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

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:

[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:

[9] Lam, A. (2016, October 18). Counting the LGBT population: 6% of Europeans identify as LGB. Dalia. Retrieved from:

[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.

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