Category Archives: Emily Meadows

EMILY MEADOWS, PhD is an alumni of international schools and has worked as a professional educator and counselor across the world, serving children and families in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. She researches inclusive policy and practice for LGBTQ+ students, and holds master’s degrees in the fields of Counseling and Sexual Health. Emily teaches for the George Washington University’s graduate program in LGBT Health Policy & Practice, and is a consultant on gender and sexual diversity and inclusion in international schools:

There is a Downside To “Hearing All Voices”

Twitter & LinkedIn: @emilymeadowsorg

In high school, I took a course called, simply, Debate. We were instructed to analyze an issue, formulate an argument, and convincingly convey a position. A feature of this course that stuck with me was that we were routinely assigned our positions on a given issue by the teacher, rather than allowed to select them based on our existing opinions. The idea was that, when it comes to controversial issues, almost by definition, there are multiple complex angles, and we should be trained to consider each one for validity.

Many of the international schools where I work as an LGBTQ+ consultant follow a similar tradition of thought: that robust debate and reflection on a range of perspectives is healthy for intellectual development. Therefore, it is not surprising that I regularly hear from clients that they are hoping to ensure that “all voices are heard” as they grapple with building safety, equity, and belonging for LGBTQ+ students and community members. Indeed, it is not uncommon for this intention of “hearing all voices” to even be formalized in institutional equity statements. Clients are sometimes surprised by my answer: schools do not need to provide a platform for every opinion to be heard.

It’s not that I’ve turned my back on our cultural traditions of debate. However, when the subject of the debate is somebody’s humanity, I suggest we draw the line. School is not a place where anybody should be subjected to an attack on their identity because it makes for an interesting intellectual exercise.

Including LGBTQ+ matters in international school settings is a relatively recent conversation for many educators, so let me offer an example that may feel more relevant to our collective experience. Imagine, for example, a student who espouses white supremacist ideology. While educators are not responsible for what takes place in the privacy of a student’s thoughts, I do believe (hope?) that most would decline to open classroom time and space for students to promote the merits of white supremacy. Whether or not there are children of color in the classroom at the time, we can recognize white supremacist talking points as harmful and inappropriate. This is an example of where we do not need to hear all voices.

Let us be clear that the child who wishes to advance white supremacy is not being wholly denied an opportunity to participate and to be listened to at school. However, the particular view that white people are superior and should, therefore, be dominant in society, causes harm and should not be elevated for the sake of both side-ism in spaces where children come to learn. Similarly, voices that express disapproval of LGBTQ+ people, whether for religious, cultural, or other reasons, do not merit a platform in school. (Note, here, that I recognize schools as places where white supremacy, homophobia, and transphobia live today, embedded within the culture and institutions, even when not explicitly named, such as in the hidden curriculum. Protecting students from overt discriminatory speech is the bare minimum, and we must continue to actively and intentionally work toward identifying and correcting all forms of identity-based discrimination and harm.)

For some, this position may constitute a slippery slope, fearing that the ideology of individual educators or leaders within the school will become a required lens for decision-making more broadly. In response, I counter that this is already happening. The dominant ideology blanketing so many of our schools today is one that suppresses, erases, marginalizes, excludes, and even harasses LGBTQ+ people and people of color. I’m asking that we acknowledge that educators already weave values into our work, that we make those values more transparent, and that we examine whether these are indeed the values we claim to believe in.

There is some irony in how my assertion that not all voices should be equivalently weighed within educational settings means that some readers of this piece will call for my voice to be the first to be deplatformed. This is, of course, their right. However, if the goal is to build safety, equity, and belonging at your school, that objective is incompatible with giving air time to anti-LGBTQ+ voices. If you are aspiring to safety, equity, and belonging at your school or organization, allow yourself to take a firm position that does not endorse identity-based marginalization as a matter of debate.

