a dominant group need and deserve allies and advocates. To ignore disparity is to be complicit in discrimination. In countries and regions where inclusive policy and practice is discouraged[5], whether by social norm or legal position, this is particularly salient. What is our role, as international educators, when local cultural traditions marginalize certain students? Are we overstepping our reach to demand equitable education when we are guests on foreign ground? On these questions, we can take guidance from international human rights agreements, such as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that, “Everyone has the right to education”.

While the large multi-national cohorts that initiate human rights agreements have been critiqued for slanting toward Western ideology, these benchmarks are still preferable to leaning on one individual country’s interpretation of who deserves to attend a school that is relevant, safe, and inclusive. Human rights are more important than culture and tradition. So, discriminatory practices such as keeping young girls home to do the housework while their brothers go to school[6], are not acceptable. Marginalizing gender and sexual minority students from the full educational experience[7] for any reason, including cultural or religious objection, is also intolerable.

To implement policies stating as much is easier said than done. These types of shifts must be carried out sensitively, carefully, and sometimes slower than we like. Heavy-handed, hasty, top-down mandates (even with benevolent intentions) may prove counter-productive, causing backlash and a staking of camps. International education policy-makers, then, must be people with a deep understanding of the culture where they are working, a strong background in relevant policy, and a commitment to the well-being of all children, particularly those who have been historically disadvantaged.

How do you exercise cultural humility as a guest abroad, while also working toward inclusive education for all of your students?

[1] Polat, F. (2011). Inclusion in education: A step towards social justice. International Journal of Educational Development, 31, p. 50-58.

[2] For the record, my answer to this question is a firm: yes.

[3] Wiseman, A. W. (2008). A Culture of (in)equality?: A cross-national study of gender parity and gender segregation in national school systems. Research in Comparative and International Education, 3(2), 179-201.

[4] Déquanne, B. (2017, February 9). Stronger Together [blog post]. The International Educator Online.

[5] Fully aware, here, that my own country of citizenship (the United States) has a well-documented history of denying equitable access to education; this is not a ‘foreign problem’.

[6] Lewis, M. & Lockheed, M. (2007). Inexcusable absence: Why 60 million girls still aren’t in school and what to do about it. Washington, DC: Center for Global Development.

[7] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danieschewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.

Your School’s GSA May Be Saving Lives

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Before school-shooting survivor, Emma Gonzáles, burst into the public spotlight for her role in pressing U.S. legislators to tighten up gun control, she was contributing to a life-saving cause of another sort. Emma Gonzales is the president of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s gay-straight alliance (GSA).

GSAs are clubs to provide support and safety for gender and sexual minority (GSM) students, and to improve the campus climate for this demographic. The acronym GSA historically stands for Gay-Straight Alliance, but has been updated by some to mean Genders & Sexualities Alliance, a more accurate reflection of the youth running them. Allies are usually invited to participate, providing an outlet for heterosexual, cisgender students and faculty to acknowledge their privilege and contribute to making schools more inclusive.

GSAs originated in American high schools in the 1980s[1], but have spread around the world since. These alliances change – and even save – lives. Here’s how:

Gender and sexual minority (sometimes called LGBTQ+) students are more likely than their heterosexual, cisgender peers to miss school because they feel unsafe, to achieve lower grades, and to report less support from teachers and other adults at school[2]. Indeed, large-scale studies show that the vast majority of students who do not identify as heterosexual and cisgender are subject to frequent verbal and physical harassment and discrimination at school, at the hands of both students and faculty, based on their gender identity and/or sexual orientation[3][4]. Furthermore, this stigmatizing school climate leads to serious negative outcomes for GSM students, including increased risk of mental health issues and suicidality[5][6][7].

Fortunately, GSAs make a concrete positive impact on school climate, and can mitigate these serious risks. For example, students attending schools with a GSA reported significantly higher feelings of school belonging compared with those who attend a school without a GSA[8]. Schools with GSAs see lower truancy rates for their GSM students[9]. GSA presence is associated with significantly lower levels of homophobic victimization and fear of safety at school[10], and can improve overall GSM student well-being[11]. In fact, the mere presence of a gay-straight alliance at school has been reported as more impactful on GSM students’ well-being than whether they had actually been a member or participated in the club in any way, so it’s worth hosting even if only a few students attend[12]. GSAs have even been associated, in multiple studies, with lowering the suicide risk for sexual minority youth[13][14]. These organizations make a difference.

Most of the studies on GSAs have been carried out in the U.S., but it stands to reason that their impact may be felt at least as strongly where they are present in international settings. Seeing as plenty of international school students are limited by language skills or cultural barriers from joining organizations in the local community, school is often the hub of social support for our expat children. Your school’s GSA may be the only option for students to meaningfully connect with other GSM children.

GSAs may be unsafe for students in some countries, where gender and sexual non-conformity is harshly penalized, so exercise caution according to your context. If you are in a place where these groups are possible, I encourage you to attend a meeting or event with your school’s GSA to show encouragement for the students running it, and for the many other children who are quietly noticing your support. If your school does not yet host a GSA (you may be surprised to learn that they do exist in conservative regions and in religious schools), this resource from GLSEN offers a how-to guide for getting started.

Tell us about your school’s GSA: what impact does the group make in the city/country where you work? 

