Group calls for support for better diversity awareness in schools
Advocates for minority sexualities and genders are calling on schools and social services to create safer environments for teens of all identities.
Staff from advocacy group InsideOut spoke in Palmerston North this week as part of the Glittfab symposium for members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
InsideOut national co-ordinator Tabby Besley said international statistics showed about one person in every 12 identified as having a minority sexuality, and New Zealand statistics showed four in 100 identified as transgender or questioned their gender.
"So it's actually quite significant, it's a few people in each class, or hundreds in a school," Besley said.
"Research from the University of Auckland shows there's been no change in 10 years in the amount of bullying our young people face. People think it's getting better, but if you look at the research it's actually not."
The group was "constantly" contacted by teens looking for support and advice. From these conversations, and talks with staff, she believed most schools and social services had not taken action, including in Manawatu.
Many felt they could cross that bridge if a young person who identified as LGBT approached them.
However, some young people considering these questions who were still working out their own identity needed to know they were in a supportive environment, Besley said.
Many struggled or left school because of bullying, hostility or fear, she said.
Palmerston North Boys' High School rector David Bovey said there were students at the school of a different sexual orientation and support was available anytime they needed it.
Students could go to their teachers, deans or the guidance councillor to talk about any issues, he said.
While he understood some young men might not want to reveal their sexual orientation to their peers, he believed nowadays students reacted well to these topics.
"People don't care - by that I mean they are not being unsupportive, they're still their mate."
Awatapu College principal Gary Yeatman said the school had a diverse mixture of students at their school including a growing refugee community.
He said it was important to be welcoming to all students.
"We have here and continue to have students who see themselves as gay or lesbian - we just try to be a welcoming college."
Besley said schools should consider discussion about sexuality and gender in health class, promote awareness that discrimination was not accepted, and provide safe spaces and staff to help students experiencing bullying.
"The Ministry of Education and ERO [Education Review Office] need to up their game and be making sure they are held accountable for making schools safer environments."
Ministry acting head of early learning and student achievement Karl Le Quesne said they were aware that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender young people could be bullied at school.
He said it was important all students felt included and valued. Schools were also required to provide a safe physical and emotional environment for their students.
"We can help them do that by supporting them to foster environments that will reduce bullying behaviour and develop an inclusive student culture."
Last year the ministry worked with schools to update the sexuality eduction guide. After consultation the school's board will decide how the health curriculum – including sexuality education – will be taught.
"Schools know their students best, so it is makes sense for them, along with their communities to decide how sexuality education is covered."