You Belong Here


Safe Space signs are used to signal that the room they adorn is, well, a “safe space” for all people, particularly including LGBTQ+ folks. These signals are important because, while many organizations and institutions claim to welcome everyone, this too often means that they welcome everyone except openly LGBTQ+ people. A Safe Space sign that explicitly names LGBTQ+ people as included can make a significant difference in signaling to gender and sexual minority students that they are part of the ‘everyone’ schools refer to[1].

While these signs are valuable, the wording of ‘safe space’ can be misleading. We, as educators, cannot guarantee that any space will be safe for LGBTQ+ children, who have a long-documented record of being targeted for bullying and harassment in schools[2]. Indeed, to claim that a learning space is safe for all children when the curriculum, for example, does not reflect positive representations of any LGBTQ+ people, can come across as disingenuous or even gaslighting. Indeed, while our intentions may be fervently inclusive, intent and impact do not always align. As we work to build real equity, safety, and inclusion in international schools, we can also, always, affirm a child’s right to belong.

With a new year upon us, I have created a collection of fresh posters for international educators to welcome students with a message of belonging. The posters, free to download, print, and share, feature the classic rainbow flag (updated to include transgender people and people of color), with translations in several languages. I designed this poster collection initially to offer educators options for inclusive signage in their international schools. Once I published it for my Twitter contacts, it became a heart-warming community project, with educators chiming in from around the world to offer additional translations for their local context, or to gift translations to others, and the language options have continued to grow. Further, I have enjoyed the way collaborators overcame linguistic challenges that come with translation, working together to nail down interpretations for ‘belonging’ to capture the sense of the meaning, even if a direct equivalent does not exist in their language. 

In addition to these welcoming posters, I encourage LGBTQ+ educators and allies to seek training and resources to make their schools more equitable and inclusive (call me for ideas). A poster is a brilliant start, but it is only the beginning.

*Link to download and share the free You Belong Here poster collection

*I’d be delighted to tailor-make a poster in any language that’s missing from the collection; please send the translation of ‘You Belong Here’ with your request to: [email protected]

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

LGBTQ+ Intent vs impact in schools

EMILY (she/her): Creating the Anti-Racism Impact Vs. Intent deck together helped to organize our thoughts on common mistakes that White educators (like myself) make when attempting to be inclusive and equitable, but then how we miss the mark because we are centering ourselves rather than POC.

In my practice as an LGBTQ+ consultant for international schools (and as a cis, pan person), I found myself looking for something similar to illustrate the concepts I work on with schools and, when I couldn’t find it, I naturally thought: let’s call Daniel and we’ll make one.

DANIEL (he/him): So glad you did. Being cishet and an LGBTQ+ ally, but currently doing more work in the area of Anti-Racism, I’ve greatly benefited from your expertise and experience as we’ve crafted this deck– and found some blindspots in my own mindsets, attitudes, language, and actions. This work has also helped me look at the environments and structures I inhabit through the same lens and critically analyze how aligned intention and impact are in these spaces.

So what patterns have you noticed in common, perhaps well-intentioned, LGBTQ+ allyship that indicate the need for deeper understanding of actual impact on LGBTQ+ individuals?

EMILY: I’ve run into a lot of folks who mistakenly believe that their internal acceptance of LGBTQ+ people is sufficient for inclusion. Kids can’t read teachers’ minds, however, so a classroom without LGBTQ+ representation looks uninviting, regardless of the teacher’s internal feelings.

Lots of educators will say that all students are safe and welcome in school, but when learning spaces ignore or erase LGBTQ+ people, it doesn’t feel safe and welcome. We need to actively and deliberately include LGBTQ+ students in order to cultivate equitable schools. Staying silent maintains the status quo of LGBTQ+ exclusion.

DANIEL: And that’s where Intent vs. Impact comes in! While educators might have supportive intentions, we need to take a deeper look at how our environments, practices, perceptions, language, policies, and decisions actually impact LGBTQ+ community members. It’s more than just believing in something– it’s about making sure that truly inclusive, equitable, and empowering outcomes really happen.

