When supporting gender diverse students, there are an important range of considerations schools should be aware of, says a gender diversity specialist.
Dr Elizabeth Riley provides clinical supervision and training as a counsellor at a private practice in Sydney. One area of Riley’s expertise is in gender identity.
Riley gained extensive experience working with gender diverse clients at The Gender Centre for seven years as the centre’s first professional counsellor and has been working with transgender clients and members since 1997.
She told The Educator that in terms of harnessing a school culture that recognises and respects Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) students, many factors must be taken into account.
She said that as well as schools having bullying policies in place that are actively applied, children must also be given choice regarding activities and sports.
“Schools should have an environment not just of tolerance but of celebrating difference,” she said.
“Children need to be supported so they can explore where they fit, who they want to play with and what gives them the optimal opportunity to thrive, engage and be successful.”
Riley added that a culture must be sustained where provision of training for all students in emotional intelligence is provided “to increase the ability for empathy, kindness and self-responsibility of emotions”.
“Schools can also offer education in gender variance and make this training available to all staff, children and parents,” she said.
“Libraries can also provide age-appropriate [LGBTIQ] books and information.”
Some schools already provide such information through the Safe Schools program, which offers resources for schools to develop a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTIQ students.
Last month, the Federal Government released its review into the program after calls by conservative MP’s and the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) for the program to be scrapped for being an “inappropriate sexual education program”.
While the review suggested steps be taken to ensure parents received clear information, “especially about potentially contentious issues”, the Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, gave the green light for the program to continue.
Riley said the program was important to the well-being and safety of LGBTIQ students because it promoted the support of not just gender diversity but also intersex and diversity regarding sexuality.
“Their [Safe Schools] philosophy is to ensure that children with differences in gender, sex and sexuality feel safe and supported in their school environment,” she said.
Riley added that for schools that are already well versed in the needs of gender variant children and have the structures in place to support them – including a supportive parent community – the Safe Schools Program was “probably sufficient”.
However, she said others will need a more “in-depth focus” on gender variance for the staff and parents depending on the history, culture and expectations of the community.
Riley will be a keynote speaker at an upcoming conference called Down the Rabbit Hole: a Festival of Bold Childhood Ideas. The conference – to be held at the Art Gallery of NSW on April 29 – is being facilitated by Gowrie NSW, which provides early childhood care and family support.