National Library of New Zealand
Harvested by the National Library of New Zealand on: Apr 10 2017 at 10:38:22 GMT
Search boxes and external links may not function. Having trouble viewing this page? Click here
Close Minimize Help
Wayback Machine
GayNZ Logo & Link
Monday 10 April 2017


Comment: Education policy and lgbt concerns

Posted in: Comment
By Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 16th July 2014

homophobia_school.jpg

Education policy is emerging as a major New Zealand election issue. How does it engage with LGBT voters?

What is the purpose of education? Schools should prepare their students for the next phases of their lives, through providing knowledge, critical inquiry skills, future career and vocational direction and fostering positive social interactions with others. How do LGBTI invidividuals fit into this purpose? Over the last four decades of LGBTI history, social contexts, inclusion and exclusion have profoundly changed.

When I was a teenager back in the seventies and realised I was gay, people tended to fully come out after completing primary and secondary schooling and gay male sexual identity, relationships and intimacy were stigmatised and criminalised. Lesbian and gay teachers could be sacked, and often were. The most prominent transgender figure was Carmen Rupe, Wellington sex worker, entertainer and brothel keeper. Things were probably just as bad in the state school system, but I had the misfortune to be intelligent, non-athletic, working class and the product of an ethnically 'mixed' marriage at a Christchurch fundamentalist school, Middleton Grange. As a consequence, as I entered adolescence, I fell between two stools in that hellish world. I was bullied by other working class kids for displaying 'insufficient' physical or muscular masculinity as well as one particularly neurotic male intermediate fundamentalist teacher. At the same time, I was ostracised and excluded from activities by my fellow upper stream classmates. Middleton Grange also functioned as a 'white flight' academy, given that its fees mostly excluded Maori and Pacific Island students. There was repeated right-wing emphasis on 'anti-communism" and the iniquity of the USSR and being an out gay student could get you expelled. Sex education was cursory and segregated.

In effect, I was denied a normal adolescence and ended up compartmentalising my life for much of the next fifteen years. In 1979, I discovered the Columbo gay sauna and sowed my wild oats while masquerading as a clean cut fundamentalist boy at school. At the end of 1980, I left Middleton Grange as a seventh former and later discovered five other closeted gay male pupils had similar experiences to my own- but that was about six years afterward.

From 1981, I went to university, discovered Foucault, Marx, lesbian feminism, Maori Sovereignty, the pro-choice movement, anti-racist and anti-apartheid politics- and LGBT liberation. In 1986, my first year as a University of Canterbury postgraduate student, homosexual law reform finally happened-and with age of consent equality. In 1993, institutional discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual students became illegal as well. It wasn't that long before LGBT secondary students found each other at high school and organised their own LGBT youth groups. For the first time, LGBT youth suicide became a frontline issue and focused attention on its causes. One of them, homophobic and transphobic youth bullying has assumed particular momentum of its own in that context, legislated against within some jurisdictions in Canada and the United States.

Today, different challenges face stakeholders in educational policy debates. With the assistance of its coalition partner ACT New Zealand, the Key administration has enabled (mostly fundamentalist-driven) 'charter schools' to divert funding from mainstream state schools during a time of recession, with ambivalent statistics about their success within the United States, where they are endemic. One particular LGBT concern is about whether charter schools will respect their need to comply with human rights requirements, given that sexual orientation discrimination is illegal under the Human Rights Act 1993. The New Zealand Education Institute and Post-Primary Teachers Association are opposed, and Labour and the Greens have given firm undertakings to close down charter schools if they win the next election in September 2014. From the other direction, the Secular Education Network is campaigning against enforced 'religious education' sessions within state schools and has had some success in eliminating them.

What about other education policy debates? Given that smaller teacher-pupil ratios would encourage greater teacher time allocation to managing student diversity issues, enabling LGBT student educational retainment and optimal academic achievement, that should be supported. Antipoverty policies and remedial education efforts can also prevent later emergence of 'bad boy' male youth from lower socio-economic backgrounds as well as teenage pregnancy and parenting in the case of young women. Given their current exclusion from the Human Rights Act, transgender children and adolescents particularly need appropriate toilet and changing areas. Antibullying policies need to clearly include all forms of identity-based bullying, whether based on sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, ethnicity, disability, socio-economic background and/or poverty, whether this expresses itself in verbal and physical harassment or social network exclusion. Anti-bullying policies need to be properly resourced and implemented. Implementation should encourage the development of proactive and inclusive school cultures, school management, educational retention, behavioural change and personal change options for bullies, as well as preventative and remedial attention to the primary causes of bullying behaviour. Merely suspending or expelling particular individual bullies does nothing to address the root causes of bullying as a behavioural pathology.

Recommended:
New Zealand Labour Party: http://www.labour.org.nz
Greens: http://www.greens.org.nz
New Zealand Educational Institute: http://www.nzei.org.nz
Post-Primary Teachers Association: http://www.ppta.org.nz

Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 16th July 2014

   Bookmark and Share