In creating this deck with you, I noticed that there are many common practices, phrases, and mindsets that (perhaps unintentionally) signal to LGBTQ+ individuals that their identities are invalid and unwelcome. How can these kinds of damaging signals affect LGBTQ+ youth, their identity development, and their lives?

EMILY: The research on this is really clear: LGBTQ+ children who grow up in contexts that provide support for their identity development, that nurture their healthy growth, and that affirm their sense of self are far more likely to thrive than LGBTQ+ children who do not see themselves reflected in a positive way[1][2][3]. Unfortunately, LGBTQ+ youth are at much higher risk than their cishet peers for a number of mental health issues and negative outcomes, such as suicidality, depression, anxiety, substance use, disordered eating, and declining school performance[4][5]. The good news is that these health disparities can be positively impacted by adjusting the context around the child, such as by cultivating safe, welcoming, and loving homes, communities, peer groups, and schools[6][7][8]. This cultivation must be deliberate and visible, however – the impact matters more than the intent.

DANIEL: I believe that this kind of deliberate self-analysis comes through in the LGBTQ+ Intent vs. Impact deck we’ve created, which outlines common well-intentioned actions or mindsets that actually have a negative impact on LGBTQ+ individuals.

Our hope is that fellow educators use these infographics– not as a checklist– but as an opportunity for brave, meaningful, and sustained self-reflection and ongoing growth. All of us, especially cishet allies like myself, should be constantly working to understand the depth and nuance within LGBTQ+ identities, shining light on our own blind spots, modifying our language and practices, and pushing for more inclusive and supportive policies– all of which will have a long-term positive impact on our LGBTQ+ community members.

The LGBTQ+ Intent Vs. Impact infographic introduces the concept, and the rest of the deck with specific examples will be rolled out on Twitter and in our online gallery.

Follow us on Twitter:
@DanielWickner                                                       @EmilyMeadowsOrg

Emily Meadows is an LGBTQ+ consultant for international schools. For LGBTQ+ inclusive policy support and faculty professional development, please contact Emily at: [email protected]

[1] 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.

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

[3] Murchison, G. R., Agenor, M., Reisner, S. L., & Watson, R. J. (2019). School restroom and locker room restrictions and sexual assault risk among transgender youth. Pediatrics, 143(6), DOI: 10.1542/peds.2018-2901

[4] Becerra-Culqui, T. A., Liu, Y., Nash, R., Cromwell, L., Flanders, W. D., Getahun, D., Giammettei, S. V…. & Goodman, M. (2018). Mental health of transgender and gender nonconforming youth compared with their peers. Pediatrics, DOI: 10.1542/peds.2017-384.

[5] Duffy, M. E., Henkel, K. E., & Joiner, T. E., (2019). Prevalence of self-injurious thoughts and behaviors in transgender individuals with eating disorders: A national study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 64(4), 461-466.

[6] 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

[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.

[8] Poquiz, J. L., Coyne, C. A., Garofalo, R., & Chen, D. (2020). Comparison of gender minority stress and resilience among transmasculine, transfeminine, and nonbinary adolescents and young adults. Journal of Adolescent Health, 104.

Trans Athletes Are Not Stealing Anybody’s Athletic Trophies

The conversation around transgender athletes has been roused again of late, given the Biden administration’s recent guidance on gender inclusion in schools. Those against inclusion usually push the angle that girls’ sports are at risk of being overrun by trans athletes who will snap up all of the titles, leaving cis girls with no chance to compete. This is irrational fear-mongering; here’s why:  

Trans people have been playing in professional, amateur, and school sports for many years, and cis athletes still win the disproportionate majority of competitions. Transgender athletes have been permitted to play in the Olympics since 2004, for example, and literally none have taken home a medal. In fact, arguably the most famous trans athlete is Chris Mosier, who competes in men’s running (debunking multiple myths about gender and biology). This sure pokes a hole in the argument that trans girls are making off with all the trophies.

