“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.

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

  1. I agree with you that we need to have more love and respect of all students. However, I think your article, like most things you read or see in the media on the topic of LGBTQ rights are not advocating equality. My experience has been that what you consider equal is not equal because it does not appear to allow for anyone to have a different opinion. Your definition of equal seems to imply that I have to agree with everything the LGBTQ agenda says and if I don’t you’re labeled intolerant or some kind of phobic… and by saying cisgender, you are forcing people to adopt your beliefs too. That’s not equality.

    My students know I love them and I don’t play favorites or discriminate against anyone at any time for any reason. However, I am also very honest about my personal beliefs, which are mine and valid and I am entitled to, and all the students, including LGBTQ students, know and respect me and love me back.

    You are promoting an agenda that is neither tolerant or healthy. It is intolerant and instead of valuing all students/teachers/administrators beliefs, you dictate what people should believe.

    Loving everyone means you value everyone’s beliefs.

    1. Dear Owen,

      Thank you for your readership. I will do my best to respond to your comments.

      First, I do not know of any LGBTQ agenda, so I certainly do not mean to imply that you have to agree with one. Further, cisgender is an adjective, not a belief.

      I agree that school systems are stronger and safer when people are able to form and express their beliefs. I draw the line, however, on beliefs that are discriminatory against marginalized groups. For example, white supremacy is a belief that discriminates against people of colour. I agree that I do not value everybody’s beliefs equally in such cases, and most schools also do not protect faculty or students’ right to express white supremacy.

      You have not shared your personal beliefs in the comment, so I do not know quite what you believe.

      My article states a research-based argument in favour of equality, including several studies showing the connection between improved health/well-being and LGBTQ support in schools.


      Emily Meadows

      1. The problem is , you don’t even recognize how you promote an agenda and don’t know you are intolerant even though you dictate what people should believe based on your own beliefs.

        Cisgender is a made up word that promotes a specific belief and by pretending it’s real you make my point even stronger.

        This is the real danger – too many people don’t even realize they are intolerant and promoting an agenda.

        I Loveland respect everyone and expect my students and colleagues to do the same…that doesn’t mean agree with everything.

  2. This is interesting and so important for international educators. It also takes a lot of institutional support and reasoning–something that, depending on context, doesn’t always come easily. The key to a lot of this is approaching things from the perspective you take here, one that says an educational system is a fundamentally unique platform to affect social awareness and transformation. School leaders need to focus on ensuring the consistency of GSM affirmation in their school communities and be proactive in coordinating appropriate responses to students and parents who themselves present symptoms of paralysis.

    1. Dear Todd,

      Thanks for your comments, and nicely put. GSM discrimination is a systemic issue, and certainly not something that will be overturned by one educator alone. You make a good point that institutional/school leadership support is critical here, and that may take time, depending on context.



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