 

[1] Russell, S., Muraco, A., Subramaniam, A., & Laub, C. (2009). Youth Empowerment and High School Gay-Straight Alliances. J Youth Adolescence, 38, 891-903.

[2] IOM (Institute of Medicine). (2011). The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

[3] Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danischewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: GLSEN.

[4] HRC (Human Rights Campaign). (2012). Growing up LGBT in America.

[5] Hatzenbuehler, M. L. & Pachankis, J. E. (2016). Stigma and minority stress as social determinants of health among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth:                Research evidence and clinical implications. Pediatric Clinics of North America,        63(6), 985-997.

[6] Lick, D. J., Durso, L. E., & Johnson, K. L. (2013). Minority stress and physical health among sexual minorities. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8(5), 521-548.

[7] Russell, S. T. & Joyner, K. (2001). Adolescent sexual orientation and suicide risk: Evidence from a national study. American Journal of Public Health, 91, 1276-1281.

[8] Heck, N., Flentje, A., & Cochran, B. (2011). Offsetting Risks: High School Gay-Straight Alliances and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Youth. School PsychologyQuarterly, 26(2), 161-174.

[9] Poteat, V. P., DiGiovanni, C. D., Sinclair, K. O., Koenig, B. W., & Russell, S. T. (2012). Gay-straight alliances are associated with student health: A multischool comparison of LGBTQ and heterosexual youth. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 23(2), 319-330.

[10] Marx, R. A. & Kettrey, H. H. (2016). Gay-straight alliances are associated with lower levels of school-based victimization of LGBTQ+ youth: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45, 1269-1282.

[11] Toomey, R. B., Ryan, C., & Diaz, R. M. (2011). High school gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and young adult well-being: An examination of GSA presence, participation, and perceived effectiveness. Applied Developmental Science, 15(4), 175-185.

[12] Toomey, R. B., McGuire, J. K., & Russell, S. T. (2012). Heteronormativity, school climates, and perceived safety for gender nonconforming peers. Journal of Adolescence, 35, 187-196.

[13] Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Birkett, M., Van Wagenen, A., & Meyer, I. H. (2014). Protective School Climates and Reduced Risk for Suicide Ideation in Sexual Minority Youths. American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 279-286.

[14] Goodenow, C., Szalacha, L. & Westheimer, K. (2006). School support groups, other school factors, and the safety of sexual minority students. Psychology in the Schools, 43(5), 573-589.

Transgender School Policy: What’s Yours?

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Unless you are a novice educator, you have taught transgender students. You may not have realized it at the time, but I assure you that you have. Increasingly, educators are becoming aware that they have transgender kids in their classrooms, which can sometimes catch us off-guard. Most of us do not have formal training, or even experience, meeting the needs of transgender children. Yet, when a gender nonconforming child is placed in our care, everyone from senior leadership to classroom teachers to instructional assistants will appreciate having clear guidance on how to support them.

What Does Transgender Mean?

Transgender describes someone whose gender identity does not match the one they were assigned at birth (usually based on external sex characteristics). Transgender people may be ‘out’, or not; their gender identity (how they feel inside) may match their gender expression (how they present themselves on the outside), or not. There is a lot of diversity in gender nonconformity, and some countries or regions may use different terminology for similar concepts (i.e. Hijra for our friends in South Asia, for example).

Why Do We Need a Transgender Policy?

If you haven’t yet been asked how your school supports transgender and gender nonconforming children, you will face this question at some point. International schools around the world are finding that families with transgender children are applying to attend, or that a current student may be transitioning. This happens in religious schools. It happens in conservative countries. It happens in elementary and primary divisions. The interests of the school and, most importantly, of the child, will be best served if a solid policy is in place. Schools that take the lead here will find that they are on the forefront of child-centred practice in the international community.

A Model Policy for Schools

GLSEN (pronounced ‘glisten’) is a non-profit organization whose mission is, “To create safe and affirming schools for all, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression”. They are leaders in the field, and backed by research, so you can feel confident referring to them for sound advice. GLSEN’s transgender model district policy  offers school decision-makers sample language and reliable advice on topics as varied as student gender transitions, parent/guardian involvement, access to gender-segregated activities and facilities, and dealing with media requests. You could literally copy/paste their text into your own handbooks; it is written with schools’ needs in mind.

Transgender Policy in International Schools

International schools generally exercise a degree of independence from both local and foreign regulations, while also operating within at least the partial confines of both. Naturally, these responsibilities need to be taken into consideration before implementing any new policy. That being said, GLSEN’s suggested policy document uses straightforward language that would suit many international contexts. And, while I encourage you to consider adopting the model policy in its entirety, it is neatly organized and concisely written so that it would be possible to lift out the sections that are most relevant to your school as a starting point, until the full text could be approved.

Not So Sure?

Many people, even well-intentioned school leaders, harbor bias against gender nonconforming people. While we, as professional educators, are committed to serving all of our students, we may still find ourselves neglecting to protect transgender children in the same way we look after others. Decision-makers may feel nervous about endorsing policies that so much as acknowledge the presence of transgender children at their school. This takes some courage and forward thinking. We still have a long way to go in ensuring equal educational opportunities for transgender and gender nonconforming students around the world. A proactive policy is a step forward in making our international schools safe and inclusive places of learning.

Can I help? If you are interested in updating your transgender policy, but have questions about how to do so in a manner that is consistent with your school’s mission, stakeholders’ values, or local context, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would be delighted to serve as a resource.