Trans students have been included in school athletics for many years and, there also, we see a real lack of evidence that they are edging out cis kids. The example oft-exploited to fight inclusion is a 2020 case accusing two trans girls at a high school track competition in Connecticut (USA) of robbing a cis girl of her chance at first place. The (rarely mentioned) sequel to this story is that, two days after a law suit was filed on behalf of the cis runner, she won a competition against those same trans girls. (And, incidentally, lost the law suit on grounds that excluding trans athletes is sex-based discrimination under Title IX). We can rest assured that any additional examples of trans athletes winning competitions will be swiftly brought to our attention but, until then, it seems this is still the main one. Hardly rampant trophy-theft.

Some of the irrational fear of trans inclusion comes, I believe, from the misconception that trans people are not real. This misunderstanding can be incredibly harmful to children. Indeed, the risk of suicide amongst transgender youth is consequential, with one recent study showing over half of transgender participants reporting that they had considered suicide within the past year[1]. In another recent, large study, almost all (95.5%) of transgender and gender nonconforming youth reported suicide ideation at some point in their lives[2]. However, rates of suicidality decline significantly when trans children have access to gender-affirming spaces. For example, mental health improves when gender-affirming names and pronouns are used[3], and when trans people have access to the bathrooms and sports teams that match their gender identity[4].

This might seem like an abstract peril for those not personally connected to any trans children. Take a look at this short video clip of some trans teens, and imagine requiring them to play on a sports team that aligns with their presumed chromosomes rather than their gender identity. Trans girls are girls, trans boys are boys, and non-binary people are real.

While I realize that school sports can be serious business, surely most international schools do not promote athletics merely as an opportunity for students to experience winning. I’m thinking (hoping?) that team work, persistence, fitness, responsibility, stress relief, discipline, problem-solving, resilience, fun, belonging, and other benefits are why schools spend so many resources to ensure that students have access to these activities.

For those interested in advocating gender equity in sports, I urge you to direct your concern to the very real problems of reduced attention to and sponsorship of girl’s and women’s sports, the measurable pay gap for professional women athletes, and lack of women represented in coaching and other high-level positions within athletic organizations. Indeed, celebrated women’s sport advocates Megan Rapinoe and Billie Jean King, along with 174 other women athletes have signed an amicus brief supporting the inclusion of trans women in athletics. Trans people are not an actual threat to girls’ and women’s sports.

Regardless of my own child’s gender identity, I would far rather they have the opportunity to play on a team that is inclusive than one that assumes only cis children are entitled to sport. The number of cis athletes who will come in second after a trans athlete is minuscule and, frankly, a not-very-consequential downside to the multitude benefits of practicing inclusion in schools. 

Please contact me to discuss crafting and implementing a transgender and gender non-binary inclusion policy to fit your school. I specialize in international school policy development and educator training for gender and sexual diversity.

[1] Taliaferro, L. A., McMorris, B. J., Rider, N. G., Eisenberg, M. E. (2019). Risk and protective factors for self-harm in a population-based sample of transgender youth. Archives of Suicide Research, 23(2), 203-221.

[2] Kuper, L. E., Adams, N., & Mustanski, B. (2018). Exploring cross-sectional predictors of suicide ideation, attempt, and risk in a large online sample of transgender and gender nonconforming youth and young adults. LGBT Health, 5(7).

[3] Russell, S. T., Pollitt, A. M., & 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(4), 503-505.

[4] Goldberg, S. K. (2021). Fair play: The importance of sports participation for transgender youth. Center for American Progress.

Antiracism: Intent vs. Impact

Antiracism: Intent vs. Impact

EMILY: I was giving a training series on privilege and marginalization for a large international organization this summer. During one of the sessions, a Black man shared about a time when, as a student at a prestigious American university, he was studying in the library, when a White man about his age approached and asked if he actually attended the school. When the participant confirmed that he was, indeed, a student there, the White man turned and walked away without another word.

