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LGBT equity and school policy : perspectives from Canada and Australia

By Tania (R9025) Ferfolja


Australia and Canada may be viewed in many respects as comparable countries. Both have a colonial past, similar levels of adult literacy (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1999), and a high standard of living. Both are ethnically diverse and have large migration programs (Richardson & Lester, 2004). Importantly for this discussion, both support anti-discrimination laws in relation to sexual orientation and are increasingly open to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) identities, having made legislative changes to increase parity between heterosexual and LGBT rights (Douglas & Bonauto, 2005; Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, 2008). Despite the growing social, cultural, and political awareness of sexual and gender diversity in these countries, discrimination in schools related to perceived or actual sexual and gender diversity is of concern in both Canada (Taylor & Peter, 2011) and Australia (Hillier et al., 2010; Robinson, Bansel, Densen, Ovenden, & Davies, 2014). This reflects a broader international problem identified in research from, but not limited to, the United Kingdom (Guasp, 2012), United States (Kosciw, Greytak, Bartkiewicz, Boesen, & Palmer, 2012), Europe (Takács, 2006), Mexico (Global Rights International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission et al., 2010), and South Africa (Human Rights Watch, 2011). For example, recent Canadian research by Taylor and Peter (2011) that surveyed over 3,700 sexual and gender minority youth found that 70% heard pejorative statements such as “That’s so gay” and nearly half heard terms like “faggot,” “lezbo,” and “dyke” every day at school. Students also heard such terms from teachers. Approximately one-third of trans and female students, and one-fifth of male students “reported being verbally harassed daily or weekly about their sexual orientation” (Taylor & Peter, 2011, p. 6) and “more than one in five LGBTQ students reported being physically harassed or assaulted due to their sexual orientation” (Taylor & Peter, 2011, p. 7). Safety was also a concern with nearly two-thirds of the students stating that they felt unsafe at school. These findings reflect those found in recent Australian research (Hillier et al., 2010) where nearly two-thirds of participants reported experiencing homophobic verbal abuse and nearly one-fifth physical abuse (p. ix). This abuse was most commonly experienced at school and this research, the third iteration since 1998, demonstrated a “trend of increased levels of reported homophobic violence in schools” (Hillier et al., 2010, p. ix). It also highlighted links between homophobic experiences, feelings of insecurity and vulnerability, drug abuse, self-harm and attempted suicide. Moreover, approximately 25% of participants attended a school where they perceived there was no “policy-based protection from homophobia and discrimination” and nearly 50% professed they had no access to “social or structural support features for sexual diversity” in their school (Hillier et al., 2010, p. x). Taking this discrimination into consideration, it is clear that schools in both Australia and Canada need to address LGBT-related issues; however, despite the similarities in terms of broader sociocultural contexts, LGBT educational policies are very different materially, symbolically, and practically. To reflect upon these differences, this chapter examines Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) Department of Education and Communities’ (DEC) Homophobia in Schools policy (1997) and Canada’s Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) Equity Foundation Statement and Commitments to Equity Policy , specifically Section 3: Anti-homophobia, sexual orientation and equity implementation (hereafter EFS) (2000). Based on a review of policy documentation and various empirical research undertaken by the author, the discussion reflects upon how these policies vary in structure and intent in (1) the discursive messages conveyed about LGBT communities; (2) the felt presence in schools; and (3) possibilities for implementation by teachers and school management. It explores how policy potentially may be transformative, where it is used to drive, support, and advance equity work in schools; or reactive, where it generally maintains the status quo and/or reinforces particular ways of thinking about its target population (Schneider & Ingram, 1993)

Topics: 130308 - Gender, Sexuality and Education, 139999 - Education not elsewhere classified, 930403 - School/Institution Policies and Development, gender identity in education, sex discrimination in education, sexual minorities, education and state, Canada, Australia
Publisher: U.S., Routledge
Year: 2015
OAI identifier: oai:nuws:uws_31535
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