If your school has not yet opened a
conversation about gender and sexual diversity, I predict it will in the
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). We have got to move past
culture as an excuse for discrimination.
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
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. 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. Intersex people further increase
diversity, representing an estimated 1.7% of the population. Moreover, LGBTQ+
identities are on the rise, with Millennials self-identifying as the least
cisgender and heterosexual generation to date. 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. 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
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. School-based interventions,
such as non-discrimination policies and affirming students’ gender identities, substantially
reduce LGBTQ+ mental health risks. 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.
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