“Classic microaggression,” I said aloud.

The participant looked up at me through our Zoom screens and said, “Microaggression? It felt more like a full-on aggression to me.”

My chest tightened when I realized what was happening. What would you do in this situation, Daniel?

DANIEL: I would apologize for misrepresenting his experience and ask him, if he is willing, to share more about how the encounter felt, how he responded, and what it meant to him. At least I would like to think that I would respond this way.

Although a natural instinct may be to defend our intentions, I believe it’s important, especially in these moments, to show humility, deference, and genuine interest in the realities of others.

How did you end up responding? And how did it play out?

EMILY: That’s good advice, and I wish I had done that. Instead, I choked. My eyes got wide: “Oh! I didn’t mean micro in that way!” I made myself and my intentions the focus, and then I think I tried to explain what I meant by microaggression, basically intellectualizing his lived experience. Not my best work. Keep in mind, this was during a training seminar on privilege and marginalization that I was leading. I knew better!

DANIEL: I’ve had similar moments (which I too am not proud of), as I’m sure many other antiracist allies have had as well. Being multiracial, I can relate to this situation from both sides— as a person of color who has had others misrepresent my reality and as a White person who has, at times, unintentionally misrepresented the realities of others. That moment of disconnect can be an inflection point in any discussion, and it’s how participants— particularly the “misrepresenter”— respond that can determine the relationship of the participants going forward.

That feeling of panic and the need to explain ourselves— where does that come from? I contend that it’s from the cognitive dissonance between our impact (racist words, actions, systems) and our perceived intent (non-racist or anti-racist).

In fact, “being antiracist” may even have become part of our identity— how we see ourselves and how we want others to view us— and having a racist impact clashes with the core of who we believe ourselves to be. The panic is a mini identity crisis, of sorts; and we feel the need to neatly realign everything in the presence of the POC we just harmed.

EMILY: You put that really well. Thankfully, I knew this (intellectually), and did manage to recover from my mini identity crisis in time to staunch the bleeding, so to speak. I wish I had caught myself sooner, but it just goes to show that, even when we are relatively cognizant of the issue, we can mess up.

I’ve had many conversations with White educators whose mini identity crises drag on because the fixation on our intent will never resolve the impact of our actions. We White people are used to being centred, and our feelings and comfort are usually protected. To prioritize our impact means setting aside our feelings and intent, and focusing instead on those of the people of color experiencing our words and actions. The good news is that this can be done! And I feel really grateful to partner with you on this project.

DANIEL: Yes, me too! We were getting deep into a discussion about identity and inquiry (another important topic), but I think we realized that there were some fundamental core pillars of DEIJ that needed to be addressed first — and were more actionable and relatable for the majority of educators not already involved in this work.

As you mention, differentiating and navigating between one’s intent and impact can be challenging for many White allies, myself included. And, like with any new skill we learn, it’s good to see a series of examples to help us grasp it more tangibly. That’s where our idea for the #IntentVsImpact infographics came from.

EMILY: We’ve tried to cover some common issues like colorblindness, reverse racism, and cultural appropriation, as well as some concepts that folks may be less familiar with. I hope our infographics series will resonate with readers, and that it will be useful as a tool for educators working to make their practice more antiracist.

DANIEL: Agreed. Antiracism is more than just a series of behaviors to avoid; it’s a fundamental mindset shift in how we approach everything we do as educators— and scrutinize, confront, and transform the structures and systems that we inhabit and uphold. My hope is that these infographics will help facilitate that vitally important shift.

Please find Daniel and Emily, along with their new infographic series on Antiracism Impact Vs Intent, on Twitter:

View the full: #ImpactVsIntent Gallery

Taipei American School’s Policy for Transgender Students


A couple of years ago, I published a post encouraging international schools to adopt a school-wide policy for transgender students. Taipei American School has done just that, leading the way in supporting gender diverse students. I interviewed Adam Nelson, a member of the committee that implemented the policy. Adam Nelson is the Interim Deputy Head of School at Taipei American School in Taiwan and holds a J.D. from the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Emily: How was the process to develop and implement a policy for transgender students initiated at Taipei American School? 

Adam: The process started when the Head of School put together a committee to come up with such a policy, both in response to the Obama Administration’s policy guidance that Title IX protects trans* students and to help better protect the trans* students we had on campus.

Emily: How was faculty involved? Did they receive training on their role in enforcing the policy? 

Adam: We currently have only a small number of openly trans* students, and their counselors have worked directly with those students’ teachers both to make sure they understood their obligations under the policy and to offer support with meeting their students’ needs. 

One of our school psychologists recently presented an overview of the policy to the entire Upper School faculty, and I’m sure there have been other smaller or division-specific efforts, but our first attempt at formal faculty-wide training will come in the fall.

Emily: How was the policy presented to the greater TAS community? Did you put it out in a newsletter, for example, or just add it to the website when it was ready? 

Adam: It has mostly been the latter. The policy was first adopted around the time of our most recent WASC accreditation visit, and was mentioned at least briefly in our self-study report, but otherwise it was really just published in the student handbooks, which parents are required to read each year, and in our administrator, faculty, and staff manuals. 

Emily: What challenges arose during the process, and how would you recommend handling them if another school encounters the same? 

Adam: The process has really been relatively painless so far. Even the drafting was fairly straightforward, since we merely adapted the model policy that had been published by GLSEN! 

The biggest challenges so far have really mostly been technical. Like all schools, we have a lot of systems that report gender information, and it’s not always clear why. Fortunately, our student information system (SIS) supports having separate gender and gender assigned at birth fields, which made things easier for those systems that play well with our SIS. Otherwise, we’ve tried to limit references to student gender as much as possible. We now feel like we’ve done a pretty good job giving those employees with a bona fide need to know access to a student’s gender assigned at birth, but otherwise making it so that any other user doesn’t see gender at all unless they need to, and then only giving those individuals access to information based on each student’s self-identification. 

Emily: Has the policy been successful in supporting students since its implementation? 

Adam: I think it has been successful. Again, I’m only aware of a very small number of openly trans* students, but I know those students have been appreciative of the school’s support and validation of their identities. 

Emily: Thank you, Adam, for taking the time to share your experience with implementing a transgender inclusive policy. Taipei American School is leading the way!

Please contact me to discuss crafting and implementing a transgender and gender non-binary inclusion policy to fit your school. I specialize in international school policy development and faculty training for gender and sexual orientation diversity.

Tired: Celebrating Diversity / Wired: Antiracist Education


Talking about racism can be awfully uncomfortable, particularly for white people since we so rarely have to think about race in our daily lives, and we certainly do not consider ourselves part of the problem. Racist people use nasty slurs, they dress up in blackface/white hoods/swastikas, they refuse to be friends with people of color (POC). I don’t do any of those things, so I’m not racist… Right?

If we view ourselves through the lens of a Racist / Not Racist binary, most of us will confidently partition ourselves as Not Racist. But what if the options were Racist or Antiracist? What evidence can you provide that you are the latter?

Simply avoiding racial slurs, or “celebrating diversity” is insufficient. To be antiracist, we must actively seek out racism and correct it. If you benefit from racial privilege, it is incumbent upon you to fix it. As international educators, we have a magnificent opportunity (see: responsibility) to promote antiracism by teaching racial justice in schools.

But aren’t children too young to learn about race? No. Children of color learn about race early on – they have no option otherwise. White kids can and should learn about race (and racial justice), too.

Talking about racism seems awkward – what about celebrating diversity? It’s super awkward (and dangerous) for POC to live with systemic racism. If the most uncomfortable race-related incident that’s happened to you is having to acknowledge racism (or being called a racist), then you can count yourself amongst the privileged. With that privilege comes the responsibility to uncover racism and correct it. Bonus points if you teach your students to do the same.

Keep in mind that most racism is not as overt as the recent, highly-publicized events in the United States, so I am not suggesting we show young children the video of George Floyd’s killing. Covert racism is far more common and insidious – it does not look like what we think of as white supremacy, and takes a trained eye to spot. Think: racist school mascots, treating children of color as older than they are, denying children of color the opportunities that come from learning from a teacher that looks like them, prioritizing white voices in curriculum, and perpetuating the myth of the bootstrap theory.

I don’t live in the United States, and racism isn’t an issue where I work. It can be more comfortable to decry racism happening far away, as it allows us to believe that we are not part of the problem. However, racism exists everywhere, including at your school. In fact, that’s the racism you are likely best positioned to confront and influence.

Others have written about this before me and better than me (see resource bank below), but I use this particular platform to ensure that international educators understand that we are not exempt from confronting institutional racism.

But I’m just a math/science/PE/etc. teacher. What can I do? Racism is baked into schools – our curriculum, our policies, our hiring preferences, the overwhelmingly white voices we feature as experts and leaders, students’ hierarchical social experiences – it’s everywhere. Regardless of your role in the school, there is no shortage of material to examine under an antiracist lens, and to correct.

Antiracism resources to get you started:  

Culturally-Responsive Curriculum Scorecard

Tool For Selecting Anti-Biased Texts

Social Justice Standards

Antiracist Resources for Young Children

List of Anti-Racism Articles, Books, Movies, Podcasts, and More

What White People Can Do for Racial Justice

Anti-Racism Resources Curated for Language Arts Teachers

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.

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


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.

Your Brain on a New Job


This post is for those starting a first international school gig, or those in a new position/country who could use a reminder about beginning again. Share this with your colleagues who may fall into those categories.

Arrival: Your brain as a large sieve

Arrival brain

You are holding onto only the basics, and letting the rest filter out, like through the holes of a (very) large sieve. You might be astonished at what you are unable to retain. At this arrival stage, you are discarding all but the most essential information so as not to clutter your mind. When a well-intentioned colleague offers tips on a restaurant they went to in a cool part of the city, your eyes glaze over; you have no idea where that is and can’t pronounce the name of the restaurant; you’ll never remember it. When a teammate mentions a unit coming up in January, you wonder if you will still be around then. An incredible amount of input is firing at you. You feel overwhelmed, like you are not keeping up. Doesn’t help that you probably are still living out of a suitcase to some extent. It’s not your fault, it’s totally normal, and it will get better!  

Settling In: Your brain as a medium sieve

Settling in brain

A couple of months in, you begin to recognize yourself again somewhat, though you are probably less organized than usual, and are still having to apologize for dropping the ball in situations when you normally wouldn’t. Your new living space is functional, if not yet beautiful. You’ve learned how to independently meet basic needs in your new location, such as getting groceries, submitting supplies requests, and saying hello/good-bye in the local language. You’ve got a number of new friends and colleagues whose company and support you are grateful for. You realize with relief that you are retaining more details – those metaphoric holes in your brain are narrowing. Your capacities are beginning to return from the chaos of the arrival, but your stamina may also be waning.

Second Semester: Your brain as a fine sieve

Second semester brain 

The background noise of life in your new place has quieted, and you are starting to shine at work. Your students’ faces, and even those of their parents, have become familiar. You know what makes your students tick, and can personalize your lessons to suit. You have established favourite spots in town to get a coffee, go for a run, get your hair cut. You’re already thinking ahead to what local souvenirs and gifts you want to bring back for friends and family this summer. You may even be inquiring about taking on additional roles at work for next year. When you get new information now, you are able to categorize and retain it appropriately.

By this time next year: A full sieve set

Next year’s brain

You’ll have an established set of sieves and will be able to determine and customize which to use in any given situation, expertly juggling between them and even anticipating in advance which to have ready. Hang in there – the adventure of a first year may feel overwhelming at times, but it will be over before you know it.

What are your tips to make it through the first year?